Tuesday, September 29, 2009

God is Kind to the Unthankful and to the Evil (20)

Dear forum members,

Before we pursue further the discussion of the proof texts used to prove an attitude of favor and love that God shows to all, I must deal briefly with a text that one of the readers of the forum sent in. He says that it is usually quoted as proof for a gracious and well-meant gospel offer, but would like to have a brief explanation. The text is Revelation 22:17: “And the Spirit and the bride say, Come. And let him that heareth say, Come. And let him that is athirst come. And whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely.”

I am aware of the fact that this text, and others like it, have been used to prove from Scripture a well-meant and gracious gospel offer in which God expresses His desire to save all men. But such an interpretation is incorrect. Presumably, the defenders of this position assume that, though this call of the gospel comes only to those that hear or are thirsty or will to come, such characteristics belong to all men. All men hear; all men thirst (for the coming of Christ), all men desire to come.

But this is an evident impossibility on the face of it. Such a view is based on the Arminian doctrine of free-willism, and cannot be found in Scripture. I am just now reading a book by Robert A. Peterson with the title, “Election and Free Will” in which the author traces the history of free-willism from the early church fathers till today and speaks of it as the dividing line between Arminianism and Calvinism. (P & R Publishing, 2007.)

Briefly, the meaning of the text is quite different. In the first part of the text John lays down the general truth that the “bride” of Christ, that is, His church, prays, by the power of the Spirit for Christ’s return. The words “The Spirit and the bride say, Come,” mean, by a Greek hendiadys, “The Spirit in the hearts of the bride says, Come.” He then turns to an admonition directed to the bride to make this prayer earnest and one’s own. These members of the church are described by their spiritual names. They hear what the book of Revelation says about the coming of Christ; they thirst for that coming, for it means their full salvation, and the waters of life shall be their’s to drink forever and ever to quench their thirst.

But even the saints need this admonition, for they are yet in the world, sinful and not always earnestly and eagerly longing for Christ’s return. They are too trapped in their pre-occupation with earthly things to give much thought to Christ’s coming. So the admonition directed to the saints is urgent.

Let us be aware of the fact that Scripture does call all men who hear the gospel to faith and repentance. Proverbs 8:1ff and Matthew 22:14. This command of God is not an expression of His loving desire to save all, but simply a sharp and earnest command. But there are also texts directed only to those who are God’s elect and who know already the work of the Spirit and the grace of God in their hearts. They are addressed by their spiritual names and cannot refer to all men. Such passages as Rev. 22:15, Isaiah 55:1 and Matthew 11:28 are clear instances of such passages. But in neither case does such a passage speak of God’s gracious and loving desire to save all who hear the gospel.

One other item demands our attention before we go on,. In an earlier installment I said, “God does not love those who love Him.” Some of our forum members misunderstood what I was saying, wrote, “God does love those who love Him.” I apologize for my lack of clarity and hope this note clarifies the point. What I meant to say, and thought I had said in the context was, “God does not love His people because they love Him.” His love is first, creative, powerful, salvation itself. God’s love for us creates our love for God.

I hope this clears up the matter.

* * * *

We will now consider the Biblical proof that is used to support the idea of God’s general attitude of favor and love that He shows to all men. No confessional proof was offered in support of this point of common grace, but a few Bible verses were quoted in support of it. In the last installment, I considered Matthew 5:44, 45. In this installment I consider the second proof text, Luke 6:35, 36: “But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, hoping for nothing again; and your reward shall be great, and ye shall be the children of the Highest: for he is kind unto the unthankful and to the evil. Be ye therefore merciful, as your Father also is merciful.”

This passage in Luke is nearly parallel with the passage in Matthew 5 that we considered last time. The context also is very much the same. The Sermon on the Mount is recorded in Matthew 5-7, but here, though spoken on a different occasion, the subject is the same. The text is also very close to being the same, the only difference being that Jesus here speaks of God’s kindness to the unthankful and evil, while in Matthew 5, Jesus speaks of the rain and sunshine God sends to the just and the unjust. Luke 6 therefore makes explicit what is implicit in Matthew 5: the reference to the unthankful and evil is, therefore, a reference to the unthankful and evil elect. Election is not based on works, but on the free and sovereign choice of God. Those who are eternally chosen are not chosen because of any good they did, nor because something was found in them that made them suitable to be counted among the elect. They were as evil as any in the world. They were as ungrateful for God’s good gifts as anyone elsewhere. They were as deserving of everlasting condemnation as those who were not chosen. But they are in any case, citizens of the kingdom of heaven, and Jesus is giving them the principles by which the citizens of the kingdom live here in the world.

The elect who are the objects of God’s mercy know with total certainty that they were not chosen because they were in any way better than those not chosen. The awesome character of election and its sovereign work of God is the reason for the humility of God’s people. How can it be any different? It is not at all strange, therefore, that these people are admonished to be merciful to others. They are eager to love their enemies, do good, and lend, hoping for nothing again. They cannot help but be themselves kind unto the unthankful and evil, for this is the way God dealt with them.

There is no reason at all in the text to argue, as those who teach common grace argue, that God is merciful to all men. After all, Jesus is speaking here to His own disciples (verse 20) and is describing the characteristics and calling of those who belong to the kingdom of heaven. Citizens of the kingdom of heaven are saved by grace; they are now to be gracious to those with whom they come into contact. In this way they manifest to others the grace God has shown to them. What could be more obvious?

To argue that because within the sphere of the kingdom of heaven, God is kind to unthankful and evil people can never be reason why we conclude that God is gracious to all men. One ought to re-read Psalm 73 and Proverbs 3:33 if he has any problem with this explanation.

* * * *

The last text that is quoted is Acts 14:16, 17: “Who in times past suffered all nations to walk in their own ways. Nevertheless he left not himself without witness, in that he did good, and gave us rain from heaven, and fruitful seasons, filling our hearts with food and gladness.”

This is an interesting text that requires considerable explanation, though not because it is difficult to refute those who want to thrust common grace on the text. Whatever the text may mean, it certainly does not say anything about a general attitude of favor and grace that God has towards all men. That seems to be clear on the very surface.

The context is clear enough. In his first missionary journey, Paul and Barnabas came to Lystra. During the course of Paul’s preaching in this city of Asia Minor, Paul healed a lame man. This startled the citizens of this city and they immediately considered Paul and Barnabas to be two of the gods that they worshipped and served. Under this erroneous conclusion, they prepared to make sacrifices to Paul and Barnabas. Paul was determined to prevent them from committing such a terrible sin. The passage is part of Paul’s efforts to stop them from their horrible idolatry.

Even considering the text in this context and attempting to find common grace in this text, one would, it seems to me, immediately wonder why in the world Paul used the doctrine of common grace to prevent the heathen idolaters from worshipping him. But, apart from that, the text says nothing at all about an attitude of God’s favor and grace towards all men, but merely speaks, as I have emphasized more than once, that God gives good gifts to men. His gifts are always good and never evil. He is Himself a good God, infinitely good in His eternal perfections. He cannot give anything but good gifts.

You say, Yes, but God also sends floods, tornados, famine and earthquakes. Is He good when He sends these disasters? Yes, indeed, He is good also when He sends catastrophes, for in His infinite holiness and perfect hatred of sin He sends judgments on the wicked in order that His goodness may be vindicated and His hatred of sin revealed. And surely part of the sin that He hates is the dreadful sin that man commits of despising God’s good gifts and using them to oppose God.

And, we may mention in passing that when God sends catastrophes upon His people, that also is good, for God uses all the sufferings of this present time to sanctify His people and prepare them for glory.

* * * *

But the text in Acts 14 goes further. It gives a reason why God gives good gifts to men. That reason is not that God loves them and is kindly disposed towards them. The reason is that God does not leave Himself without witness. In the good gifts that He gives, God testifies of Himself. He even, Paul says, did this in the old dispensation when Christ had not yet come and when the gospel was not sent into the nations. Even in those days when the gospel was proclaimed only in Israel, the heathen who never knew or heard the gospel, nevertheless, were given a strong and irrefutable witness of God. The Jebusites, Moabites, Philistines, Ammonites and all the other heathen nations of the earth received that witness from God through the good gifts that God gave to them.

Paul explains this further in Romans 1:18ff, and this point is sufficiently important to devote some time to it, but let it be established now that when God gave good gifts to men, He gave them to show all men that He alone is God, that He alone is good, and that He alone must be served and worshipped.

Paul appeals to that truth in Lystra, because he underscores the fact that the wicked from the beginning of time and including the idolaters in Lystra knew and know that God alone must be worshipped and served. The people in Lystra, therefore, must not offer sacrifices to Paul and Barnabas, but to God alone.

This truth brings us to a discussion of Romans 1 and the truth of what is sometimes called general revelation. But all this must wait.

With warm regards to all,

Prof Hanko

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