We must still consider the reference to Psalm 145:9 which was introduced into our discussion with the brethren of the Evangelical Presbyterian Church of Australia.
First of all, let us recall that they suggested that the word “mercies” can and must be understood in a restricted sense in this verse, which reads: “The Lord is good to all: and his tender mercies are over all his works.” Rev. Rodman wrote in this connection: “Here the word mercies must be understood to be restricted in its extent for it can only refer to the works of God’s providence in respect of time, and cannot include grace and favor, nor can it refer to God’s eternal purposes concerning angels and men.” In connection with this it is stated: “This interpretation is consistent with Ps. 103:17 which states, ‘The mercy of God is from everlasting to everlasting upon them that fear him.’ The idea of a mercy inclusive of grace and favor in the context of a supposed common grace makes nonsense of Scripture for the following reasons:—od’s goodness in respect of the physical creation which will pass away is not from everlasting to everlasting. His mercy is not upon the reprobate angels and men who are reserved for everlasting destruction. Rather God’s mercy and grace govern all that content of His providence, both temporal and spiritual, which belongs only to the elect who fear Him and keep His commandments. Again, there is no division of purpose and no such thing as common grace.”
Once again, I want to state that I am glad that the brethren of the EPC, regardless now of whether they propose a correct interpretation of Psalm 145:9, definitely do not want to understand this verse as teaching a common grace of God. Let it be noted that they are very emphatic about this: for they state that the idea of a mercy inclusive of grace and favor in the context of a supposed common grace makes nonsense of Scripture. On this, therefore, they are correct: to interpret Scripture anywhere as teaching common grace does violence to the Scriptures.
In the second place, however, I do not believe that this interpretation of Psalm 145:9 will stand the test of Scripture and of sound exegesis. While I thoroughly appreciate the desire to avoid the idea of common grace, I nevertheless believe that the brethren pour a different content into the term “tender mercies” in order to do so. They define the term “mercies” in this verse as having reference only to God’s works of providence in respect of time and as not including grace and favor, nor referring to God’s eternal purposes concerning angels and men. They do not explain what this mercy is, neither how it can exclude grace and favor. They claim that this interpretation is consistent with the fact that Psalm 103:17 speaks of God’s mercy being from everlasting to everlasting upon them that fear Him. Now I would point out, first of all, that unless it can be shown from Scripture itself that such an explanation of divine tender mercies is possible, this explanation cannot be accepted. Secondly, the mere fact that Psalm 103:17 speaks of God’s mercy as being from everlasting to everlasting upon them that fear Him is, of course, no proof that this interpretation of Psalm 145:9 is tenable. The interpretation is consistent only in respect to the fact that they wish to make this a temporal mercy which has nothing to do with God’s eternal purposes concerning angels and men. What must be shown, however, is that the Bible ever speaks of such temporal mercies of God which have nothing to do with grace and favor. Thirdly, it seems to me that the very context of Psalm 145 already militates against this idea. In vs. 8 we read: “The Lord is gracious, and full of compassion; slow to anger, and of great mercy.” Notice that this verse, the immediately preceding verse, speaks of God’s “great mercy” and His being “full of compassion” in the context of His being “gracious.” The subsequent context speaks of the Lord’s upholding all that fall, and raising up all those that be bowed down, vs. 14. It speaks of the Lord’s being nigh unto all them that call upon Him, vs. 18. It speaks of the fact that “he will fulfill the desire of them that fear him: he also will hear their cry, and will save them,” (vs. 19). And it speaks of the fact that “The Lord preserveth all them that love him: but all the wicked will he destroy,” (vs. 20). Now it would be very strange, to say the least, if in such a context suddenly the term “tender mercies” would have the meaning which the EPC brethren wish to give it. I would propose: 1) That God’s mercy always has the connotation of His favor, His grace. 2) That God’s mercy always has a saving connotation. 3) That God’s mercy is essentially the same as His grace, only with the added connotation that it is His favor shown to those who are in misery. Briefly, we may define God’s mercy as His will to bless and to deliver the objects of that mercy as they are in misery and woe, and to make them perfectly blessed with Himself.
It will also be evident from the preceding remarks that, with all respect for the “Prince of exegetes,” I cannot be satisfied in this instance with the explanation of John Calvin. The truth of the matter is that he does not explain that “goodness” which God is said to shower down also upon the wicked. Nor does he really explain God’s mercy, except that he by implication connects the mercy of God with the misery of the creature, due to the fact (that the whole world is under the curse, and except for the fact that he includes under this mercy the brute creation. The real problem of this text, however, with reference to the matter of the common grace issue, is not solved by the explanation quoted from John Calvin. Parenthetically, let me remark that even here a good interpretation can be placed upon the remarks made by Calvin.
But now let us turn to the text itself.
First of all, notice that we do not read “all men” in the text, but merely “all.” The Hebrew simply has: tobh Jaweh lakkol. The question is: to what does this term “all” refer? What is its content? May we simply understand the text as referring to all individual men, righteous and wicked? This would be in conflict with the whole of Scripture, which teaches currently that God hates the reprobate ungodly, that He is angry with the wicked every day, and that He causes the things of this pfesent time to work unto their destruction. It is impossible, in the light of the current teaching of Scripture, to understand Psalm 145:9 as meaning that God is merciful and good to all men. This would also be in conflict with the context of Psalm 145, which is particular throughout. Particularly would it be in conflict with the contrast found in verse 20, “the Lord preserveth all them that love him, but all the wicked will .he destroy.” However, it would also be in conflict with the text itself.
That brings us to our second remark, namely, that we must pay attention to the fact that we have Hebrew parallelism in this verse. And this implies that the second part of this text explains the first part. Notice that this means, therefore, that the Lord is good to all His works, even as His tender mercies are over all His works. The “all,” therefore, means: all creatures in the organic sense of the word, all the works of God, without any reference to all the individuals of a certain kind of creatures, as, for instance, men. If thus we interpret this verse, it is not in conflict with the last part of vs. 20, which teaches that God will destroy all the wicked. And it is fully in harmony with the current teaching of Scripture. All kinds of creatures are included in the word “all” of verse 9. But the ungodly are excluded.
In this connection let me quote part of the comments of the Rev. Herman Hoeksema in God’s Goodness Always Particular, pp. 165, ff.:
We read the text as follows: ‘The Lord is good to ail his creatures, and his tender mercies are over all his works.’ To be sure, we also insert something. And we do that, wherever the word all occurs in the Bible without further limitation. The word all demands this. Without some modifying insertion and addition the word all has no meaning. It requires a modifier simply because in itself it is indefinite. But only the text and the context may determine just what this modifying word shall be. We may not arbitrarily insert a word according to our own notion, or in order to suit our own preconceived ideas and theories. Only the Word of God itself may determine our choice of the limiting word. And with respect to
it is not at all difficult to determine this. What modifier should be added to the word all is so clear, that it can only cause surprise that one could miss it.,The text almost literally mentions the word. If you read the whole verse and its context, you most naturally read: ‘The Lord is good to ail his creatures, and his tender mercies are over all his works.’
But, perhaps, you ask what may be the difference between this interpretation of ours and that of the Rev. Zwier. Do we not really broaden the concept, rather than limit it? He reads: all men; we prefer: all creatures. But it would seem that the former are included in the latter, and that, therefore, we also find in this Scriptural passage a proof for the general goodness of God.
To this we reply that in a certain sense we do have a broader concept of God’s goodness than those who teach the theory of common grace. But our difference with them is exactly this, that their general goodness of God is common, ours is always particular. They insist that righteous and wicked are alike the objects of this general goodness of the Lord. God’s favor, grace, mercy or lovingkindness, therefore, is common. It is because of this that they insert the word men rather than the self-evident creatures in
And the Word of God will have nothing of such a common general goodness of the Most High, that makes the wicked the objects of His love. True, Scripture teaches very plainly that God’s goodness does not only include men, but also other creatures; the beasts of the field, the fowls of the air and the fish of the sea, the young raven and the wild goat and the strong Leviathan; yea, also the trees of the woods and the flower of the field, the tender grass and the green herb, the golden sun and the moon with her mellow light and the twinkling stars, the ever restless sea and the majestic rivers and meandering books,—all these are the objects of God’s goodness. His mercies are over all His works! All these creatures are even, according to God’s covenant with Noah, taken up into His covenant. And of this all comprehensive nature of the covenant of God the rainbow is displayed in the clouds as a sign.
Of this mercy of God over all His creatures many off the Psalms sing. Thus, for instance,
Ps. 104:10 ff.,:
‘He sendeth the springs into the valleys, which run among the hills. They give drink to every beast of the field: the wild asses quench their thirst. By them shall the fowls of the heaven have their habitation, which sing among the branches. He watereth the hills from his chambers: the earth is satisfied with the fruit of thy works. He causeth the grass to grow for the cattle, and herbs for the service of man: that he may bring forth food out of the earth; and wine that maketh glad the heart of man, and oil to make his face to shine, and bread which strengtheneth man’s heart. The trees of the Lord are full of sap; the cedars of Lebanon which he hath planted; where the birds make their nests: as for the stork, the fir trees are her house. The high hills are a refuge for the wild goats; and the rocks for the conies. He appointed the moon for seasons: the sun knoweth his going down. Thou makest darkness, and it is night: wherein all the beasts of the forest do creep forth. The young lions roar after their prey, and seek their meat from God. The sun ariseth, they gather themselves together, and lay them down in their dens. Man goeth forth unto his work and to his labor until the evening. O Lord, how manifold are thy works! in wisdom hast thou made them all: the earth is full of thy riches.’
And this creature, which is now subject to vanity, shall once be liberated, according to God’s eternal covenant, from the bondage of corruption to share in the glorious liberty of the children of God.
If the Rev. Zwier will sing of this lovingkindness and mercy of God over all His creatures, gladly will we join in singing. The Word of God witnesses of this goodness of the Lord abundantly.
But we earnestly protest, in the name of that same Holy Scripture, against any attempt to make this lovingkindness of the Lord common, and to let the Church of Christ sing of a grace or favor of God over the righteous and wicked alike. For this makes God common. God’s goodness is, indeed, over all His creatures; and the ungodly are right in the midst of the manifestations of this goodness of God. But they have no part with it. They are not themselves the object of it. The wrath of God abideth on them.
This is plain from the very Psalm in the ninth verse of which we are taught to sing of God’s tender mercies over all His works. For in the 20th verse we read: ‘The Lord preserveth all them that love him: but all the wicked will he destroy.’
Very briefly, therefore, we would interpret this passage of Scripture as indeed referring to God’s grace, and that, too, His grace as it is revealed toward the creature that is in misery. But that grace is not common, but cosmic.