March 11, 2008

Robert Traill (1642–1716) on Common and Special Grace

3. Grace is considered as it is in the vessels that receive it, in men that partake of it. And here it will be needful to distinguish. The grace of God as received, comes under a very notable distinction of common grace, and saving grace, or special. Somewhat hath been hinted of the same distinction, betwixt common and special saving mercy. But of this distinction, as to grace received, I would speak more fully.

First, Common grace is so called, not because it is ordinary and usual, (for in bad times it is rare enough), but because it is not saving. It is most likely, that in such happy times (which we cannot now boast of, but only hope for when saving grace is bestowed on many, common grace is dispensed more frequently also. That there is such a thing as common grace, is as certain, as it is that there is such a creature (if I may so call him) as a hypocrite in the church, or in the world. For an hypocrite is nothing else but an unrenewed sinner, painted over with more or less common grace. And to men that see the outside of others only, he may appear like a true Christian.

I would give some particular instances of this common grace.

1. There is a common enlightening grace, a common illumination, Heb. vi. 4. and x. 26. The apostle supposeth, that there is an enlightening, and a receiving a knowledge of the truth that may be where a fatal apostasy may follow. The Lord may give the light of his word; and, in and by that light, may dart in some clear beams of gospel-truth on such that are led no farther. It is far from being true, that all knowing heads have sound hearts. There may be, and often is, much clear light in the mind about points of saving truth, when there is no sense, no savour, no faith in the heart. Acts xxvi. we find Paul speaking in the most noble assembly that it is like he ever spoke in; a King and a Queen, and a Roman Governor greater than both. In this august assembly, Paul, though a prisoner in bonds, remembers his being an apostle, and preacheth Christ, and takes Christ's grace in converting him for his text: ver. 24. When he is thus speaking, Festus said with a loud voice, Paul thou art beside thyself: much learning doth make thee mad. At the same time, ver. 28. Agrippa said unto Paul, Almost thou persuadest me to be a Christian. This was a great deal better than Festus's word, yet a poor word in itself. It spoke some glancing of ineffectual light on his mind. An almost Christian, and no more, is but a sinner almost saved, and no more; or one that is no Christian, and never saved at all.

2. There is common awakening grace. The Lord sometimes alarms the consciences of the ungodly, and may raise a great sense of sin in such as are never forgiven; and fears of hell, yea, a foretaste of hell, in some that never escape it. I have sinned, Saith Pharaoh; I have sinned saith Saul: I have sinned (saith Judas), in betraying innocent blood. Alas, poor wretch! it had been better to have confessed his sin against his master, to his master, than to his murderers. Felix trembled when Paul preached. It was grace in God to come so near to him, and great power was put forth. What else could make such a great prince as Felix was, to tremble at the words of a poor prisoner standing before him in his chains? Awakening grace is but common grace. The law wounds many a conscience that the gospel doth not heal, because not applied to. No wound can the law make, which the gospel cannot heal. Boast not of your wounds by the law, unless you can tell how you were healed. There is no cure for a conscience wounded by sin and by the law, but the blood of Jesus shed for sin. Did ye come to it? Heb. xii. 24. Did he apply it to you? Were you cured of your wounds before ye went to him, and before he came to you? Woeful is that cure, and worse than the wound. Many poor creatures are wounded by the law, and to the law they go for healing. But God never appointed the law to heal a wounded conscience; and it never did, nor can, nor will, to the end of the world, nor to eternity. It is Christ's name, and property, and glory, to be the only physician of souls; and all must die of the disease of sin, that are not his happy patients.

3. There is common restraining grace; an act of God's grace and wisdom, which he often puts forth in his ruling of this wicked world. How quickly would this earth become a hell, were it not for this restraining grace? If all unrenewed Men were permitted by God, to commit all the Sin Satan tempts to, and their Natures incline them to, there would be no living in this World for the godly. This restraining grace we find a Heathen had, Gen. 20.6. I with-held thee from sinning against me, saith the Lord to Abimelech. And which is more, we find a great Saint praying for it. Ps. 19.13. Keep back thy servant also from presumptuous sins, let them not have Dominion over me: That is, lay a powerful restraint on me by thy grace, that when I am tempted, my way may be hedged up, and I may be kept from complying with the Temptation. But yet bare restraining grace is not desired by a Christian in good case, without sanctifying grace: He desires not only the restraining of the outward Acts of Sin, but the removing of inward Inclinations to Sin; he begs the renewing and changing of the Heart. So David, when he had fallen foully, by the strength of inward Corruption, and God's leaving him to himself; when recovered by Grace, and renewed unto Repentance, prays like a wise Believer. Psal. 51.10. Create in me a clean Heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.
Robert Traill, "Sermons Concerning the Throne of Grace: Sermon VIII," in The Works of the Late Reverend Robert Traill, 4 vols. (Edinburgh: Printed for J. Ogle, 1810), 1:146–150?. Also in Robert Trail, The Throne of Grace (London: Printed by J. Orme, for Nathanael Hiller, at the Prince's Arms in Leaden-hall-Street, over against St. Mary Ax Church, 1696), 206–210.


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