In the process of salvation, the Holy Spirit is pleased to use means to convey the truth to the heart of the sinner. Sometimes the reading of the Word is sufficient. More often the Lord is pleased to use the preaching of the Word as an effectual means of convincing and converting sinners and of building them up in holiness, and comfort, through faith, unto salvation.

In the fourth century AD there was born in Africa a man who would change the world. The natural product of a Christian mother and a pagan father, he tried to find peace in his troubled heart. At first, he tried to find peace in pleasure. He did what he wanted to do morally, thereby breaking the holy commandments of God. Next, he tried to find peace in the pagan religion of Manichaeism. Then he tried logic and education. It was all to no avail. His soul was as restless as the sea until one day in a garden he heard the voice of a child at play saying, “Take and read; take and read.” An impression was made upon his mind that he should read the Scriptures.

And so it was, in the garden of his friend Alypsius, that Augustine picked up a Bible, opened it at random to Romans 13:13,14 and read these words: “Let us walk honestly, as in the day; not in rioting and drunkenness, not in chambering and wantonness [i.e. sexual promiscuity and sensuality], not in strife and envying. But put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ and make not provision for the flesh, to fulfill the lusts thereof” Peace finally came to Augustine’s soul, and he said to a friend, “I have been regenerated.” That is the way God works.

A large part of the Christian community believes that Common Grace is sufficient to enable any sinner to do that which will either merit salvation, or at least secure larger degrees of grace, which, if duly improved upon, will result in salvation. Tragically, this view of Common Grace puts the efficiency of salvation primarily in the hands of man so that it cannot be said that salvation is wholly of the Lord. That will not do. God is a jealous God. He will not share His glory with anyone. He will not share the glory of salvation with man. A flawed view of Common Grace diminishes the need for Christ and robs God of His glory. “No man is entitled to a feast of forgiveness and a banquet of pardoning mercy who thinks he deserves them. Those who know they don’t deserve them are the only ones who will ever have them” (Bob Jones, Sr.).

“When I stand before Thy throne,
Dressed in beauty not my own;
When I see Thee as Thou art,
Love Thee with unsinning heart,
Then, dear Lord, shall I fully know—
Not till then—how much I owe”.

Robert Murray McCheyne, 1837

An alternative view to a system of salvation by good works, is to realize that Common Grace has limitations. Common Grace is only sufficient to convince individuals of sin, and of their need of redemption, and to render men inexcusable for sin and unbelief. Common Grace is designed to cast all hope upon the crucified Christ.

“Let not conscience make you linger,
Nor of fitness fondly dream;
All the fitness He requireth,
Is to feel your need of Him.”

Joseph Hart

1712-1768

“For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse” (Rom. 1:20).

“Therefore thou art inexcusable, O man, whosoever thou art that judgest: for wherein thou judgest another, thou condemnest thyself; for thou that judgest doest the same things” (Rom. 2:1).

“Nevertheless, he left not himself without witness, in that he did good, and gave us rain from heaven, and fruitful seasons, filling our hearts with food and gladness” (Acts 14:17).

While Common Grace is designed by God to awaken and incite the sinner to better things, it can be resisted. Sin lures unwary souls from the path of righteousness. Though the Holy Spirit warns and entreats, they grieve Him and drive Him away.

“Ye stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears, ye do always resist the Holy Ghost: as your fathers did, so do ye” (Acts 7:51).

“Now as Jannes and Jambres withstood Moses, so do these also resist the truth: men of corrupt minds, reprobate concerning the faith” (2 Tim. 3:8).

There are limitations to Common Grace.

Common Grace can convict a person of sin, but not convert the soul.
Common Grace can impress upon a person their need of redemption, without redeeming the soul.
Common Grace can render a person inexcusable for sin and unbelief, without excusing sin, or giving the capacity to believe.

Beyond Common Grace, individuals need God’s Effectual Sovereign Grace whereby the Lord says to the soul dead in trespasses and sin, “LIVE!” There is a Divine quickening, and the soul lives in Christ. Ask the Lord for His Effectual Grace in this very hour.

2 thoughts on “The Limitations of Common Grace

  1. Providential blessings to mankind – Human advancements that come through the unredeemed are seen as outcomes of God’s common grace. For example, medical and other technological advancements that improve the lives of both the redeemed and unredeemed are seen as initiated by common grace.

  2. The position of Herman Hoeksema and all leaders of the Protestant Reformed Churches is unique to the denomination, and is based on a high view of the word “grace” as a Biblical concept of favor applied only to the elect. According to Hoeksema (and any PRC writer) God’s undeserving gifts of sunshine, rain, etc. are “providence” and while providence serves grace for believers, because it adds to their spiritual growth, it is not sent in love to unbelievers and only adds condemnation to those who never believe, in the same way rain is beneficial to a living tree but causes a dead one to rot. Connected to the first point of common grace, which asserts that God’s “common grace” is demonstrated in a “general offer” of the gospel, Hoeksema asserted that such a view is pure Arminianism. While God commands all men to repent and believe and this command must be preached to all, Hoeksema insisted this command, like all other commands to godliness in the Bible, is not a “well-meant offer” since it is impossible for unregenerated, totally depraved man to truly perform apart from God’s saving grace.

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