Common Grace: Myth vs. Reality

I have reached a very important crossroad. If you have been following my posts over the last several weeks then you know that I have been focusing on what genuine Salvation looks like, its source, and comparing it with man’s version of it that does not save. Of course, how do we do that? We go to God’s Word. We use the words of our Lord, the Apostles and Church Fathers and the Reformers and good men of faith who have come since to help us clarify God’s truth from every attempt that our enemy makes to cloud the issue, to sow confusion and keep people in the dark. Yes, God’s truth shines the light of our Lord in the darkness of our enemy and his seed’s lies that have created a form of “Christianity” that looks genuine, but is not. Many call it “Churchianity.” I make no apologies that I am Reformed in my faith. My theology is that of the Reformers. However, many who call themselves Calvinists and should, by most men’s measure, be “Reformed” as well, prove that their theology is compromised by what I am about to share in this post. I know that this post will anger some. I will probably lose a few friends. However, truth is truth and I will continue to pursue it with my all with the time the Lord gives me in order to bless the Body of Christ. – Mike Ratliff

The following article can be found here.

Common Grace: Myth vs. Reality

The following long quotations regarding the subject of common grace, the will, Calvinism and Arminianism are taken from Dr. Lewis S. Chafer’s Systematic Theology, Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 1993.

During the late 20th and early 21st century, various Christians and so-called Christian leaders have attempted to radically misconstrue and distort what Dr. Chafer, founder of Dallas Theological Seminary, actually taught.

Scores of evangelicals today hold and teach Arminian rationalism (e.g., Norman Geisler, Bob George, Chuck Missler, Dave Hunt, Chuck Smith, William MacDonald, George Zeller, etc.), while often denying the same publicly.  Claims by these individuals to represent a moderate Calvinism, and those to the right of them as extreme or hyper Calvinist, are not supported by historical, documented facts.  In short, it is a ruse.

The following theological truth is set forth by way of contrast against the backdrop of error, rather than simply stating what any reader will discover when seriously studying Scripture.  May the following ‘lofty’ quotes, in a small way, contribute to setting the record straight.  May readers come to understand the importance of these subjects.

The Calvinistic system, which is here both held and defended as being more nearly Pauline than any other, is built upon a recognition of four basic truths, each of which should be comprehended in its basic character. These truths are: (1) Depravity, by which term is meant that there is nothing in fallen man that could commend him to God. He is an object of divine grace. (2) Efficacious grace, by which term is meant that fallen man, in being saved, is wrought upon wholly by God—even the faith which he exercises in his salvation is a “gift of God” (Eph. 2:8. (3) Sovereign and eternal election, by which term is meant that those who are saved by efficacious grace from the estate of depravity have been chosen of God for that blessedness from before the foundation of the world (Eph. 1:4; Rom. 8:30). (4) Eternal security, by which term it is meant that those chosen of God and saved by grace are, of necessity, preserved unto the realization of the design of God. Since sovereign election purposes this and sovereign grace accomplishes it, the Scriptures could not—being infinitely true—do other than to declare the Christian’s security without reservation or complication. This the Scriptures assuredly declare.

Rationalism in its varied forms and Arminianism in particular challenge these sovereign verities. To the Arminian the limiting effect of depravity is annulled to a large degree by the supposed bestowment upon all men of a so-called “common grace” which provides ability on the sinner’s part to turn to Christ. According to this belief, men are saved by divine grace into a momentary right relation with God from which they can fall. The continuation in that right relation with God—regardless of the fact that it is the realization of the divine purpose—is made by the Arminian to depend on human merit and conduct. Similarly, sovereign election is to the Arminian no more than divine foreknowledge by which God is able to make choice of those who will act righteously in respect to His offers of grace—a foreseeing and consequent recognition of human merit, which recognition contradicts the doctrine of sovereign grace (Rom. 11:6). Vol. 3, page 267.

The Arminian View of Original Sin.  It is exceedingly difficult for a system of doctrine, which builds so much on the freedom of the human will and contends that all men are by virtue of a common grace enabled to act without natural or supernatural restraint in the matter of their own salvation, to defend unconditionally the doctrine of total depravity. It is observable that Arminianism has put but little emphasis upon the teaching respecting that inability which is the nature and essence of original sin. The Arminian notion of depravity, whatever it is supposed to be in its original form, is largely overcome, it is contended, by a fancied common grace. However, in the working of this scheme, one of the Arminian inconsistencies—a withdrawing with one hand what is bestowed with the other—is displayed. It is rather too much to suppose that a common grace—itself without Biblical justification—is a complete corrective of total depravity; and it will not be without explanation, in part at least, if, starting with such a premise as their idea of common grace provides, the Arminians drift into equally unscriptural notions respecting sanctification and sinless perfection. Naturally, the will of man, which is supposed to be emancipated by common grace, may, as effectually, defeat the realization of that which is best. It is certain that, when given an unrestrained freedom of volition, that volition will not always turn in the right direction or toward God. It may as readily turn from God, and that, it is contended, even after years of life and experience in a regenerate state. Over against this fallacious rationalism—this unsupported theory and feeble deification of man—the Scriptures assert, and in accordance therewith the Calvinists teach, that man is totally depraved, that God must and does move in behalf of fallen man for his salvation—even engendering saving faith—and that salvation, being distinctly a work of God, is, like all His works, incapable of failure. It is thus demonstrated that the erroneous exaltation of the human ability in the beginning becomes man’s effectual undoing in the end. Over against this, the man who is totally incompetent, falling into the hands of God, who acts in sovereign grace, is saved and safe forever. For such an achievement the glory is not to be shared by fallen man but is altogether due God alone.  Vol. 3, page 275.

The Arminian View of Universal and Efficacious Calling.  Without reference to a limited or an unlimited redemption—which theme some theologians are determined to bring into the discussion of an efficacious call and which it is believed has but a remote relation to the subject in hand—the real question is whether, as the Arminian contends, the divine influence upon men whereby they are enabled to receive the gospel and to be saved is that common grace which the Arminian claims is bestowed upon all men, or whether that divine enablement, as the Calvinist declares, is a specific, personal call of the individual by which the Holy Spirit moves that one to understand and intelligently to accept the saving grace of God as it is in Christ Jesus. If the contention of the Arminian be true—that God gives no more enablement to one than to another—the fact that, when the gospel is preached alike to each, one is saved and another is not, becomes a matter of the human will which, it is claimed, either accepts or rejects the gracious invitation. Such an arrangement might seem plausible were it not for that array of Scripture, already considered in another connection, which declares that man has no power to move himself toward God. The New Testament not only lends no support to the Arminian notion of common grace, but definitely teaches that men are helpless in their fallen estate (cf. Rom. 3:11; 1 Cor. 2:14; 2 Cor. 4:3–4; Eph. 2:8–9). On the other hand, the Calvinist contends that, when God by His Spirit inclines one to receive Christ, that one, in so doing, acts only in the consciousness of his own choice. It is obvious that to present a convincing argument to a person which leads that person to make a decision, does not partake of the nature of a coercion of the will. In such a case, every function of the will is preserved and, in relation to the gospel, it remains true that “whoever will may come”; yet back of this truth is the deeper revelation that no fallen man wills to accept Christ until enlightened by the Holy Spirit (John 16:7–11).  Vol. 3, page 276.

Again it will be seen that the Arminian exaltation of the human will in the matter of personal salvation encourages those same Arminians to contend, as they do, that the same free will by which the individual accepts Christ is itself able to depart from God after he is saved. To such rationalistic conclusions, the Word of God, which asserts the inability of man to turn to God, lends no support. It is rather revealed that, after one is saved, “it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure” (Phil. 2:13); nor does this continuous inclination by the Spirit of the Christian’s volition partake in any respect of a coercion of the human will.  Vol. 3, page 278.

The Arminian View of Divine Decrees.  Under this aspect of the general theme, this solemn truth respecting God is approached again. None but the most careless will fail to recognize that the subject of divine decrees, with its corresponding doctrines of predestination, election, and reprobation, involves the contemplation of the most fathomless, inaccessible, and mysterious themes to which the human mind may be addressed. To comprehend this vast subject would be equivalent to comprehending the mind of God. That difficulties arise in the mind of man when reflecting on so great a subject is to be expected, since it could not be otherwise. Similarly, it is generally conceded that this topic in all its bearings—philosophical, theological, and practical—has been more considered than any other; yet the mysteries involved must remain inscrutable until the greater light of another world breaks upon the human mind.

In its simple form, the question now in view may be stated thus: Did God have a plan in eternity past which He is executing in time? The two extreme positions—Socinianism and Calvinism—may well be compared at this point. The former held that all future events which depend upon secondary causes, such as the human will, are by necessity unknowable even to God, while the Calvinists maintain that God has not only ordained whatsoever cometh to pass, but is executing the same through His providence. Midway between these so divergent conceptions is the position of the Arminians—a position in which conflicting ideas appear. Arminians have not been willing to deny the foreknowledge of God in agreement with the Socinians; nor have they been willing to accept that estimation of God which accords to Him the unconditional authority to act, power to achieve, and purpose to govern, in all that cometh to pass. Therefore, the doctrines of divine decrees, of predestination, of sovereign election, and of retribution are by the Arminians either directly denied or explained away by recourse to reason. At times the plain assertions of the Sacred Text have been distorted in this effort. They claim that God had no other decree respecting the salvation of men than that He would save those who believe, and condemn and reprobate those who do not believe. Beyond this, man is responsible apart from any divine relationship. Having sent His Son into the world to remove the insuperable obstacle of sin and having removed man’s inability by a bestowal upon him of a supposed common grace, man is left to make his own choice, though, of course, the gospel must be preached unto him. According to this plan, God determines nothing, bestows nothing apart from the removal of inability, and secures nothing. Certain individuals are chosen of God only in the sense that He foresaw their faith and good works—which faith and good works arise in themselves and are not divinely wrought. In the end, according to this system, man is his own savior. A salvation which originates in such uncertainties, builds upon mere foreknowledge of human merit, and exalts the human will to the place of sovereignty, cannot make place for the doctrine of security, since eternal security of those who are saved depends on the sovereign undertakings of God.  Vol. 3, page 278.

The Arminian View of the Fall.  A return to a full discussion of the fall of man, already pursued at length in Volume 2, is uncalled for here. What has been written before must serve as a background for this brief reference to a theme so extended and mysterious.

Far more than is sometimes realized, the doctrine of the fall of man is closely related to the whole Biblical scheme of predestination. Apart from the fall with its complete ruin of the race, there could be no sufficient basis for the doctrine of sovereign grace with its utter disregard for human merit, nor for a defense against the notion that sovereign election represents a respect of personal qualities in man on the part of God. Arminians of the older school have not denied the fall of man, or the extent of that fall. They suppose, however, no matter how complete the fall, that it is overcome by the bestowal of common grace. From the moment that grace is bestowed, the case of a man is different. Ability on man’s part to act for or against the will of God becomes the cornerstone of the Arminian structure of Soteriology. The supposed ability to reject God not only conditions and makes contingent the salvation of men to the extent that God may assume no more than to foreknow what man will do, but that supposed ability survives after regeneration and renders it possible for the redeemed to degenerate back to their original lost estate. Calvinists maintain that men are wholly unable to deliver themselves or to take one step in the direction of their own salvation, that men have no claim upon God for salvation because of merit, and that the salvation of men is a divine undertaking built upon a righteous ground which not only provides a holy God with freedom to save meritless men, but provides as well the same righteous freedom on God’s part by which He can keep them saved forever.

When this divinely wrought arrangement for the salvation of men through grace is abandoned and a merit system for man is substituted, as the Arminians choose to do, they find themselves beset with fears, backslidings, and failures which have no recognition in the New Testament. A grave question arises under the Arminian system, namely, whether men who have been impressed with the notion that they are to a large degree their own saviors and keepers, will ever find the rest and peace which is the portion of those who have ceased from their own works and are wholly cast upon God.  Vol. 3, page 279.

The Arminian View of Omniscience. No slight difficulty for the Arminian system arises from the obvious fact that God could foreknow nothing as certain in the future unless He had Himself made it certain by foreordination. Neither could foreknowledge function apart from foreordination, nor foreordination apart from foreknowledge. Merely to foreknow what will be determined by secondary causes, leaves the entire program of events adrift without chart or compass. According to His Word, God assuredly foreknows, foreordains, and executes. Every prediction of the Bible incorporates these elements, and nowhere more conclusively than in the events connected with the death of Christ. God foreknew that His Son would die upon a cross, but He did more about it than merely to foreknow. Peter declares that Christ as the Lamb was “foreordained before the foundation of the world” (1 Pet. 1:20); and so great an event could not be left to the uncertainties of human wills. “Wicked hands” crucified the Son of God, but this was according to the “determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God” (Acts 2:23). The salvation of each individual who believes on Christ is no more an accident of human determination than is the death of Christ. The Arminian idea of election to eternal glory on the part of some, is that it includes those who believe on Christ, persevere, and die in the faith, whereas the Scriptures teach that certain men believe, persevere, and die in the faith because of the fact that they are elect and destined to eternal glory. When man is given the responsibility of working out his own eternal destiny, as Arminianism expects him to do, it will be remembered that all this could be done as effectively whether God foreknew it or not. Security, according to the Arminian conception of it, is that which God foreknew men would do in their own behalf and, since the human element bulks largely in it, the actual arrival of a soul in heaven’s glory is more or less accidental—certainly not predetermined and executed by God.  Vol. 3, page 280.

The Arminian View of Divine Sovereignty.  It is conceded by all who are of a pious mind that God is the Supreme Ruler of the universe and that He exercises His authority and power to that end. That He is putting into effect precisely what He had before designed, would not create prejudice as a proposition by itself, were it not for the fact that such an admission leads on logically to the Calvinistic position respecting the predestination, justification, and glorification of all whom He has chosen for eternal salvation. Calvinists contend that God acts in perfect reason, but upon a level much higher than may be comprehended by the human understanding; and therefore they do not assume to assign a reason for all of God’s ways in the universe and with men. Arminians, however, seek to assign a reason for God’s dealings with men and do, by so much, deny His sovereignty. It is a worthy attitude to believe that God rules over all things, executing precisely His own will and purpose, and that in doing this He acts always within the limitations which His adorable attributes impose. It follows, also, that, because of His omnipotence, God could have prevented any and every form of evil, and that, as evil is present, it is serving a purpose which is worthy of God and which will, in the end, be recognized as worthy by all intelligences. Arminians tend to discredit the sovereignty of God by assuming that events are not necessarily to be considered as having a place or part in the divine will. This has led to much discussion regarding the divine volition. Arminians are wont to distinguish an antecedent will from a consequent will in God. The former moves Him to save all men, while the latter is conditioned by the conduct of men. The antecedent will is not a sovereign will; it, too, is restricted by human action. Such a conception is far removed from the Calvinistic teaching concerning the efficacious will of God—that which not only elects to save some, but actually does save them and preserve them, having anticipated all things requisite to that end and having provided those requisite things. As before stated, the two impediments or barriers which stood in the way were sin and the freedom of the human will. In the sacrificial death of His Son, God dealt finally with the obstacle which sin engenders. By moving the hearts of men to desire His saving grace (which acts have no semblance to coercion), He removes the obstruction which the free will of man might impose. The two systems—Arminianism and Calvinism—are each consistent at this point within themselves. The Arminian contends that man is supreme and that God is compelled to adjust Himself to that scheme of things. The Calvinist contends that God is supreme and that man is called upon to be conformed to that revelation. The Arminian is deprived of the exalted blessing which is the portion of those who believe the sublime facts of predestination, election, and the sovereignty of God, because he hesitates to embrace them in their full-orbed reality. Having incorporated into his scheme the finite human element, all certainty about the future is for the Arminian overclouded with doubts. Having made the purpose of God contingent, the execution of that purpose must be contingent. By so much the glorious, divine arrangement by which the ungodly may go to heaven, is replaced by the mere moral program in which only good people may have a hope.  Vol. 3, page 281.

The Arminian View of Sovereign Grace.  As certainly as there are two widely separated and divergent forms of religion in the world—in the one, God saves man and in the other, man saves himself—so definitely Calvinism and Arminianism are withdrawn the one from the other. All the forms of religion that men cherish are, with one exception, in the class which is identified by the obligation resting upon man to save himself; and in this group, because of its insistence that the element of human merit must be recognized, the Arminian system is classed. Standing alone and isolated by its commitment to the doctrine of pure uncompromising grace, the true Christian faith, as set forth by the great Apostle and later defended by Calvin and by uncounted theologians before and since his day, is a system of Soteriology characterized by its fundamental feature that God, unaided and to His own unshared and unchangeable glory, originates, executes, and consummates the salvation of man. The sole requirement on the human side is that man receive what God has to give. This he does, he is told, by believing upon Christ as his Savior. Arminianism distorts this sublime, divine undertaking by the intrusion of human features at every step of the way. It can rise no higher in the interpretation of the Word of God respecting sovereign election, than to claim that it consists in the action of divine foreknowledge by which God foresees the men of faith, holiness, and constancy. This interpretation not only reverses the order of truth—the Scriptures declare that men are elected unto holiness and not on account of holiness—but intrudes at the very beginning of the divine program in salvation the grace-destroying element of human merit. In the matter of the one condition of believing on Christ for salvation, the Arminians have constantly added various requirements to the one which is divinely appointed, and all of these infringe upon this one essential of pure grace by adding to it the element of human works. Similarly, in the sphere of the believer’s safekeeping, which is declared to be altogether a work of God, Arminianism makes security to be contingent upon human conduct. Arminians seem strangely blinded in the matter of comprehending the divine plan by which, apart from all features of human merit, sinners are elected in past ages without respect to future worthiness, saved at the present time on the sole condition of faith in Christ, and kept to the eternal ages to come through the power of God on a basis which sustains no relation to human conduct. In reality, to assert so much is to declare that Arminians are blind to the true gospel of divine grace which is the central truth of Christianity—that is, if the Pauline revelation is to be considered at all. Over against this and in conformity to the New Testament, Calvinists assert that election is on a basis of grace which foresees no human merit in those chosen, that present salvation is by faith or belief alone, and that those saved are kept wholly by divine grace without reference to human worthiness. 

It would seem wholly unnecessary to remind the student again that there is an important body of truth which conditions the believer’s daily life after he is saved, and that his life is motivated, not by a requirement that works of merit must be added to the perfect divine undertaking and achievement in saving grace, but is motivated by the most reasonable obligation to “walk worthy of the vocation [calling] wherewith he is called” (Eph. 4:1). Behaving well as a son is far removed in principle from the idea of behaving well to become a son. It is the blight of Arminian soteriology that it seems incapable of recognizing this distinction, and therefore does not allow a place for the action of pure grace in the realization of the sovereign purpose of God through a perfect salvation and an eternal safekeeping apart from any and every form of human merit or cooperation. 
Though much must be made of this theme in other connections, a word is in order at this point respecting the meaning of the term sovereign grace—a term employed by Calvinists with genuine satisfaction, but both rejected and avoided by Arminians. Sovereign grace originates and is at once a complete reality in the mind of God when He, before the foundation of the world, elects a company who are by His limitless power to be presented in glory conformed to the image of His Son. By so much they are to be to all intelligences the means by which He will manifest the exceeding riches of His grace (Eph. 2:7). This manifestation will correspond to His infinity and will satisfy Him perfectly as the final, all-comprehensive measurement of His attribute of grace. Two obstacles, allowed by Him to exist, must be overcome—sin and the will of man. That His grace may be manifest and its demonstration enhanced, He undertakes by Himself—for no other could share in its achievement—to overcome the obstacle of sin. That this obstacle is overcome is declared in many texts of the Scriptures. Two may be quoted here: “The next day John seeth Jesus coming unto him, and saith, Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world” (John 1:29); “to wit, that God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them; and hath committed unto us the word of reconciliation” (2 Cor. 5:19). There remains, therefore, but the obstacle of the human will. Having designed that man as creature shall be possessed of an independent will, no step can be taken in the accomplishment of His sovereign purpose which will even tend to coerce the human volition. He does awaken the mind of man to spiritual sanity and brings before him the desirability of salvation through Christ. If by His power, God creates new visions of the reality of sin and of the blessedness of Christ as Savior and under this enlightenment men choose to be saved, their wills are not coerced nor are they deprived of the action of any part of their own beings. It is the unreasoned objection of Arminians that the human will is annulled by sovereign election.  Vol. 3, page 282.

THE INCAPACITY OF THE UNSAVED.  The Arminian notion that through the reception of a so-called common grace anyone is competent to accept Christ as Savior if he will, is a mild assumption compared with the idea that the unregenerate person, with no common or uncommon grace proffered, is able to dedicate his life to God. Much has been written on previous pages regarding the overwhelming testimony of the Bible to the utter inability and spiritual death of the unsaved. They are shut up to the one message that Christ is their Savior; and they cannot accept Him, the Word of God declares, unless illuminated to that end by the Holy Spirit. Saving faith is not a possession of all men but is imparted specifically to those who do believe (Eph. 2:8).  Vol. 3, page 385.

 Within the whole divine enterprise of winning the lost, there is no factor more vital than the work of the Holy Spirit in which He convinces or reproves the 
cosmos world respecting sin, righteousness, and judgment. The wholly unscriptural and untenable Arminian notion of common grace, which asserts that all men at birth are so wrought upon by the Holy Spirit that they are rendered capable of an unhindered response to the gospel invitation, has, with the aid of human vanity which owns no limitations in human ability, so disseminated its misleading errors that little recognition is given to the utter incapacity of the unsaved, natural man to respond to the gospel appeal. Inattentive or uninstructed evangelists and zealous soul-winners too often go forth assuming that all persons anywhere and everywhere are able at any time to comply with the terms of the gospel, whereas the Scriptures teach that no man is able to make an intelligent decision for Christ apart from the enlightening work of the Holy Spirit.  Vol. 6, pp. 88.

Soli Deo Gloria!

6 thoughts on “Common Grace: Myth vs. Reality

  1. Thank you for this piece. Arminians that I have tried to talk to about this subject have their minds slammed shut. I have been called a heretic and other nice terms like that when all I have asked is that they read the scriptures without the framework of their preconceived ideas. I have not yet had even one agree to do that. Slammed shut tightly. Nothing I say will help these people at all. Unless the Lord Himself grants them eyes to see and ears to hear, they will cling to their error, because the cannot give up their notion of man’s sovereignty, since that is basically what they believe even as they deny it.

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  2. The only legitimate “common grace” found in the Bible is the Noahic Covenant which blesses all creation with seedtime and harvest, seasons, and “nature’s bounty” until the end of the age. That lost people deny God’s provision they are proving God’s Word (Romans 1) as they suppress their knowledge of the Truth with their unrighteousness. And they store up God’s wrath.

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  3. At the risk of sounder like an idolater, I must say that Dr. Chafer has long been my go-to guy. Thanks for posting that, Mike. Very edifying.


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