July 11, 2009

Erroll Hulse on the Connection between Common Grace and the Free Offer

2. The connection between Common Grace and the Free Offer of the Gospel.

We have noted that the goodness of God extends to fallen mankind as a whole, not only in the provision of fruitful seasons, food and gladness, but in a multiplicity of benefits. But does God wish the very highest good for men, the highest blessing being eternal salvation? We say, Yes! The quotation just made from Acts 17 shows that common grace finds its fullest expression in the provision of a Gospel to be addressed to all without exception. Because he has provided the Gospel God now commands all men everywhere to repent (Acts 17:30). But does he desire or wish salvation for all? We answer, Yes! He declares his feelings in unmistakable terms. He has no pleasure in the death of the wicked (Ezek. 18:32; 33:11). Moreover the optative (expressing wish or desire) force of the words, "Oh that there were such a heart in them, that they would fear me" (Deut. 5:29; 32:29; Psa. 81:13ff.; Isa. 48:18) expresses the same truth.

Consistent with these expressions are the teachings of Jesus (Matt. 5:44–48; Luke 6:35, 36) where we are exhorted to be "merciful" even as our Father is merciful. This mercy must include the desire for the salvation of man. If some disagree they cannot deny the clearest expressions of Jesus concerning his wish for the people to be saved, firstly, when he asserts his frustration concerning the ingathering of the Jews: "How oft would I have gathered you and ye would not" (Matt. 23:37; Luke 13:34), and secondly in his tears over Jerusalem (Luke 19:41–44).

Again the connection between God's goodness to all mankind and the free offer of the Gospel is seen in Rom. 2:4. The express purpose of God's goodness and forbearance to sinners is to lead them to repentance.

Likewise Paul and Barnabas try to stop the idolatry of the priests at Lystra by showing that all good things come from the sovereign Lord. Why then sacrifice to men? The provision of good things is a witness to remind men of God and turn them from vanities to him (Acts 14:16, 17).

The goodness of God towards all men is most clearly expressed in Isa. 45:22, "Look unto me, and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth: for I am God, and there is none else". The same goodness is expressed in 1 Tim. 2:4, "Who will have all men to be saved, and to come to a knowledge of the truth". What could be clearer than that and who dare restrain the plain meaning of this verse or for that matter of 2 Peter. 3:9 where plainly the long-suffering of God is declared that the unrepentant might come to repentance?

The freeness of the Gospel overtures, or offers, as found in such passages as Isa. 55:1, "Ho, every one that thirstesth, come ye to the waters, and he that hath no money; come ye, buy, and eat; yea, come, buy wine and milk without money and without price", and the poetic constraint of the closing paragraph of the Bible. "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", offers further cogent proof of the most gracious expressions of God concerning his will for all men to be saved, not to mention those passages of sustained reasoning with sinners to turn and live, such as Isa. 1:16–20 and Ezek. 33:12–20, and also shorter expressions belonging to the same category such as Matt. 11:28–30 and Rev. 3:20.

Common grace, then, finds its highest expression in that desire and will of God not only for fallen man's temporal well-being but for his soul's salvation and eternal happiness.
Erroll Hulse, The Free Offer of the Gospel: An Exposition of Common Grace and the Free Invitation of the Gospel (Worthington and Haywards Heath, Sussex,. UK: Carey Publications, 1973), 7–8.

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