Posts Tagged ‘reformed theology’

We start with Scripture as our highest authority in ALL things not mere reason. That includes apologetics.

“If we truly want to help men’s consciences so that they are not gripped by perpetual doubt, we must derive the authority of Scripture from a higher source than human reasoning, evidence or conjecture. We must, that is, base it on the inner witness of the Holy Spirit.

Although Scripture’s own majesty is enough to command our reverence, it really begins to affect us only when it is sealed in our hearts by the Holy Spirit. Being illumined by his power, we no longer believe on the strength of our own or of others’ judgment that Scripture is from God. Above and beyond all human judgment we conclude without question that it is given to us from the mouth of God himself, through the ministry of men. It is as if, in Scripture, we beheld with our own eyes the very essence of God. We cease, therefore, to look for proofs and probabilities on which to base our judgment; instead, we subject our judgment and intellect to Scripture, as to a source so high as to rule out the need for judgment. Not because we are like some who thoughtlessly embrace unfamiliar things only to tire of them once they become better known; but because we are very sure that in Scripture we have the unassailable truth. Nor because we are like the ignorant who are in the habit of surrendering their minds to superstition; but because we feel that in Scripture the express power of deity is displayed, kindling in us the desire to give conscious and willing obedience more powerfully than if only human will or knowledge were involved.

This, then, is a conviction which does not require reasons. Nevertheless it is also a knowledge which is based upon a very sound reason, since our mind has a firmer and surer place to rest than in any set of reasons. It is, finally, a feeling which can only spring from heavenly revelations. Here I am talking of nothing else than what every believer experiences in himself, except that my words do not do justice to so worthy a theme, and are most inadequate as an explanation.

Unless we have a higher and firmer certainty than any human judgement can provide, there is no point proving the authority of Scripture by rational argument: it cannot be established on the basis of the church’s consent nor can it be confirmed by other evidences. For if this foundation is not first laid, it is bound to remain in abeyance. Once, however, we obediently accept Scripture as we should, and place it beyond all doubt, the reasons which before were not strong enough to impart certainty to our hearts will now appear as valuable aids.”

– John Calvin, The Institutes of the Christian Religion. p.20-21 (John White’s translation of 1541 version)

The Doctrines of Grace are clearly taught in the tenth chapter of the gospel of John. “sheep” are believers.

John 10

14 I am the good shepherd; and I know My sheep, and am known by My own. 15 As the Father knows Me, even so I know the Father; and I lay down My life for the sheep. 16 And other sheep I have which are not of this fold; them also I must bring, and they will hear My voice; and there will be one flock and one shepherd.

Who did Christ lay down his life for? The sheep. All who will be believers. The elect

24 Then the Jews surrounded Him and said to Him, “How long do You keep us in doubt? If You are the Christ, tell us plainly.”

25 Jesus answered them, “I told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in My Father’s name, they bear witness of Me. 26 But you do not believe, because you are not of My sheep, as I said to you.[b] 27 My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me. 28 And I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; neither shall anyone snatch them out of My hand. 29 My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of My Father’s hand. 30 I and My Father are one.”

Why didn’t they believe? Because they were NOT of the sheep. Then Christ goes on to explain that all his sheep know his voice and will finally follow and believe and not only that but He will not lose ANY of his sheep and gives then ETERNAL life not temporary life.

We see here Total Depravity (they can’t believe because they are not sheep) Unconditional Election (he knows the sheep by name) Limited Atonement (Christ died for sheep only) Effectual Grace ( all his sheep WILL believe and follow His voice) and Perseverance of the Saints (He will lose NONE of his sheep but gives them ETERNAL LIFE)

Doctrines of Grace in a nutshell

Praise God!!!!

A common argument used against infant baptism by my Reformed Baptist brothers is that what makes the New Covenant better is that Christ is now the mediator or minister of this covenant. It consists of the elect only whom He perfectly intercedes for being that they are the true spiritual seed of Abraham who the promise is given to, therefore the sign of the Covenant should only be given to those who profess faith in Christ and it should not be administered to our infants or children until they profess faith for themselves since they are not part of the fulfilled Covenant of Grace. Therefore giving the sign to infants and including them in the New Covenant is a vital error since many baptized infants finally apostatize which would then indicate that Christ fails as a mediator. There are other Reformed Baptist who would concede to the fact that our children are in the covenant but then they claim that the sign should not be given but that issue can be for another time. Of course there is more to their arguments but I want to focus on this specific point for this article.

Westminster’s view agrees that Christ is the mediator or minister of the covenant and that the Covenant of Grace is fulfilled in Christ and the types and shadows have vanished in Him and also that the Covenant of Grace is made specifically with the elect alone. What Baptists reject is the vital distinction between the visible and invisible administrations of the covenant. This distinction has always existed but they claim that the new covenant is only invisible and spiritual with the elect alone. Although reformed baptists do affirm a distinction between the visible and invisible Church, they divorce the concept of covenant from church. That is another vital error. Let us leave that also for another time.

It is also quite common these days for our Baptist brothers to use John Owen who is considered one of the most gifted and respected English reformed theologians of our history. They use Owens view of covenant theology specifically from his commentaries on the book of Hebrews chapter 8 and make the claim that Owen is more inline with 1689 Federalism than with Westminster covenant theology and that the implications of Owens understanding of the Covenant of Grace logically leads to a credobaptist view rather than a paedobaptist view. Despite Owen being a paedobaptist he, they claim, was actually inconsistent and contradictory.

It is no surprise that Reformed Presbyterians would absolutely and respectfully disagree with that notion. We believe that assertion has been already proven false by reading the same Hebrews commentary they use by Dr. Owen and also in his polemical work on infant baptism. Nevertheless my intent here is not to go into detail as to why these claims are false nor is it my intent to show where my Baptist brothers misread and misinterpret Owen in regards to the distinction between the Abrahamic and Mosiac covenants in relation to the New Covenant.

What I want to do here is attempt to prove using one of Dr. Owen’s points in his defense on infant baptism that contrary to the reformed baptist assertion that to include infants in the New Covenant who would eventually apostatize would mean that Christ is a failing mediator is false. Furthermore for Owen it is for the very reason that Christ is the mediator and minister of the New Covenant of promise that children of believers should indeed be given the sign of this promise of grace. I found this point most intriguing.

Owen writes:

“Seventhly, Christ is “the messenger of the covenant,” Mal. iii. 1, – that is, of the covenant of God made with Abraham; and he was the “minister of the circumcision for the truth of God, to confirm the promises made unto the fathers,” Rom. xv. 8. This covenant was, that he would be “a God unto Abraham and to his seed.”

Now if this be not so under the new testament, then was not Christ a faithful messenger, nor did confirm the truth of God in his promises.

This argument alone will bear the weight of the whole cause against all objections; for, –

  1. Children are still in the same covenant with their parents, or the truth of the promises of God to the fathers was not confirmed by Christ.
  1. The right unto the covenant, and interest in its promises, wherever it be, gives right unto the administration of its initial seal, that is, to baptism, as Peter expressly declares, Acts ii. 38, 39. Wherefore, –

The right of the infant seed of believers unto baptism, as the initial seal of the covenant, stands on the foundation of the faithfulness of Christ as the messenger of the covenant, and minister of God for the confirmation of the truth of his promises.”

Owen here is clearly saying that the sign and seal of the promise of grace in Christ in the Abrahamic covenant was circumcision and that this sign of promise was also given to the children of the believing parents. He goes on to say that the promise in the New Covenant continues to be with believing parents and their children via the sign and seal of baptism. Of course this is also due to the fact that Owen properly understood the nature of sign and seals of covenant promises in that they are signs and seals of the promises of God. Therefore for Owen the covenantal nature of the sign and seal of Gods promise to save continues into the New Covenant and that nowhere is it said to have changed nor has the administration of participants changed. Baptists erroneously define baptism as a present reality in the one believing as the fulfilled promise and then discontinues the aspect of promise for the believers children and deny that they are still included in the “same covenant as their parents”, to quote Owen. For Owen this promise continues into the New Covenant for the children of believers and to reject the sign of grace to children is to also deny that Christ is the minister and mediator of the Covenant of Grace where the promises of God in Christ via grace is magnified to a greater degree.

Owen continues:

“In brief, a participation of the seal of the covenant is a spiritual blessing. This the seed of believers was once solemnly invested in by God himself. This privilege he hath nowhere revoked, though he hath changed the outward sign; nor hath he granted unto our children any privilege or mercy in lieu of it now under the gospel, when all grace and privilege are enlarged to the utmost. His covenant promises concerning them, which are multiplied, were confirmed by Christ as a true messenger and minister; he gives the grace of baptism unto many of them, especially those that die in their infancy, owns children to belong unto his kingdom, esteems them disciples, appoints households to be baptized without exception. And who shall now rise up, and withhold water from them?

This argument may be thus further cleared and improved: –

Christ is “the messenger of the covenant,” Mal. iii. 1, – that is, the covenant of God with Abraham, Gen. xvii. 7; for, –

  1. That covenant was with and unto Christ mystical, Gal. iii. 16; and he was the messenger of no covenant but that which was made with himself and his members.
  1. He was sent, or was God’s messenger, to perform and accomplish the covenant and oath made with Abraham, Luke i. 72, 73.
  1. The end of his message and of his coming was, that those to whom he was sent might be “blessed with faithful Abraham,” or that “the blessing of Abraham,” promised in the covenant, “might come upon them,” Gal. iii. 9, 14.

To deny this, overthrows the whole relation between the old testament and the new, the veracity of God in his promises, and all the properties of the covenant of grace, mentioned 2 Sam. xxiii. 5.

It was not the covenant of works, neither originally nor essentially, nor the covenant in its legal administration; for he confirmed and sealed that covenant whereof he was the messenger, but these he abolished.

Let it be named what covenant he was the messenger of, if not of this. Occasional additions of temporal promises do not in the least alter the nature of the covenant.

Herein he was the “minister of the circumcision for the truth of God, to confirm the promises made unto the fathers,” Rom. xv. 8; that is, undeniably, the covenant made with Abraham, enlarged and explained by following promises. This covenant was, that God would be “a God unto Abraham and to his seed;” which God himself explains to be his infant seed, Gen. xvii. 12, –  that is, the infant seed of every one of his posterity who should lay hold on and avouch that covenant as Abraham did, and not else. This the whole church did solemnly for themselves and their posterity; whereon the covenant was confirmed and sealed to them all, Exod. xxiv. 7, 8. And every one was bound to do the same in his own person; which if he did not, he was to be cut off from the congregation, whereby he forfeited all privileges unto himself and his seed.

The covenant, therefore, was not granted in its administrations unto the carnal seed of Abraham as such, but unto his covenanted seed, those who entered into it and professedly stood to its terms.

And the promises made unto the fathers were, that their infant seed, their buds and offspring, should have an equal share in the covenant with them, Isa. xxii. 24, xliv. 3, lxi. 9. “They are the seed of the blessed of the LORD, and their offspring with them,” chap. lxv, 23. Not only themselves, who are the believing, professing seed of those who were blessed of the Lord, by a participation of the covenant, Gal. iii. 9, but their offspring also, their buds, their tender little ones, are in the same covenant with them.

To deny, therefore, that the children of believing, professing parents, who have avouched God’s covenant, as the church of Israel did, Exod. xxiv. 7, 8, have the same right and interest with their parents in the covenant, is plainly to deny the fidelity of Christ in the discharge of his office.

It may be it will be said, that although children have a right to the covenant, or do belong unto it, yet they have no right to the initial seal of it. This will not suffice; for, –

  1. If they have any interest in it, it is either in its grace or in its administration. If they have the former, they have the latter also, as shall be proved at any time. If they have neither, they have no interest in it; – then the truth of the promises of God made unto the fathers was not confirmed by Christ.
  1. That unto whom the covenant or promise doth belong, to them belongs the administration of the initial seal of it, is expressly declared by the apostle, Acts ii. 38, 39, be they who they will.

The truth of God’s promises is not confirmed if the sign and seal of them be denied; for that whereon they believed that God was a God unto their seed as well as unto themselves was this, that he granted the token of the covenant unto their seed as well as unto themselves. If this be taken away by Christ, their faith is overthrown, and the promise itself is not confirmed but weakened, as to the virtue it hath to beget faith and obedience”

As we can clearly see Dr. Owen equates the Abrahamic covenant with the Covenant of Grace and that Jesus Christ has always been the mediator and minister of both administrations. We also see that for Owen it has ALWAYS been about the spiritual seed of Abraham even though there are outward administrations of the promise. This is also nothing new.

Therefore in conclusion in Owens view, and in this writers view, to reject the sign and seal of Gods promise of grace to the children of believers is to deny and minimize the fact that Jesus Christ is a faithful and perfect mediator and minister of His own fulfilled covenant of grace.







“Fourth, if election is from foreseen faith, God would not have elected man, but rather man would have elected God, and so predestination should rather be called postdestination; the first cause would be made the second, and God would depend of man (the falsity of which, both the thing itself exclaims and Christ expressly testifies: “Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you,” (Jn. 15:16).

Francis Turretin, Institutes of elenctic theology, trans. G. M. Giger, ed. J. T. Dennison (1679; 3 vols, Philipsburgh, 1992), i, 361.

The following excerpt is from Calvin’s Institutes where he makes a clear logical case for infant baptism. This is not his end all argument but one of the many he uses in contra the Anabaptists of his time. Enjoy!

“In order to gain a stronger footing here, they add, that baptism is a sacrament of penitence and faith, and as neither of these is applicable to tender infancy, we must beware of rendering its meaning empty and vain, by admitting infants to the communion of baptism. But these darts are directed more against God than against us; since the fact that circumcision was a sign of repentance is completely established by many passages of Scripture, (Jer. 4:4.) Thus Paul terms it a seal of the righteousness of faith, (Rom. 4:11.) Let God, then, be demanded why he ordered circumcision to be performed on the bodies of infants? For baptism and circumcision being here in the same case, they cannot give any thing to the latter without conceding it to the former. If they recur to their usual evasion, that, by the age of infancy, spiritual infants were then figured, we have already closed this means of escape against them. We say, then, that since God imparted circumcision, the sign of repentance and faith, to infants, it should not seem absurd that they are now made partakers of baptism, unless men choose to clamour against an institution of God. But as in all his acts, so here also, enough of wisdom and righteousness shines forth to repress the slanders of the ungodly. For although infants, at the moment when they were circumcised, did not comprehend what the sign meant, still they were truly circumcised for the mortification of their corrupt and polluted nature,—a mortification at which they afterwards aspired when adults. In fine, the objection is easily disposed of by the fact, that children are baptized for future repentance and faith. Though these are not yet formed in them, yet the seed of both lies hid in them by the secret operation of the Spirit. This answer at once overthrows all the objections which are twisted against us out of the meaning of baptism; for instance, the title by which Paul distinguishes it when he terms it the “washing of regeneration and renewing,” (Tit. 3:5.) Hence they argue, that it is not to be given to any but to those who are capable of such feelings. But we, on the other hand, may object, that neither ought circumcision, which is designated regeneration, to be conferred on any but the regenerate. In this way, we shall condemn a divine institution. Thus, as we have already hinted, all the arguments which tend to shake circumcision are of no force in assailing baptism. Nor can they escape by saying, that everything which rests on the authority of God is absolutely fixed, though there should be no reason for it, but that this reverence is not due to pædobaptism, nor other similar things which are not recommended to us by the express word of God. They always remain caught in this dilemma. The command of God to circumcise infants was either legitimate and exempt from cavil, or deserved reprehension. If there was nothing incompetent or absurd in it, no absurdity can be shown in the observance of pædobaptism.”

John Calvin, vol. 3, Institutes of the Christian Religion (Edinburgh: The Calvin Translation Society, 1845), 369-70.

Here was Calvin’s argument in case anyone missed it.

Calvin had just argued that X can be applied to children. Anticipating objections, he mentions one that argues that X cannot be applied to children because X is a sign (think symbol, not evidence) of repentance and since infants cannot experience repentance, they therefore cannot receive a symbol of repentance.

How does Calvin answer this objection?

Calvin, assuming that the objector accepts the Bible as the word of God and accepting their premise that X is a sign of repentance, reduces the argument to an absurdity by pointing out that Y was also a sign of repentance (X=Y) and yet God commanded Y to be applied to infants.

Given that X=Y (only in the case that both served as a sign of repentance) how then can one thing be conceded to Y but not be conceded to X?

It can’t!

So then, what should a rebuttal to this argument look like? How can one get around it?

Logically, one can not get around it. It is impossible. Does logical validity constitute truth however? No.

So that leaves an objector to explain why one or more of the premises are false. In other words, as far as this argument goes, one needs to explain why X is not a sign of repentance and/or why Y is not.

Reformed Unity in Diversity

Posted: March 14, 2015 by Ricky Roldan in Topical
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Consider this portion of the Reformed Presbyterian Church General Assembly’s (RPCGA) Book of Church Order which is Dr. Kenneth Talbot’s (President of Whitefield Theological Seminary) denomination and helped author this BCO. We would all do well to take its concerns serious and learn from their heart for unity.

SECTION 6: Ecclesiastical Unity

A 6:1 In John 17:17-21, Jesus Christ our Lord states:

“Sanctify them through Thy truth: Thy word is truth. As thou hast sent Me into the world even so have I also sent them into the world. And for their sakes I sanctify Myself, that they also might be sanctified through the truth. Neither pray I for these alone, but for them also which shall believe on Me through their word; That they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in Me, and I in Thee, that they also may be one in Us: that the world may believe that thou hast sent Me.”

A 6:2 There are three basic principles taught by our Lord in this passage of Scripture:

A 6:3 First, that sanctification is based on the truth of God’s Word, and Christ, therefore, prays that His Church will be bathed in that truth. “Sanctify them through Thy truth: Thy word is truth.” The Church of Jesus Christ must be a sanctified church, that is, a church, which is committed to the purity of the fundamentals of the faith as, taught in our Reformed confessions. As the Apostle Peter states: “But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should show forth the praises of-Him who hath called you out of darkness into His marvelous light”.17 Therefore, the ultimate foundation of a true church is the doctrine of Scriptural sanctification.

The True Church will seek to be sanctified by the Word of the Living God. Another way of stating this principle is that a true church sees the Word of God as the final authority on all issues of life, faith and practice. This, of necessity, would include biblical doctrine and administering the sacraments and church discipline in the fellowship of those called by our God unto Christ Jesus.18

A 6:4 The second principle taught in this passage of Scripture is that Christ has sent us into the world to present the Gospel of His Kingdom as, He Himself preached during His earthly ministry. “As thou hast sent Me into the world, even so have I also sent them into the world. And for their sakes I sanctify Myself, that they also might be sanctified through the truth. Neither pray I for these alone, but for them also which shall believe on Me through their word.”

A 6:5 The priority of the church is to take the Gospel of Jesus Christ to the world. The Apostle Paul states that the Church is seeking- to “preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumbling block, and unto the Greeks foolishness; but unto them which are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God, and the wisdom of God.”19 Here is another mark of the Church of Jesus Christ, the calling of men to Christ by the blessed evangel. However, this will only be accomplished through a church, which is seeking true sanctification. This is our calling as a truly sanctified church. As our Lord teaches us, “And Jesus came and spake unto them, saying, ‘All power is given unto Me in heaven and in earth. Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: teaching them to observe all things whatsoever. I have commanded- you, and, lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world. Amen.’”20 The evangelistic work of a true church is two-fold: first, to preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ; and secondly, to teach them to observe all things whatsoever Christ has commanded. The work of evangelism never ends in the life of the church.

A 6:6 The third principle is that of unity in the Church of Jesus Christ as living testimony to-the truth that Christ was, sent by God the Father.

“That they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in Me, and I in Thee, that they also may be one in Us: that the world may believe that thou hast sent Me. “

A 6:7 Here is the most fundamental principle and work required of the church. If the church is to be the testimony of true spiritual unity of believers, as expressed in Christ’s prayer, the living example of the work and teaching of our Lord Jesus Christ, it must not only verbally proclaim the truth, but it must have unity as a living testimony that what is spoken of concerning Christ and salvation is demonstrated in the life of the church, both spiritually and physically. Our Lord states in John 13:35, “By this shall all men know that ye are My disciples, if ye have love one to another.” The church is to be one and have true unity in Christ Jesus. This is another mark of the Christian Church. It therefore requires that the visible church, of necessity, must seek to establish a physical unity as declared by the Apostle Paul in Ephesians 4:3-6, to which he directs the church in this matter by stating: “… endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body, and one Spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all.” When the church is divided and riddled with schism, then we have denied the directive of the Apostle and have willingly ignored the spiritual unity of the believers in verse twenty-one, especially as it would relate to the life of the visible church. John Owen, the English Puritan, wrote concerning the unity of the church:

“I confess I would rather, much rather, spend all my time and days in making up and healing the breaches and schisms that are amongst Christians than one hour in justifying our divisions, even therein, wherein, on the one side, they are capable o f a fair defence. But who is suff icient for such an attempt? The closing of differences, amongst Christians is like opening the book in the Revelation,— there is none able or worthy to do it, in heaven or in earth, but the lamb: when He will put forth the greatness of His power for it, it shall be accomplished, and not before. In the meantime, a reconciliation amongst all Protestants is our duty, and practicable, and had perhaps ere this been in some forwardness of accomplishment had men rightly understood when in such a reconciliation, according to the mind of God, doth consist. Where men have laboured as much in the improvement of the principle of forbearance as they have done to subdue other men to their opinions, religion will have another appearance in the world.”

A 6:8 The early Presbyterian Church believed in unity and a oneness of Christ’s Church. The Scot’s Confession of 1560 states concerning the Kirk that:

“. . . we believe in one God, Father, Son and Holy Ghost, so we firmly believe that from the beginning there has been, now is, and to the end of the world shall be, one Kirk, that is to say, one company and multitude of men chosen by God, who rightly worship and embrace Him by true faith in Christ Jesus, who is the only Head of the Kirk, even as it is the body and spouse of Christ Jesus. This Kirk is Catholic, that is, universal, because it contains the chosen of all ages, of all realms, nations, and tongues, be they of the Jews or be they of the Gentiles, who have communion and society with God the Father, and with His Son, Christ Jesus, through the sanctification of His Holy Spirit.”

A 6:9 George Gillespie the great Scottish theologian writing on the unity of the church, states:

“Yet there be no strife between us and you, for-we be brethren-and is not the Canaanite and the Perizzite yet in the Land? Oh, let it not be told in Gath, nor published in the streets of Ahkelon. Let it not be said that there can be no unity in the church without Prelacy. Brethren, I charge you, by the roes and by the hinds of the fields, that ye awake not nor stir up Jesus Christ till He pleases: for His rest is sweet and glorious with His well-beloved. It shall be no grief of heart to you afterward that you have pleased others as well as yourselves, and have stretched your principles for an accommodation in church government as well as in worship, and that for the Church’s peace and edification and that the ears of our common enemies may tingle when it shall be said, The Churches of Christ have rest, and are edified, and walking in the fear of the Lord, and in the joy of the Holy Ghost, are multiplied. Alas! how shall our divisions and contentions hinder the preaching and learning of Christ, and the edifying of one another in love? “Is Christ divided?” said the apostle. There is but one Christ; yea, the Head and the body make but one Christ, so that you cannot divide the body without dividing Christ. Is there so much as a seam in all Christ’s garment? Is it not woven throughout, from the top to the bottom? … Oh, brethren, we shall be one in heaven; let us pack up differences in this place of our pilgrimage the best way we can. Nay, we will not despair of unity in this world. Hath not God promised to give us one heart and one way; … Brethren, it is not impossible, pray for it, endeavor it, press hard toward the mark of accommodation. How much better is it that you be one with the other Reformed Churches, though somewhat strained and bound up, than to be divided, though at full liberty and elbow-room! ‘Better is a dry morsel, and quietness therewith, than a house full of sacrifices with strife.’”

A 6:10 We have a duty, as those called in the hope of Christ Jesus, to seek reconciliation among the Reformed churches and to seek accommodation on the diversity of thought concerning the non-fundamentals. St. Paul in 1 Corinthians 12:12-20, 25-27 states:

“For as the body is one, and hath many members, and all the members of that one body, being many, are one body: so also is Christ. For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free; and have been all made to drink into one Spirit. For the body is not one member, but many. If the foot shall say, because I am not the hand, I am not of the body; is it therefore not of the body? And if the ear shall say, because 1 am not the eye, I am not of the body; is it therefore not of the body? If the whole body were an eye, where were the hearing? If the whole were hearing, where were the smelling? But now hath God set the members every one of them in the body, as it hath pleased Him. And if they were all one member, where were the body? But now are they many members, yet but one body… That there should be no schism in the body; but that the members should have the same care one for another. And whether one member suffer, all the members suffer with it; or one member be honored, all the members rejoice with it. Now ye are the body of Christ, and members in particular.”

A 6:11 The Westminster Confession of Faith of 1647 teaches us that: “The purest Churches under heaven are subject both to mixture and error.” 21 It is therefore impossible for us to create a perfect church on this earth until the second coming of Christ Jesus our Lord. Yet we must strive for unity and oneness. Can there be a living testimony that Christ Jesus has come in the flesh from the Father, if there is only division and schism dividing the church? The time has come for Reformed churches of the historical faith to put aside our differences by working toward laying a foundation for a common confession and allowing for accommodation, without compromise, within the ecclesiastical community. We have allowed our precisionist attitudes to divide the church, thus allowing liberalism to gain the upper hand in many denominations. The Reformed Presbyterian Church General Assembly expresses its desire for those of like faith, to come and associate with us in the fundamentals. of the Reformed faith, with the hope that one day we will share one common confession, as one visible church.

In the reformed community there is a debate that continues on whether we are to refer to Gods outward goodness to the non-elect (reprobates) as “common grace” or as “providence”.

My intention in this short article is not to give a full polemic or a refutation but rather to merely share my own view concerning this topic.

My own studies of scripture and historical theology has helped me come to the conclusion that the term to be properly used is “Providence”, or may I suggest “common providence”, rather than “common grace” for the following reasons:

1. The phrase “common grace” is not found in our reformed confessional standards as correctly noted by the OPC website here.

“First, our confessional standards do not use the term “Common Grace” (nor do they include the 1924 statement of the Christian Reformed Church or CRC), and the concept of Common Grace does not appear to be present in our standards either.” (OPC website Q&A section)

Strikingly, Calvin says that any grace or faith attributed to the reprobate is only “by catechresis”; a tropical or improper form of expression; only because they … exhibit some appearance of obedience to it” (Institutes 3.2.9).

2. The term “charis” used for grace is never once used in Scripture to teach Gods disposition towards the reprobate but only towards the Elect.

“Scripture never uses chen or charis to refer to his blessings on creation generally or on non-elect humanity” (John Frame, The Doctrine of God: a Theology of Lordship (Phillipsburg, New Jersey: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing, 2002), pp. 429-30.

“To distinguish the special redemptive work of God from his general providence to all, some have attempted to use terms with more precision. The term “grace” is often restricted to the redemptive work of God toward his elect, and not more broadly of the care of God for all his creatures. The term “common grace” was used by the early reformers in several senses but not as if God works benevolently toward those he has chosen to condemn eternally.” (Dr. Bob Burridge PCA, Effectual calling)

3. It causes grave confusion with many who are stuck between Arminianism and Calvinism as the phrase “common grace” and the idea that God loves all including the non-elect is used by Arminians to justify their Universal Atonement and resistable grace to name a few.

4. The fact that what the non-elect receive from God furthers their condemnation and heap Gods wrath all the more cannot be considered as “grace”. Adding to this concept, the fact that there is a blessing/curse aspect to the covenantal signs and seals absolutely refutes the usage of “common grace” in my opinion.

Calvin writes: “This is invariably true, and is not inconsistent with the fact, that the large benefits which the divine liberality is constantly bestowing on the wicked are preparing them for heavier judgment.” (Institutes of the Christian religion III, ii, 32)

In Romans 2:4-5 it reads:

“4 Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance? 5 But because of your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed.”

Calvin again writes:

“Not knowing that the goodness of God, etc. For the Lord by his kindness shows to us, that it is he to whom we ought turn, if we desire to secure our wellbeing, and at the same time he strengthens our confidence in expecting mercy. If we use not God’s bounty for this end, we abuse it. But yet it is not to be viewed always in the same light; for when the Lord deals favorably with his servants and gives them earthly blessings, he makes known to them by symbols of this kind his own benevolence, and trains them up at the same time to seek the sum and substance of all good things in himself alone: when he treats the transgressors of his law with the same indulgence, his object is to soften by his kindness their perverseness; he yet does not testify that he is already propitious to them, but, on the contrary, invites them to repentance. But if any one brings this objection — that the Lord sings to the deaf as long as he does not touch inwardly their hearts; we must answer — that no fault can be found in this case except with our own depravity. But I prefer rendering the word which Paul here uses, leads, rather than invites, for it is more significant; I do not, however, take it in the sense of driving, but of leading as it were by the hand.

verse 5. But according to thy hardness, etc. When we become hardened against the admonitions of the Lord, impenitence follows; and they who arc not anxious about repentance openly provoke the Lord.

This is a remarkable passage: we may hence learn what I have already referred to — that the ungodly not only accumulate for themselves daily a heavier weight of God’s judgments, as long as they live here, but that the gifts of God also, which they continually enjoy, shall increase their condemnation; for an account of them all will be required: and it will then be found, that it will be justly imputed to them as an extreme wickedness, that they had been made worse through God’s bounty, by which they ought surely to have been improved. Let us then take heed, lest by unlawful use of blessings we lay up for ourselves this cursed treasure.” (Calvin’s Commentaries)

5. Our reformed confessions of faith also uses the term “providence” to refer to God sovereignty over all things including sin and the restraint of it.

WCF chpt. V Of Providence

“I. God the great Creator of all things does uphold, direct, dispose, and govern all creatures, actions, and things, from the greatest even to the least, by His most wise and holy providence, according to His infallible foreknowledge, and the free and immutable counsel of His own will, to the praise of the glory of His wisdom, power, justice, goodness, and mercy.”

This takes care of the restraint of sin in the world

“VI. As for those wicked and ungodly men whom God, as a righteous Judge, for former sins, does blind and harden, from them He not only withholds His grace whereby they might have been enlightened in their understandings, and wrought upon in their hearts; but sometimes also withdraws the gifts which they had, and exposes them to such objects as their corruption makes occasion of sin; and, withal, gives them over to their own lusts, the temptations of the world, and the power of Satan, whereby it comes to pass that they harden themselves, even under those means which God uses for the softening of others.

VII. As the providence of God does, in general, reach to all creatures; so, after a most special manner, it takes care of His Church, and disposes all things to the good thereof.”

This takes care of the general good done to all creatures both elect and non-elect BUT in a “special manner” takes care of His Church aka the Elect.

Heidelberg Catechism
Lord’s Day 10
“27. What do you understand by the providence of God?
The almighty, everywhere-present power of God,1 whereby, as it were by His hand, He still upholds heaven and earth with all creatures, and so governs them that herbs and grass, rain and drought, fruitful and barren years, meat and drink,4 health and sickness, riches and poverty, indeed, all things come not by chance,7 but by His fatherly hand.”

Dr. Kenneth Talbot President of Whitefield Theological Seminary Writes: “There is nothing common about the “grace” of our God. However, there is a common goodness of God towards all men. Common grace implies a logical implication of universalism. Ricky you are correct, the common goodness of God towards all men is within the context of God’s providence. Goodness must not be confused with grace. Grace is particular – it is only extended to the elect. Goodness however is extended to all men. Got to run.” (on my facebook page)

I argue then that is within sound scriptural exegesis and confessionally sound to rather reject such a notion and refer to Gods restraining of sin and common gifts to men as “Providence” as all the Reformed Confessions teach. To go beyond this proper term leads to Amyraldianism and Universal Atonement, though many would inconsistently reject this conclusion. Grace in Scripture ALWAYS leads to salvation.

God does not in any portion of Scripture states that He loves the reprobate in any way shape or form. This is one of the main reasons “common grace” is rejected because it goes to the extreme by saying God has some sort of secondary class love for the reprobate which is not justified by scripture. When God gives good gifts to the reprobate it is for their condemnation so then that would be wrath and justice not mercy or grace.

The Well Meant Offer of the Gospel

Another doctrine that is often attached to “common grace” is the concept that the offer of the gospel is even unto the reprobate considered as “grace”. This is also an erroneous assertion made by common gracer’s.

Neo-Calvinists have taken this concept to another level and began to teach that God indeed loves every single individual and sincerely offers even unto the non-elect the option of salvation and desires their salvation to which I thoroughly disagree and affirm that this is neither biblical nor logical.

Grace is infinite eternal and unchangeable and since there are no variables in God, there is no other grace. What I want to know is how can one infer God’s intention from His precepts? Yes, God commands everyone every where to repent and believe, yet He only determines the elect to do so, of that, there is no doubt. However, I say that repentance is the reprobate’s duty, but to the elect repentance is a gift. God grants them repentance. Now, is it God’s intention to save the reprobate when He commands them to repent and believe? No.

God has a will of command and a will of decree, that is not to say though that God has two wills. That concept is preposterous. Rather it is emphasizing different aspects of the working of God’s will. A double minded man is unstable in all of his ways. What about a double minded God. God’s will is one. All of God’s attributes are one. It is a bridge too far to change the nature of God in order to postulate a doctrine that scripture refutes. I have no problem with saying God is in a sense good to the non-elect and allows them to breathe and eat etc.. but I believe people go to far when they start asserting that God actually in a very real desirable way Wills or WANTS the reprobate whom He created for a vessel of Wrath per Romans 9 to be saved. That’s the problem with this version of Common Grace. I believe because God is Providential the reprobate get exactly what God wants them to get and ARE USED FOR HIS GLORY JUST LIKE SATAN IS AND PHARAOH WAS AND JUDAS WAS.

For a full refutation of this version of the “Well Meant Offer” made more popular and postulated by Dr. John Murray see Dr. Matthew Winzer’s “Murray on the Free Offer of the Gospel: A Review

Final Thoughts

We understand the want to use the term “grace” because its undeserved and all that. If you don’t mind me saying, In my analysis of many individuals I have spoken to regarding this they are caught up in the desire to generalize the term “grace” and its definition. The thing is though that while people want to simplify and generalize the definition, Scripture on the other hand gives “grace” a special definition and is reserved specifically for Gods Elect people. Not name calling here but its the same generalizing principle that Arminians do when speaking of the Atonement. They want to simplify Christ atoning death and make it general for all, while we know that Scripture gives the atonement a special definition and is reserved specifically for the Elect. The Amyraldian make the same argument in this regard using common grace and generalizing not only the term “grace” but also generalizing the Atonement for all, Elect and reprobate, but that its effect is only for the Elect. Therefore according to them, the intent of the Cross is for “all” but the effect is for “some”. How do they try to justify this contradiction? The same way those who claim that God loves the reprobate in some way and that God desires the reprobate to be saved but doesn’t save them justify their claim, they quickly pull out the “Two Wills of God” card. The Amyraldians say that God in His Will of Precept intended the cross for all since he desires all to repent and believe but that in Gods Will of Decree did not choose to grant the cross to effect all. Do you see how this abuse of using Gods one will in the divided sense is done from both of these? Yes, God indeed has a Will of Decree and a Will of Command or Precept but this does not entail the above false assertions. We explain this divided sense to Arminians when they object to us Evangelizing to all while maintaining Election among a few things, only then is it proper to use that.

Now, common gracer’s maintain that because the non-elect receive gifts that are underserved that it is obviously “grace”. Ok, we get that. BUT I would argue that the gifts that the non-elect do receive are well deserved, why? Because as we have already maintained, these gifts serve the purpose of hardening them more and adding to their condemnation and destruction. This is the correct way of looking at it biblically. Therefore, if these gifts God gives the reprobate do not serve to whoo them to salvation nor benefit them spiritually in any way but serve to justly condemn them, bringing upon them Gods Holy wrath; brothers and sisters I submit to you that these gifts are curses, wrath and justice WHICH THE NON-ELECT CLEARLY DO DESERVE. I reiterate then that it cannot in any way shape or form be referred to as “Grace”.

I leave you with this scenario:

There is a supervisor of a company that has a constant beef with an employee. Now this employee hates the supervisors with a passion and is constantly acting insubordinate and rebellious, the supervisor in turn also hates the employee because of this malice towards him and everyone else in the company including the employees evidently see this conflict between the two. One morning a company meeting is held and during the meeting in front of everyone the supervisor presents the rebellious employee with a brand new iphone 5. This is to everyone’s shock because they all know about the animosity between the two and cannot for the life of them understand why the supervisor would give the employee who hates him a free gift of that nature or even a gift at all. Everyone leaves the meeting puzzled and scratching their heads as to this issue. The rebellious employee in the meantime continues to enjoy his brand new iphone and making fun of the supervisor who gave it to him and claiming how stupid he is and all that never giving the supervisor any credit or any gratefulness for the gift but nevertheless continues to enjoy the gift. Two days later the rebellious employee doesn’t show up for work and everyone is wondering where he is, as it turns out the iphone that was given to him exploded while he was using it and blew his brains out because the supervisor planted a micro-bomb into the phone before he gave it to the rebellious employee and took out his wrath on him in that way. When the other employees found out about that the supervisor planted a bomb into the phone they then truly understood why he gave the rebellious employee that free gift, it was for his death sentence his condemnation and judgement.

Now, do you think that was such a gracious gift? I for one don’t think so.

What the non-elect receive may indeed seem gracious in the outward perspective looking at it in a temporal manner, but since the scriptures reveal to us the reason and future outcome per Gods Decree for such outward gifts we then should not conclude that these outward gifts are given because God loves the non-elect and desires their salvation in the so called “common grace” of God.

Grace and Peace to the Elect in Christ