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Good Gifts to the Wicked, and the Love of Jesus

I am a British subscriber to the Standard Bearer. After finding the magazine difficult going at first and nearly canceling the subscription at one point, I now find it a real source of blessing and look forward to receiving it.

My query is this. I can follow the theology of the Protestant Reformed Churches (PRC) for 95% of the way. In particular, your doctrine of the covenant is the only one I can find scripturally satisfying. I also agree with your emphasis on the antithesis. What I find very difficult to go along with is the idea that God does not display at least His basic good/kind/loving naturedness in His dealings with the wicked. I agree that He is angry with them every day. But it seems to me that it makes God vindictive to teach that He gives good things to the wicked in His hatred and only to make matters worse for them in the day of judgment. The closest analogy that I can think of is our treatment of a condemned criminal. We would hate him and want rid of him insofar as he is unrepentant. But we would not withdraw the common civilities from him and would treat him kindly while he is on death row. Can we not say the same of God in His treatment of the wicked? The good things that He gives are a testimony of His goodness, but the evil use made of these things by the wicked will conduce to their greater condemnation and to the justification of His dealings with them.

My second difficulty is this. If Jesus did not love the wicked, but hated them, how could He have kept the law, which He emphasizes consists of love to all, including our enemies and those who persecute us? He taught us that by loving our enemies we are imitators of the Father.

Presumably, the PRC must have thought through these issues, but I have not come across a precise answer to my problems in the SB. Your response to my questions will be greatly appreciated.

Stuart R. Clegg

Durham, Great Britain

Response:

The many natural and material gifts that God gives to the reprobate wicked, who hate Him and change the truth of Him into a lie, are good gifts. I refer to such gifts as life and health, capability of mind and strength of body, rain and sunshine, family and friends. They are also so many evidences to the ungodly of the goodness of the Creator. For their abuse of these gifts and unthankfulness for them, the wicked make themselves guilty of greater punishment both in this life and in everlasting hell. This is the teaching of Acts 14:17 and other passages.

The Protestant Reformed Churches (PRC) recognize that God gives good earthly things to the ungodly and regard these things as good gifts of God’s providence.

What we object to is the teaching that these gifts come to the reprobate ungodly, who hate God and worship and serve the creature rather than the ever-blessed Creator (whom they know), as blessings to them in the love of God for them. This is the doctrine of common grace that the Christian Reformed Church (CRC) adopted in 1924 and that almost all Reformed and Presbyterian churches now enthusiastically embrace. For rejecting this theory, the PRC were expelled from the CRC.

We deny that the blessing of God is to be identified with the possession and enjoyment of good, material gifts. Blessing is not in things. Blessing is the living Word of God with and in and through things, or the lack of things, that expresses God’s attitude of love toward the person who receives, or lacks, material gifts and that makes the material gifts, or the lack of material gifts, work his spiritual good in time and in eternity. Blessing is the forgiveness of sins by the gospel of Jesus Christ and, on the basis of this righteousness, God’s subsequent activity of making everything, good and bad, work together for the good of the forgiven sinner. Blessed is the man whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered (Psalm 32:1, 2Rom. 4:6-8). Blessed is this man and this man only. Blessed is this man in his spiritual life and in his earthly life, in things heavenly and in things material. Cursed are all others.

If the earthly life, physical health, and material riches of the reprobate ungodly (who hate God, reject His Christ, and trample His law underfoot) are blessings, the death, sickness, and poverty of the elect saint must be so many divine cursings. But the Bible teaches that all things come to the believer in and with the blessing of God, out of the love that God has for him in Christ Jesus. God blesses the believer with poverty as well as with riches, with sickness as well as with health, with death as well as with life. “All things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose” (Rom. 8:28). All things are ours, who are in Christ, including the worst physical evil, death (I Cor. 3:21-23). All things are for our sakes, that is, all things come to us as blessing from God, specifically including the affliction that every child of God experiences (II Cor. 4:15-18).

The good, clear, and necessary implication of these passages is that nothing comes to the reprobate ungodly, who is outside of Christ, as a blessing. All things, the good as well as the evil, come to him in the divine wrath. All things work together for ill to him. Certainly, this takes place according to God’s purpose and by God’s just judgment. Proverbs 3:33 declares that the curse of the Lord is in the house of the wicked. The curse is in their house. It is in their everyday earthly life—their family, their eating and drinking, their riches and comforts, their work and play. The theory of common grace puts the blessing of God in the house of the wicked. Scripture puts His curse there.

Psalm 73 sheds light on one of the most powerful and dangerous temptations that ever threatens to undo the God-fearing man or woman. And what is this temptation? Exactly the notion that the prosperity of the ungodly and the adversity of the clean of heart mean that God is good to the ungodly and not good to Israel, here and now, in this life. That is, the temptation that well nigh causes the believer’s complete spiritual collapse is the notion that God blesses the ungodly in this life and, if He does not quite curse the godly, does not bless the godly in this life, or, at least, does not bless the godly as much as He blesses the ungodly. The notion is sheer foolishness and ignorance, bordering on bestial stupidity (v. 22). For a man’s earthly life, circumstances, possessions, and conditions must be evaluated in the light of the “end” of his life (v. 17). In all His chastising and plaguing of His elect Israel in this life with circumstances of poverty, troubles, lack, and sickness, “truly God is good to Israel, even to such as are of a clean heart” (v. 1). For He is guiding the God-fearer to glory (v. 24). In contrast, in all His loading of the ungodly with prosperity—the good things of earthly life—God is not good to the ungodly in the sense that He is blessing them. For He is setting them in slippery places; He is casting them down into destruction (v. 18).

No more deadly mistake can a man make than to assume that God loves and blesses him because he has it good in this life, because his eyes stand out with fatness. No more demonic and dangerous temptation lurks in the soul of the Christian than to determine blessing and cursing from his earthly lot. The heresy of common grace teaches this mistake and promotes this temptation. It is a pernicious error. The psalmist of Psalm 73, for all his troubles, could be thankful that no common grace preacher or theologian was around to explain the prosperity of the wicked and the afflictions of the godly to him. Then his feet would have been entirely gone; his steps would have slipped.

The doctrine of common grace has less sense about earthly prosperity than does popular wisdom. Popular wisdom indicts the vanity of earthly riches in the saying, “The man with the most toys at deathwins.” Common grace says, “The man with the most toys is the one most blessed of God.”

As for Jesus’ hatred of some persons, which you fear might imply His disobedience to the law of God, the explanation is, first, that He is God. As God, the lawgiver, He is not subject to the law. Specifically, He is not Himself subject to the commandment, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” God has no neighbors. He has creatures. As God, Jesus is the one who, in hatred, has eternally reprobated some humans (Rom. 9:6-24). He is the one who, in hatred, will one day punish the reprobate wicked with everlasting hell (Rev. 20:11-15).

Second, as a man He is not an ordinary man but the Messiah, the servant of Jehovah, who has come to carry out the will of God with regard to mankind (John 6:38-40;Heb. 10:7). Neither during His earthly ministry nor now as exalted in heaven does He love all humans. He behaves unjustly toward none, but He hates some. Matthew 23 is evidence of His hatred toward some during His earthly ministry. The “woe” in this chapter is expressive of damning hatred: “How can ye escape the damnation of hell? … I send unto you prophets, and wise men, and scribes … [so] that upon you may come all the righteous blood shed upon the earth” (vv. 33-35). Incidentally, the passage denies that good gifts to the ungodly are blessings. “Prophets, and wise men, and scribes” are greater goods, surely, than rain and sunshine. Jesus sent these good gifts to those upon whom He pronounced woe in Matthew 23. But He did not send them as blessings to the “generation of vipers,” in love for them, and with the desire that they be saved by the prophets. Rather, He sent these preachers of the gospel “so that upon you may come all the righteous blood shed upon the earth.” That Jesus’ love for people is particular ought to be self-evident for everyone who confesses the Reformed faith. According to the Reformed faith, Christ died only for some. Those for whom He did not die, He does not love.

The argument that Jesus, as a man, must obey the law in exactly the same way as we mere mortals are called to obey, proves too much. It proves that Jesus must pray for every human, that God will save every human without exception. But this conflicts with Scripture. According to Matthew 5:44, we must love our neighbors by praying for them, that is, praying for their repentance and salvation. But Jesus Himself tells us in John 17:9 that He does not pray for the world. In light of the context, He prays only for those given Him by the Father out of the world, that is, the elect. He does not pray for the reprobate ungodly.

Thanks for your encouraging words about the Standard Bearer.

Your questions are good, important questions. They are understandable questions in one who is just beginning to struggle with teachings current in the sphere of Calvinism, but which compromise and corrupt the truth of particular, sovereign grace and, thus, the whole of the Christian religion. Perhaps others will also profit from this discussion.

— Ed.