Covenant Protestant Reformed Church
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Providence and “Common Grace”

Ronald Hanko


In His providence God provides for all His creatures (Acts 17:25). This means that God gives many good gifts to the wicked, including not only rain and sunshine, food and shelter, life and breath, but also a rational mind, a will, and a spirit.

Many conclude from this that God loves the wicked and is gracious to them. These things, they say, are God’s “common grace,” His grace for all, a grace that does not lead them to salvation but is nevertheless a testimony to them of God’s favor and love to them. A common providence, however, is not the same as a common grace, and the two should not be confused. Nor does the Bible ever use the word grace to describe these common operations of God’s providence.

This is not to deny that the gifts God gives the wicked are good gifts (James 1:17). But because God may give them good gifts does not mean that He loves them or is gracious to them. To say that God gives good gifts to the wicked still says nothing about why God gives those good gifts. The Bible teaches that He has other reasons than love or mercy for giving good gifts to the wicked. He gives them these good gifts in His wrath, as a snare to them (Ps. 11:5; Prov. 14:35; Rom. 11:9), for a curse (Prov. 3:33), and for their destruction (Ps. 92:7). By these gifts He sets them in slippery places and casts them down to destruction (Ps. 73:18 in the context of verses 3–7). This is clearly seen in the way the wicked use these gifts to sin against God and to make themselves worthy of condemnation.

This is so true that we are even commanded in Scripture to imitate God in our dealings towards our enemies—to do good to them, and to do it in the understanding that if they do not repent and believe, our good deeds will be for their destruction and condemnation (Rom. 12:20-21).

It should not surprise us that a gift that is in itself good can be given for such reasons. For a father to gives to his infant son a razor-sharp butcher knife—something that is indispensable in the kitchen—would certainly lead us to question whether he was giving such a “good gift” in love and pity. The child will as certainly misuse it for his own destruction as the wicked do with every good gift God gives them.

Perhaps the greatest danger, though, in the teaching of common grace is that it destroys our comfort in God. If rain and sunshine, health and life, are in themselves grace, what are we to conclude when God sends us the opposite: sickness, poverty, drought, or death? Are these things His curse? Does He send them because He hates us? If grace is in “good things,” have we no grace when God does not give us those good things? Are we not rather to conclude this: that all He sends us, His people, whether in health or sickness, poverty or prosperity, life or death, He sends in His love and grace and for our good (Rom. 8:28), but that everything He sends the wicked, even though it be in itself “good,” is nevertheless for their condemnation? How else shall we be comforted in all our sorrows and afflictions?

(Ronald Hanko, Doctrine According to Godliness: A Primer of Reformed Doctrine [Jenison, MI: RFPA, 2012], pp. 95-96)