December 13, 2009

R. C. Sproul (1939–2017) on God's Love and Common Grace

To love your neighbor and your enemy is to be a son of the heavenly Father, because this is precisely what God Himself does. His benefits accrue not only to believers but to unbelievers as well. When people remain at enmity with God, they do so while they are receiving benefits from His hand.

When Jesus commands us to love our enemies, He defines that love not so much in terms of feelings of affection but in terms of actions. To love our enemies requires that we bless them when they curse us and do good to them when they hate us. This is what it means to mirror and reflect the love of God, because God does good to those who hate Him and blesses people while they are cursing Him.

Jesus illustrates the beneficent love of God by pointing to the sun and the rain. God makes His sun rise on the wicked as well as the good and sends rain on both the just and the unjust. When we observe a rain shower, we do not see the raindrops falling with personal discrimination. We don't see bad people getting wet and good people walking through the shower untouched. The righteous and the wicked both need an umbrella. At the same time, the refreshment needed for the fields is received in the same rainfall by the wicked farmer and the righteous farmer. Sun and storm alike affect both.

The description of the benefits of God enjoyed jointly by the wicked and the righteous is called in theology "common grace." Common grace is called "grace" because all of the benefits we receive from a Holy God are undeserved. All the good things we receive from the hand of God are gifts. They are not rewards earned by our merit. Grace, by definition, means the undeserved or unmerited favor of God. These favors are poured out from His bounty on believer and unbeliever alike. The air that we breathe, the food that we eat, and the water that we drink are all benefits that come from Him. Perhaps it is in recognition that He owes us none of these things that we call the prayer of thanksgiving that accompanies a meal saying "grace." Of course the common grace of God includes far more than the daily necessities of life. At times the gifts of His common grace are poured out in abundance and may include great prosperity for its recipients. All that we have are gifts from his treasure house of common grace.

Common grace is called "common" because it is distinguished from the special grace that is the grace of salvation. Special grace is what God extends to His elect, by which they are brought into His family through adoption. On the other hand, all people, commonly, receive the benefits of common grace.

There is irony here, however. The gifts of God's common grace, which flow out of His benevolence and beneficence, which are blessings for the moment, actually become occasions for judgment for the wicked. Every blessing an impenitent person receives from God that is greeted with ingratitude adds to the heaping up of wrath against the day of judgment. God does not give these gifts to torment the sinner. They are truly beneficial. They become nonbeneficial in the long run only because of the obstinate sinfulness of the wicked. The wicked's misuse and abuse of the good gifts of God do not render these good gifts to be bad gifts.
 R. C. Sproul, Loved by God (Nashville: Word Publishing, 2001), 139–141.

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