Common grace is God’s kindness and mercy toward all members of the human race regardless of their spiritual condition. It is, as theologian John Murray wrote, “every favour of whatever kind or degree, falling short of salvation, which this undeserving and sin-cursed world enjoys at the hand of God.”
This begs the question: why does God bless humanity with common grace? Why do we still experience widespread goodness in such a fallen world?
God Blesses Humanity with Common Grace to Restrain Sin
God restrains sin through common grace. God’s common grace prevents sinful human beings from doing all the wrong they could do. A few biblical examples:
- God prevented others from killing Cain (Gen. 4:15).
- God prevented Abimelech from committing sexual sin with Abraham’s wife Sarah (Gen. 20:6).
- God prevented Sennacherib from doing all the harm to Israel that he planned (2 Kings 19:27-28).
- God protected Jesus from harm until it was time for Jesus to die (Matt. 2:13-23).
- God now restrains “the secret power of lawlessness” (2 Thess 2:7).
- God holds Satan in check, allowing him to go only so far and no farther (Job 1:12,2:6).
Common grace keeps our depravity from becoming absolute. It keeps the world from falling into anarchy. It restrains the evil lurking in the hearts of men.
God Blesses Humanity with Common Grace to Express His Eternal Love and Restraint
God restrains his wrath against sinful humanity through common grace. In his book, The Doctrine of God, theologian John Frame notes it is surprising that human beings receive any blessing from God at all:
God would have acted justly if he had destroyed the human race after the Fall. But instead he allowed human life to continue, promising redemption by the offspring of the woman (Gen. 3:15). And throughout Scripture we see that God does not give people the awesome punishment they deserve. [John] Murray points out that God restrains the painful effects of the curse: of the thorns and thistles (Gen. 3:17) and of the wild beasts (Gen. 9:2, 5). God sometimes “overlooks” disobedience (Acts 17:30; cf. 14:16; Rom. 3:25). In the Old Testament period, he permitted divorce because of Israel’s hardness of heart (Matt. 19:8), even though he hates divorce (Mal. 2:16).
One day Christ will return and usher in the fullness of the kingdom. This is when all wrongs will be made right. God will punish all sin by punishing the offender or placing the offender’s sins on Jesus.
That this final judgment is still to come is an example of God’s restraint through his common grace. He postpones his judgment in order to give people an opportunity to repent. As Peter says in 2 Peter 3:9: “He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.”
God’s eternal love is seen in his restrained wrath redirected towards the cross. Romans 5:8 says, “But God demonstrates his own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”
God Blesses Humanity with Common Grace to Sustain Culture
God bestows his blessings, both physical and spiritual, on all of humanity through common grace. This includes those who will reject Christ. The Bible teaches this:
- “He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous” (Matt. 5:45).
- God blessed the Egyptian overseer’s house for Joseph’s sake (Gen. 39:5).
- Paul preached to pagan worshipers, “In the past, he let all nations go their own way. Yet he has not left himself without testimony: He has shown kindness by giving you rain from heaven and crops in their seasons; he provides you with plenty of food and fills your hearts with joy” (Acts 14:16-17).
In Psalm 65:9-13, David marveled at God’s bounty in creation:
You care for the land and water it; you enrich it abundantly. The streams of God are filled with water to provide the people with grain, for so you have ordained it. You drench its furrows and level its ridges; you soften it with showers and bless its crops. You crown the year with your bounty, and your carts overflow with abundance. The grasslands of the desert overflow; the hills are clothed with gladness. The meadows are covered with flocks and the valleys are mantled with grain; they shout for joy and sing.
God has also placed a bounty of blessings within each of us. Murray wrote that God not only restrains evil in unredeemed men, he also endows them with:
Gifts, talents, and aptitudes; he stimulates them with interest and purpose to the practice of virtues, the pursuance of worthy tasks, and the cultivation of arts and sciences that occupy the time, activity and energy of men and that make for the benefit and civilization of the human race. He ordains institutions for the protection and promotion of right, the preservation of liberty, the advance of knowledge and the improvement of physical and moral conditions. We may regard these interests, pursuits and institutions as exercising both an expulsive and impulsive influence. Occupying the energy, activity and time of men they prevent the indulgence of less noble and ignoble pursuits and they exercise an ameliorating, moralizing, stabilizing and civilizing influence upon the social organism.
It is God’s common grace that makes all of what we think of as culture possible. Institutions such as the state, the family, and culture are institutions of common grace.
God blesses humanity with common grace to restrain sin, express his love and restraint, and sustain culture. This is why we experience widespread goodness in a fallen world.