January 21, 2015

Robert Bolton (1572–1631) on the Causes for God's General Grace and Temporary Love

"There may another objection be made, and a doubt arise out of the point formerly delivered; for it may seem very strange, that God will bestow such excellent graces upon reprobates, who have no true interest in the everlasting covenant of mercy and peace, no part in the Lamb, no title or right to the glory of heaven. It will be thought, that they are jewels for the ears, and bracelets for the arms of God's children alone, and not to be thrown amongst the swine.

I answer; It is done especially for these causes:

First, that the glory of God's goodness might shine the fairer, and more brightly in the world, and among the sons of men. The whole world is thick embroidered, and every where beset with a wonderful variety of prints and passages of his goodness and bounty. Every creature in some measure or other doth taste of his liberality. In this great volume of nature round about us, we may run and read the deep impressions and large characters of kindness and love, which his merciful and munificent hand hath made in all places, in every leaf, page and line of it. Now as out of the bottomless Sea, and unexhausted fountain of his own goodness, he causes his Sun to shine as well upon the unjust as the righteous; his rain to fall as well upon weeds, thistles and thorns, as upon herbs, flowers and fruit trees. So many times he deals large doles of temporal happiness, and general graces, as well unto the reprobate as the true Christian. His dear, everlasting and special love belongs only unto his elect: But in general graces and temporary love, that I may so call it, he is bountiful many times, even to the reprobates; As they are content to serve him in many things, so he is willing to confer some blessings upon them. But as they will not part with their sweet sin, and their whole heart for his service, which he doth specially require; so he will not part with salvation and eternal life unto them, which above all things they ought most to desire.

Secondly, these gifts and graces are bestowed on the reprobates, especially for the good comfort and benefit of the elect: For all things in the world besides the elect, are for the elect's sake, as the elect in a more excellent and eminent manner for God's glory; and all things work together for their good. The very temptations of Satan, the use or loss of the creatures, the rage of the scorner, the cruelty of the persecutor, the moderation of the civil honest man, the illumination of the formal professor, afflictions and crosses, nay their own sins and infirmities; all these, and every thing else in the world makes one way or other for the good of God's children; nay, the world itself stands only unto the number of the Elect be accomplished: For when the last of God's chosen be once called and fitted with grace for heaven, it will presently flame with fire, the trumpet will sound, and we shall all come to the judgement of that great day. God therefore many times enlightens the reprobates with many gifts of the spirit, and common graces, that those whom he hath designed to salvation, may be the better by them. To this purpose in the Apostles time in the Primitive Church, there were many common gifts; as the gift of knowledge, the working of miracles, the word of wisdom, the power of healing, the discerning of spirits, the diversity of tongues, the interpretation of tongues, to all which if there were not added a justifying fruitful faith, a true love to God, his Word and service, and to true Christians, the gifts of regeneration, a dying to sin, a rising up to newness of life, the grace of hearty prayer, comfort in distress, and such like, which be infallible notes and marks of election; I say without these the former common graces did not save the owners, but only serve to edify others, and to enlighten the elect in the way to heaven. I do not doubt but ever since in the Church, and at this day, as God by his Almighty hand doth bridle and curb the fierce and bloody rage of persecutors, and cruel prophaneness, that his children may live peaceably by them; and as by his restraining spirit he breeds a moderation, ingeniousness, civil honesty, and just dealing in others; that they may enjoy their own, and live comfortably in respect of worldly matter. So I doubt not but he doth furnish some with many worthy and excellent gifts of his enlightening spirit, though they want sanctifying grace; that thereby the Elect may be furthered in spiritual matters, and guided in the ways of salvation.

Thirdly, their endowment with these graces make them more inexcusable. For whereas the Lord vouchsafeth them knowledge, some faith and joy in this Word, many notable gifts, a glimpse of the glory of heaven, and a taste of the powers of the world to come, and yet for all this they will not be drawn on to be thorough resolute, and true hearted for God's service, and servants; but ever when their chief carnal contentments are called into question, they start aside like a broken bow; I say they do herein clearly judge themselves unworthy of everlasting life, Acts 13.46. and make the sentence of eternal condemnation more than most must against them. How will they be confounded and ashamed at the great and fearful day, when it shall appear before men and Angels, that the Lord in this life gave knowledge and profession of his truth unto them; let them have some tastes of the glorious comforts of his children, and the unfading treasures of eternal life; and told them by the Ministers of his Word, if they would utterly and resolutely wean and withdraw their affections from the world and earthly pleasures, and set their hearts upon things above, and become not almost, but altogether Christians; they should most certainly hereafter drink deep and large of the Well of life, and River of endless pleasure: Yet for all this, wretched and willful men, they would not part with the pleasures of one bosom sin or other, which they had presently in possession, for heaven hereafter, though they had the Word and promise of Almighty God for the performance of it in due time."


Note: Observe how Bolton uses "general" or "common grace" interchangeably with "temporary love," kindness, mercy and goodness. They're all interconnected in his conception of common grace. Also, in his third point, observe how he's alluding to the point of Romans 2:4. Through "these graces," the reprobates are the more inexcusable, since they were not moved to repentance. In order to move them to repentance and eternal life was one of the reasons God showed them his grace, patience, mercy, goodness and kindness. The Puritan conception of common grace involves all of these ideas, not just part of these things.

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