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Does Psalm 145:9 Teach Common Grace?

Rev. Angus Stewart

 

God’s "tender mercies are over all his works," according to Psalm 145:9. Advocates of "common grace" reckon that "all [God’s] works" here refer to everybody head for head, including the reprobate. But immediately the next verse declares, "All thy works shall praise thee" (10a). The reprobate do not praise God, and so they cannot be the objects of God’s "tender mercies" (9). According to Hebrew parallelism, "thy saints shall bless thee" (10b) defines God’s works here as His holy people created by His sovereign grace in Jesus Christ (cf. Isa. 19:25; 29:23; 45:11; 60:21; 64:8; Eph. 2:10), the citizens of the gracious kingdom of God, the subject of Psalm 145.

Let us have the Hebrew parallelism of Psalm 145:9-10 clearly before us:

[9a] The Lord is good to all:
[9b] and his tender mercies are over all his works.
[10a] All thy works shall praise thee, O Lord;
[10b] and thy saints shall bless thee.

"All" (9a) and "all [God’s] works" (9b, 10a) and God’s "saints" (10b) refer to the same group, God’s holy people who are new creatures in Jesus Christ (II Cor. 5:17; Eph. 2:10). The eternal, unchangeable and faithful Jehovah is good to "all" of them (Ps. 145:9a) and they are the objects of His covenantal "tender mercies" (9b). Knowing God’s goodness and tender mercies, all of His holy people "praise" (10a) and "bless" (10b) Him, and "speak of the glory of [His] kingdom, and talk of [His] power" (11).

Those unfamiliar with Hebrew parallelism should consider that all of the twenty-one verses of Psalm 145 say essentially the same thing in their two "halves:"

[1] I will extol thee, my God, O king;
and I will bless thy name for ever and ever.

[2] Every day will I bless thee;
and I will praise thy name for ever and ever.

[3] Great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised;
and his greatness is unsearchable.

[4] One generation shall praise thy works to another,
and shall declare thy mighty acts.

[5] I will speak of the glorious honour of thy majesty,
and of thy wondrous works.

[6] And men shall speak of the might of thy terrible acts:
and I will declare thy greatness.

[7] They shall abundantly utter the memory of thy great goodness,
and shall sing of thy righteousness.

[8] The Lord is gracious, and full of compassion;
slow to anger, and of great mercy.

[9] The Lord is good to all:
and his tender mercies are over all his works.

[10] All thy works shall praise thee, O Lord;
and thy saints shall bless thee.

[11] They shall speak of the glory of thy kingdom,
and talk of thy power;

[12] To make known to the sons of men his mighty acts,
and the glorious majesty of his kingdom.

[13] Thy kingdom is an everlasting kingdom,
and thy dominion endureth throughout all generations.

[14] The Lord upholdeth all that fall,
and raiseth up all those that be bowed down.

[15] The eyes of all wait upon thee;
and thou givest them their meat in due season.

[16] Thou openest thine hand,
and satisfiest the desire of every living thing.

[17] The Lord is righteous in all his ways,
and holy in all his works.

[18] The Lord is nigh unto all them that call upon him,
 to all that call upon him in truth.

[19] He will fulfil the desire of them that fear him:
he also will hear their cry, and will save them.

[20] The Lord preserveth all them that love him:
but all the wicked will he destroy.

[21] My mouth shall speak the praise of the Lord:
and let all flesh bless his holy name for ever and ever.

Notice that Psalm 145 opens by extolling the ever-blessed God as "king" (1). Four times this psalm uses the word "kingdom" (11-13) and once it refers to His "dominion" which "endureth through all generations" (13). God’s "kingdom" is glorious, majestic and everlasting (11-13). It is the topic of conversation and the subject of divine praise for "all his works" (9b, 10a), that is, his "saints" (10b) who "speak of," "talk of" and "make known" (11-12) the "glory" of God’s kingdom, yea, its "glorious majesty" (11-12). In this kingdom, God’s "power" and "mighty acts" (11-12) are known and revered. Similarly, Jehovah’s "works," "mighty acts," "wondrous works" and "terrible acts" (4-6) are also in the service of the "king" (1) and His kingdom (11-13) and are so many reasons for the church of all ages to worship Him (4-6): "One generation shall praise thy works to another, and shall declare thy mighty acts" (4). We gladly remember God’s "great goodness" and "sing" of His "righteousness" (7). We bless Him for his ethical perfections: "The Lord is gracious, and full of compassion; slow to anger of great mercy" (8). This is seen in Jehovah’s government of His "everlasting kingdom" (13), for He "upholdeth all that fall, and raiseth up all those that be bowed down" (14) and He "is nigh unto all them that call upon him, to all that call upon him in truth" (18). Therefore He fulfills the desire of, hears the cry of, and saves those "that fear him" (19) and provides food for all, to serve the interests of His kingdom (15-16). Thus in the whole of Psalm 145, David (preface) and "all God’s works," that is His "saints" (9-10), praise God the king for the mighty acts and glorious majesty and tender mercies shown in setting up and maintaining His kingdom. This is the same kingdom that Jesus Christ preached in His public ministry and established in the blood of His cross and which He governs and defends from His throne at God’s right hand—the same kingdom more fully revealed in the pages of the New Testament. The context of Psalm 145, as well as the Hebrew parallelism in verses 9-10, ought to have kept some from reading "common grace" into Psalm 145:9.

This is also the exegesis of Psalm 145 of John Owen, who writes,

David, indeed, tells us that 'the Lord is gracious, and full of compassion; slow to anger, and of great mercy;' that 'the Lord is good to all; and his tender mercies are over all his works,' Ps. 145:8, 9: but he tells us withal whom he intends by the 'all' in this place, even the 'generations which praise his works and declare his mighty acts,' verse 4; those who 'abundantly utter the memory of his great goodness, and sing of his righteousness,' verse 7; or his 'saints,' as he expressly calls them, verse 10. The work he there mentions is the work of the kingdom of Christ over all, wherein the tender mercies of God are spread abroad in reference to them that do enjoy them" (The Works of John Owen, vol. 12, pp. 559-560).

Moreover, if we would follow the eisegesis of those who believe that "all [God’s] works" in Psalm 145:9 include every human being bar none, we would also be forced to conclude that the same would apply to "every living thing" in verse 16. But if we grant this, this would necessarily require us to believe that God "satisfies the desire" for food (15-16) of every human being in the history of the world—yet we know that many thousands have died, and still die, by hunger. Also "every living thing" is said to "wait upon" God for food (15). This may well include animals, birds and fish (cf. Ps. 104:21, 25-28), as well as God’s children who seek from Him alone their daily bread. But the reprobate are unbelievers; they do not truly wait upon or pray to God for food in faith!

The exegetical method of those who hold to "common grace" leads to absurdities in Psalm 145, both as regards verses 9-10 and verses 15-16, as well as missing the meaning of the psalm as whole. Let us not isolate parts of verses to make them say what we think they say, but let us interpret Scripture with Scripture. If we do that with this psalm, we cannot but conclude that the theory of a "common grace" for elect and reprobate is not in view here at all. Instead, Psalm 145 praises God for revealing His might (4-6, 11-13) and goodness (7-9) and nearness (14, 18-19) in His glorious kingdom. Verse 20 summarizes for us God’s attitude and will towards the two antithetical, spiritual peoples: "The Lord preserveth all them that love him: but all the wicked will he destroy." Why? The holy and unchangeable God of the kingdom "is righteous in all his ways" (17).