Saturday, December 18, 2010

Common grace and God's love

Sometimes I will hear a Calvinist, in response to the question whether or not God loves all men without exception, distinguish between types of God's love. For instance: God has a love for those He has destined to constitute the church, His bride, that He does not have for reprobates.

However, this doesn't answer whether or not God loves reprobates. Indeed, emotional considerations aside (not many people like to talk about God's hatred of sinners &c., I get it), it is not clear as to how one could argue God loves reprobates. We know that God loves some who are as yet unbelievers, but there is a reason God loves them which cannot be ascribed to the reprobate: God sent Christ to die for them. Remember how God's love is demonstrated towards the elect:

Romans 5:8 God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

1 John 4:10 In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins

God didn't send His Son to be a propitiation for all wicked men. He sent Christ to be a propitiation for the wicked elect. In what way, given the limited scope of intention for the atonement, could it be argued that God loves reprobates? Common grace is what one would suspect the answer to be. The idea of common grace is pretty common in Christendom, I think; the idea is that by simply letting one who is guilty of sin live (and not only live, but reap many so-called benefits like health, perceived happiness, etc.) when he deserves to die, God must be being gracious to them.

But what is grace? Unmerited favor. The "common grace advocate," then, is suggesting that God is displaying favor to or gracing the reprobate by allowing him to live &c. But I fail to see how this is favor. In fact, the fact that such alleged benefits will actually bring greater condemnation on the heads of the reprobates indicates precisely the opposite, for to speak of God "favoring" someone who not only will be condemned for the failure to make proper use and give proper thanks for that benefit which is said to evince God's favor but also has been unconditionally predestined by God unto such greater condemnation for having experienced that alleged benefit (also predestined) proves that it is not favor at all; thus, it's not grace at all. It makes no sense to view a temporal [perceived] benefit as an evidence of God's favor, given that such will actually and was predestined to necessarily yield greater condemnation for having experienced and rejected proper use of that benefit.

I could end the post at this point, but it is both instructive and uplifting, I think, to consider the parallel; if God's disposition to the reprobate is conditioned on who He has purposed them to be (condemned by sin), it makes sense that God's disposition to the elect is conditioned on who He has purposed them to be (justified and glorified in Christ).

Why is this important? Consider a generic unbeliever. Does God love him? How would you know? What would it mean for God to love an unbeliever?

I believe the idea that "God works together all things for one's good" (cf. Romans 8:28) is as good a definition as any to describe what is meant by the statement God loves an individual. Now, does God work things together for God for all men without exception? No - the elect alone. Did the demonstration of God's love - Christ's sacrifice - apply to all men without exception? No - the elect alone.

There is a correlation, then, between God's love and God's election or (equivalently) between God's love and who God has purposed the elect to be: justified and glorified in Him. For that reason, the above question - does God love the generic unbeliever? - is too vague. It is wrong to abstract God's love (or lack thereof) for an individual from God's purpose for him. To do so not only makes it impossible to give a coherent answer as to whether or not God loves all unbelievers, but it would be furthermore impossible to give a coherent answer why or how God can even love the elect unbelievers. As I've written elsewhere:

//Only if one accepts that God chose to elect men in Christ before He decreed the Fall does it make sense that a holy God can choose to save a people deserving of wrath: because they, the elect, had already been chosen to be vessels of mercy.//

13 comments:

James said...

And you know that Christ died for YOU then because of what evidence? True, you have the right beliefs today, but what guarantee do you have that He hasn't decided you'll become an apostate for some unknown reason or another? If He's decided that, you have no way of knowing, nor do you have any ability to change your fate, no matter how many "correct" beliefs you hold today.

Ryan said...

"...what guarantee do you have that He hasn't decided you'll become an apostate for some unknown reason or another?"

His word.

Thanks for dropping by.

aztexan said...

A. W. Pink is one of my favorites, and he (rightly, I believe) carefully draws a distinction between "common grace" and "common mercy." Pink astutely points out that grace is for the elect only; therefore it is improper to say that God shows grace to the reprobate. Rather, God patiently shows much mercy to all men, including the worst of reprobates. It's always nice to find fellow-Calvinist curmudgeons in the blogosphere! Cheers.

Ryan said...

How does Pink define mercy?

aztexan said...

Pink distinguishes Mercy from Grace

Ryan said...

Ok, but how does he define mercy differently from grace?

aztexan said...

Hope to blog more on this in the future, but am presently short on time. Unless I'm missing or misstating any of Pink's main points, they are more or less these:

Grace (as opposed to Mercy)

- for the Elect only
- Eternal
- Salvific
- Sought-after by recipient
- Transformative/sanctifying
- in/through Christ only
- applied by Holy Spirit only
- result of God’s particular sovereign love & goodwill toward recipient
- Covenantal

When I get round to blogging on this, I'll review the chapters more carefully and make sure I'm not conflating, omitting, etc. Is the above at all helpful?

Ryan said...

Well, not really. We seem to agree with regards to common grace, but until I know what Pink means by mercy, I don't know whether or not he is accurate to say it is something that God can "show" towards the reprobate.

I appreciate the comments, though.

aztexan said...

Now you've lost me. Pink's contention is that "common grace" is a misnomer. Mercy can be said to be "common" in that it is shown to the creation entire, but grace is always particular to the elect; always entails salvation, sanctification, etc.

Ryan said...

The problem is that I still don't know how Pink differentiates grace from mercy such that the former may be said to be common and the latter may be said to be particular to the elect. Why is it that Pink thinks only the latter (grace) is particular to the elect? How does he define mercy?

aztexan said...

So the lengthy Attributes of God excerpt I linked above (01/06 00:27) didn't help at all in clarifying Pink's definition of 'mercy'?

Ryan said...

Oops, the link blended in with the background so I missed it. I'll check out your post, thanks.

Ryan said...

"...mercy... which denotes the ready inclination of God to relieve the misery of fallen creatures. Thus, 'mercy' presupposes sin."

Given that this understanding of mercy could be compatible with the idea that this "[temporal] relief" from "misery" for the reprobate could be willed for the good of the elect rather than that it springs from divine favor, I could see how Pink could draw a distinction between common mercy and common grace. However, I am not persuaded Pink thinks of mercy in these terms for a few reasons. Consider these quotes from your excerpt:

"It is pure sovereign grace which alone determines the exercise of Divine mercy."

If this is true and it is also the case that grace is only showed towards the elect, how can it be that God can have mercy upon the reprobate?

"...there is a general mercy of God, which is extended not only to all men, believers and unbelievers alike, but also to the entire creation: 'His tender mercies are over all his works' (Ps. 145:9); 'He giveth to all life, and breath, and all things' (Acts 17:25). God has pity upon the brute creation in their needs, and supplies them with suitable provision."

Here it seems God has mercy upon unbelievers because He pities them rather than, as I mentioned above, that His mercy towards them is for the good of His elect. While Pink may think that, he at least also believes God pities the unbeliever. However, to say that God indiscriminately pities unbelievers (i.e. reprobates and elect unbelievers alike) is at best imprecise and at worst indicative that Pink believe God's disposition towards the reprobate can be favorable, the latter of which would certainly seem to correlate with his above conditioning of mercy on grace.

Nonetheless, Pink makes some very interesting tangential points such as how the damnation of the reprobate can be seen, from the perspective of the elect, as an act of mercy towards the elect, and he does provide a definition of mercy distinct from grace which may, with some modifications, be correctly viewed as being "common," so thanks for the link and sorry again for the confusion.