Is it actually gracious for God to allow the reprobate to live?

Discussion in 'Calvinism & The Doctrines of Grace' started by De Jager, Feb 13, 2019.

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  1. De Jager

    De Jager Puritan Board Freshman

    I have heard it said that God exhibits "common grace" to all mankind by allowing them to enjoy benefits in this world apart from being saved.

    I have heard of God's love being divided into a "special" love for his elect and a "general" love for all mankind.

    This of course leads into the whole common grace / offer discussion.

    I want us to consider a couple things:


    1) When Jesus commented on the upcoming betrayal by Judas, he (Jesus) said that it would be better for him (Judas) if he (Judas) had never been born.

    2) Judas got to "enjoy" being one of Jesus' closest disciples for 3 years. Surely of all the possible "common graces" bestowed on mankind, this was the supreme one.

    3) It is well reasoned from scripture that each person daily increases their guilt before God, and this is also taught by the Heidelberg Catechism in Lord's Day 5. It stands to reason that a 90-year old man has committed many more sins than a 5 year old child.

    4) The Bible teaches degrees of punishment in Hell.


    Based on those 4 things, I have 3 questions:

    1. Can someone please inform me as to how one can possibly conclude that it is "gracious" of God to allow a reprobate person to be born, live, fill up their cup with iniquity, and then be sent to hell to be punished not only for their original sin but also for their actual sin? In the grand scheme of things, would it not be more gracious if he would simply snuff out that life before it had a chance to indulge itself in the sinful nature?

    2. When we consider that "grace" is essentially unmerited favour, what "favour" is being shown to these people? Surely for each of the reprobate it would be better if they had never been born.

    3. How can we in good conscience say to someone that "God loves you" considering the above? After all, this person may be reprobate, a person who in His Sovereignty God has ordained should be born, commit iniquity, daily increase their debt, and ultimately go to hell. Surely at best it is unbiblical presumption to make such a statement.
  2. earl40

    earl40 Puritan Board Post-Graduate

    Does the sinner in hell continue to sin? I believe so, and in thinking this way it makes no difference if one continues to sin here or there.
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  3. VictorBravo

    VictorBravo Administrator Staff Member

    God's thoughts are not our thoughts, of course. But one gracious consequence might be found in looking at how the church benefits from the material contributions of unbelievers. Commerce, communication, trade, etc. have done wonders in the spread of our Lord's Gospel.
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  4. De Jager

    De Jager Puritan Board Freshman

    With all due respect, that didn't really address the OP.

    Of course, we know that all things work together for the good of the called.

    However, I am not referring to the called here, but those who are not called. Is it right, or is it not right, to say that it is God is being gracious towards the non-elect by allowing them to be born, live, and die, filling up their portion of iniquity?
  5. ZackF

    ZackF Puritan Board Graduate

    Hell is worse than earth so any delay of that would be a mercy it seems.
  6. VictorBravo

    VictorBravo Administrator Staff Member

    I was trying to answer the first question, how God would be gracious.

    As you noted, grace is unmerited favor. Wondering about the object of the favor seems to be looking at it backwards.

    I'm aware of the difficulties in dealing with "common grace." I take the term to be a short hand term meaning something along the lines of Matthew 5:45 and don't try to press it further. Enemies of God are there to be blessed by his people, "that ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven...."

    In order for there to be such enemies, God must sustain them.
  7. Pergamum

    Pergamum Ordinary Guy (TM)

    The motivation for giving a kind gift may be good even if the recipient uses it for evil and the end result is evil.

    We should never charge God with evil motives for prolonging the lives of the wicked. Especially since He calls to them to repent and grants them many years to do so.
  8. Alan D. Strange

    Alan D. Strange Puritan Board Junior

    Romans 9 makes clear that, ultimately, all things glorify God, the salvation of the elect glorifies His mercy and grace and the condemnation of the reprobate His wrath and justice.

    God does, proximately, both send his rain on the unjust and call him to believe and repent, i.e., He shows kindnesses to the reprobate that are unmerited and are part of his benevolence to all His creatures.

    The whole of WCF 3 treats this in a balanced, biblical way, certainly one that does not suggest, in any measure, that God is a moral monster or has in any way wronged the reprobate. We must resist any such suggestions as Satanic, whether we understand God's kindness to the reprobate as something that can be called "grace" or denominate it by some other name.

    If our theology in any way prompts us to blacken God's name or character, we have gone astray. The last section of WCF 3 (section 8) is helpful to remind us that the doctrine of predestination is for our comfort and not for vain speculation:

    8. The doctrine of this high mystery of predestination is to be handled with special prudence and care, that men, attending the will of God revealed in his Word, and yielding obedience thereunto, may, from the certainty of their effectual vocation, be assured of their eternal election. So shall this doctrine afford matter of praise, reverence, and admiration of God; and of humility, diligence, and abundant consolation to all that sincerely obey the gospel.

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  9. De Jager

    De Jager Puritan Board Freshman

    Who ever charged God of evil? I certainly didn't. If God wishes to raise someone up to ultimately throw them down, who am I to find fault in that? This is essentially the message in Romans 9. My question is, is it gracious of him to do so - to that person? Was God showing grace to Pharaoh when he raised him up in order to throw him down?

    Could Moses have said to Pharoah: "Pharoah, God loves you and has graciously blessed you with so many good things...please repent of your sins and turn to him, recognizing his goodness towards you!"
  10. VictorBravo

    VictorBravo Administrator Staff Member

    I suppose he could have said such a thing, but he didn't, and I don't think he even thought such a thing.

    I'm still wondering where the concern comes from. Who has been saying God showed grace to Pharaoh or those like him? (other than acknowledging the sun and rain on the unjust and just).
  11. timfost

    timfost Puritan Board Junior

    It would have been better. This really has nothing to do with the question at hand. Judas was shown incredible mercy, yet in unthankfulness he wilfully rejected the Savior with whom he walked.




    Keep in mind that God's ways are not our ways. Remember that God's sovereignty does not negate the freedom of the will. Our reasoning needs to derive from Scripture. In this vein, consider the following:

    "Let grace be shown to the wicked,
    Yet he will not learn righteousness
    In the land of uprightness he will deal unjustly,
    And will not behold the majesty of the Lord." (Is. 26:10)

    Not all grace/mercy is saving grace, otherwise the wicked would "learn righteousness" when shown grace.

    "The Lord is good to all,
    And His tender mercies are over all His works...
    The Lord is righteous in all His ways,
    Gracious in all His works." (Psalm 145:9,17)

    Scripture tells us that God is good to all and gracious in all His works. The objection of "if God knows the end from the beginning because He ordained it, these 'graces' are not really graces" only proceeds from a logic that superimposes "what we would do" rather than what God says about His own workings. If God gives good things even to those who will ultimately perish, we must also acknowledge that these same people received something undeserved from God and are recipients of His mercy in a temporal sense.

    "Or do you despise the riches of His goodness, forbearance, and longsuffering, not knowing that the goodness of God leads you to repentance?" (Rom. 2:4)

    The goodness of God is designed to lead men to repentance. Even if man refuses to repent, it does not follow that a) God was unmerciful, and b) that man did not reject this mercy freely. (Consider reprobation in the terms of preterition.)

    It does not follow that since it would be better not to be born that the mercy shown was not mercy. If I give someone a gift and they misuse and abuse it, does it follow that it was not a gift?

    A couple things need to be unpacked here.

    1. Just because it may be true that God has a general love for His image bearers (see Augustine, Calvin, Berkhof among others who make this explicit), it does not mean that the gospel necessarily must go out with "God loves you." Rather, the love of God that is at least partly expressed in his providential goodness is designed to lead them to repentance. The call is to faith and repentance, not that "God loves you," though this is true of itself. In other words, "God loves you" doesn't call someone to repentance. Rather, in love God is merciful to man which is designed to call them to faith/repentance. In our culture especially, the phrase normally means that "God loves you for who you are and accepts you the way you are." This is diametrically opposed to a call to faith and repentance which is a call away from "who we are" to Christ and His righteousness.

    2. The gospel goes out to sinners. Yes, many sinners are reprobate, but we need not worry about what we do not know. In contrast, we do know that a) the person is a sinner, b) the person has received blessings from God (common graces), c) these mercies should lead them to repentance and are designed for that purpose, d) God promises them eternal life when they repent/believe.

    Again, we need to operate on what we know about God's working, not according to what we might do if we were omniscient. When we take God on His own revealed terms, any problems that you pose are resolved.

    I hope this helps...
  12. timfost

    timfost Puritan Board Junior

    It was just for God to throw him down on account of sin. It as gracious for God to bestow him with providential goodness because God is good and does good. You are linking these two things together as a single act of God and only allowing one of His attributes to be manifested in the situation. In the totality of Pharaoh's life, he experienced both God's goodness and wrath.
    Last edited: Feb 15, 2019
  13. De Jager

    De Jager Puritan Board Freshman

    Let's bring this home then.

    I have a grandmother who is not a Christian. When witnessing to her, what should we say to her?

    Is it accurate to say: "Grandma, God loves you and has been gracious to you all your life...acknowledge that and repent of your sin and turn to Christ".

    Of the underlined, I just don't see how I could say that in good conscience when in truth I just don't know if God loves her. Or if he does, in what sense does he? Obviously I don't know if she is elect. But is there some sense in which I can say "God loves you"?

    Again, please everyone I am not trying to pry into whether someone is elect or not - I know that's not my job, so please you don't need to remind me of that. Rather I am simply trying to understand what I can or cannot say to someone in a witnessing encounter. I am not interested in saying anything unbiblical.
    Last edited: Feb 14, 2019
  14. De Jager

    De Jager Puritan Board Freshman


    Regarded the bolded - any Arminian would say the same thing about the very basic points of Calvinism. I think the question is not whether we think it blackens God's name, but whether or not it is biblical. Many people think that the very doctrine of the substitutionary atonement blackens God's name - but that does not mean that they have gone astray - they simply have superimposed their own idea of what a "good God" looks like into their own thinking and are then interpreting the Bible through that lense.
  15. Pergamum

    Pergamum Ordinary Guy (TM)

    I suppose you could say the following to your grandmother:

    "Believe in this Mercy, Psal. 52. 8. I trust in the mercy of God for ever. God's Mercy is a Fountain of Salvation, what greater Encouragement to believe than God's Mercy. God counts it his glory to be scattering Pardons; he is desirous that sinners should touch the golden Scepter of his Mercy, and live. And this willingness to shew Mercy appears two ways:

    1. By his intreating of sinners to come and lay hold on his Mercy; Rev. 22.17. Whosoever will, come and take the water of life freely. Mercy woes sinners, it even kneels down to them. It were strange for a Prince to entreat a condemned Man to accept Pardon. God saith, poor sinner, suffer me to love thee, be willing to let me save thee."

    And also:

    "Kindness is seen in this, that God hath spared the Sinner so long, and not struck him dead in the Act of Sin: Kindness in this, that though' the Sinner hath sinn'd against his Conscience, yet now, if he will repent of Sin, God will repent of his Judgments, and the white Flag of Mercy shall be held forth..."

    Thomas Watson, Body of Practical Divinity. 55, 1003.
  16. chuckd

    chuckd Puritan Board Sophomore

  17. Pergamum

    Pergamum Ordinary Guy (TM)

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  18. chuckd

    chuckd Puritan Board Sophomore

    Sorry, just thought it might be helpful.
  19. De Jager

    De Jager Puritan Board Freshman

    Don't you think that Watson is going a little far here?

    Jesus says "let him who desires come" - I do not see how this equates to God kneeling down, begging the sinner to come to him to be forgiven. That doesn't really square with "God commands all men everywhere to repent".
  20. Pergamum

    Pergamum Ordinary Guy (TM)

    Not at all. I believe Watson is correct.
  21. De Jager

    De Jager Puritan Board Freshman

    I just don't see how you get that from scripture. It sounds somewhat Arminian, to be honest.

    There is no doubt that God extends an offer of mercy to all who will come - that's not up for debate. But I just don't see how you can picture that as God "on his knees" begging the sinner to be reconciled. I don't see how that picture squares with scripture. So until someone can show me, I will have to disagree with you.

  22. timfost

    timfost Puritan Board Junior


    You seem to pit certain truths against each other that are not mutually exclusive. The idea of God pleading with a sinner-- even if he never comes to Him-- is not inconsistent with a command to repent/believe. See Psalm 81.

    Furthermore, your concept of the distinction between Calvinism and Arminianism is not well grounded historically if you believe the idea of God pleading with a sinner is contra Calvinism.

    Would you like some reading recommendations?
  23. Dachaser

    Dachaser Puritan Board Doctor

    I also think that God saw that eternity in hell is preferable for some reason to just having the Lost snuffed out once judged by Him for their sins, so Hos ways and thoughts many times are above ours, and some times just do not seem to make seems to us.
    And to me, Judas was a special case, as he knew and walk with Jesus Christ, and yet still willingly betrayed Him...
  24. De Jager

    De Jager Puritan Board Freshman

    Tim, thank you for your response.

    FYI, I will read through your previous response carefully later when time allows. Thank you for your time responding to this topic.

    I think we need to make a distinction between the Lord addressing his covenant people vs. addressing the heathen nations?

    Psalm 81 says:

    Oh that my people had hearkened unto me, and Israel had walked in my ways!

    Is there a similar example in scripture with God pleading with the ungodly nations around Israel to be reconciled unto him? In the context of Israel, God had already drawn near to them and claimed them for his own, and seems to be calling them to respond in faith. For a person outside of the covenant community, this is not the case.

    In Acts 17, Paul is addressing pagans who are outside of the covenant community. I am wondering if there are certain things that you "can say" to the covenant people that aren't true for the one outside the covenant.

    With this in mind, I am wondering if the context of the above quote from Watson would suggest something similar?

    Sure, feel free to suggest a few reading recommendations.

  25. VictorBravo

    VictorBravo Administrator Staff Member

    Izzak, be careful about putting the cart before the horse. None of us know who the called are--it is not our job to even figure it out.

    Regarding the covenant people in the OT, consider Isaiah 19. Egypt and Assyria, those great enemies of God's people, are brought into the fold. This is something is astounding to the descendants of Jacob, but there it is:

    Isa 19:24 In that day shall Israel be the third with Egypt and with Assyria, even a blessing in the midst of the land:
    Isa 19:25 Whom the LORD of hosts shall bless, saying, Blessed be Egypt my people, and Assyria the work of my hands, and Israel mine inheritance.

    God calls the sinner and offers grace. I think you are right not to like the "God loves you and ...." formula because you can't know such things. But certainly you are strong ground speaking about the need for reconciliation and the clear avenue for reconciliation: trusting our Lord Christ, who with the Bride and the Spirit, says: "Come." (Rev. 22:17).
  26. De Jager

    De Jager Puritan Board Freshman

    Hi Victor,

    I know that I am not to pry in to God's secret decree - believe, I have no interest whatsoever in doing so.

    I will consider Isaiah 19. However, I believe that this refers to future things, no? Furthermore, the passages really don't comment on God's disposition towards those nations prior to him sovereignly en-grafting them into the fold. They certainly do not present God as "on his knees", "pleading" with those nations to join his covenant people.

    I really don't think we can use such a passage to justify going to someone outside of the covenant people and saying "God loves you" and God is "pleading with you" to be reconciled unto him.

    You quoted Rev. 22:17 - and I agree with that paragraph of your response. There is definitely a need for reconciliation. However, let me point out that when Jesus says come, he means come - he is not saying "please oh please, make my day and come to me" - in fact, the bid to "come" is aligns pretty well with what Paul says in Acts 17 - "God commands all men everywhere to repent".

    Any invitation from God is also a command. We cannot proceed to present God as a God who is at the mercy of the sinner.
  27. timfost

    timfost Puritan Board Junior

    Sounds good. :)

    Your question asks, "Is it actually gracious for God to allow the reprobate to live?" Since the reprobate are often in the visible church, it shouldn't matter whether God was speaking to His covenant people or not, at least if we interact with the question as you asked it.

    "Now the word of the Lord came to Jonah the son of Amittai, saying,
    'Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and cry out against it; for their wickedness has come up before Me.'" (Jonah 1:1-2)

    Why would God desire the repentance of Gentile Nineveh?

    "But the Lord said, 'You have had pity on the plant for which you have not labored, nor made it grow, which came up in a night and perished in a night.
    And should I not pity Nineveh, that great city, in which are more than one hundred and twenty thousand persons who cannot discern between their right hand and their left--and much livestock?'" (Jonah 4:10-11)

    Not only did God pity the people, but also the livestock!

    "But it displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he became angry.
    So he prayed to the Lord, and said, 'Ah, Lord, was not this what I said when I was still in my country? Therefore I fled previously to Tarshish; for I know that You are a gracious and merciful God, slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness, One who relents from doing harm.'" (Jonah 4:1-2)

    Why did Jonah not want to go to this Gentile nation? Because God is so merciful and inclined to pity. If Jonah thought that God's pity only belonged to the covenant people, why did he flee to Tarshish away from Nineveh? He did not want them to repent and to be shown mercy by God! What is glaringly obvious in chapter four is that God is far more inclined to pity than Jonah!

    There is truth to this statement. We can address the church as believers, the elect of God, those to whom the promises were made, etc. We cannot address those outside the church as such. However, I want to point out a few things:

    1. In Acts 17, there is an acknowledgement that the call to repentance generally was only to the people of Israel. Consider the wording: "Truly, these times of ignorance God overlooked, but now commands all men everywhere to repent..." In other words, Paul is saying that in contrast to the call to repent going out primarily to Israel, now this call to repent goes out to everyone everywhere. How did it go out to Israel? I think Psalm 81 is instructive in this.

    2. Does God represent Himself as desirous of His law, even when men break it? Therefore, a separation of God desiring His covenant people to come to Him with the command that they come is unnatural and does not account for all of revelation. Similarly, your assertion (if I understand correctly) that the NT command for those outside of the covenant does not extend God's pity or pleading with/to them is not consistent with the consonance of these two principles.

    Click here and here. (Please know that my linking these two pages is not an endorsement of everything on the websites.)

    I hope this helps.


  28. Charles Johnson

    Charles Johnson Puritan Board Freshman

    I hate to make such a discussion more complex, but when speaking of the desire of God for sinners to repent it is helpful to remember the impassibility/immutability of God, so that when we speak of the desire of God for sinners at large to repent we are speaking of his revealed will and not any human passion. Does God desire sinners to repent, even the reprobate? Yes - he commands it. I know that there have been many attempts to explain the words of St Peter differently when he said that God desires all to be saved, such as restricting the scope of the word "all", but understanding it with regards to God's revealed will seems to me to be the most rational approach.
  29. Jeri Tanner

    Jeri Tanner Moderator Staff Member

    Last edited: Feb 14, 2019
  30. Pergamum

    Pergamum Ordinary Guy (TM)

    It is certainly not Arminian. Many of the Puritans spoke like this. William Gurnell in The Christian's Complete Armour says: "Thou canst not earn heaven by thine own righteousness, and is thy spirit so stout that thou wilt not beg it for Christ's sake, yea, take it at God's hands, who in the gospel comes a begging to thee, and beseecheth thee to be reconciled to him?"

    Aside from Matthew 5 telling us that we are to love our own enemies in the likeness of the good God who causes the rains to fall on the just and the unjust, we also have the following verses:

    God blessed the Egyptian overseer’s house for Joseph’s sake (Gen. 39:5). It doesn't say God gathered more coals for the eternal burning of Pharoah, but that it was a blessing. Not a trap to fatten him up further for the slaughter.

    In Acts 14, Paul preaches to gentiles who did not know God at all. Paul says, “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.”

    It doesn't say that God further hardened them with blessings to increase their guilt, but calls these things kindnesses.

    You don't believe God is being duplicitous do you? If he calls a thing a kindness and a blessing then you must believe that it is a kindness or a blessing.

    When God tells us to love our enemies, He is our great example - for He loves those who are hostile against Him. God doesn't say, "Act loving but secretly plot their greater torment, just like Me." Neither must we affirm what the Arminians say, that God loves all mankind alike. We need not believe that God loves all mankind in the same way for us to affirm that God does, indeed, love all mankind in some way. God loves all men with some love; and God loves some men with all love.

    Romans 2:4-5 asks, "Do you think lightly of the riches of His kindness and tolerance and patience, not knowing that the kindness of God leads you to repentance? But because of your stubbornness and unrepentant heart you are storing up wrath for yourself in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God..."

    The fault is on the sinner, not on God. God gives many gifts and sinners misuse these gifts.

    Here is an analogy: It is as if God gifts a hungry man with a shotgun to hunt rabbits to eat, but that man turns the gun on himself, instead. The fault is not God's. A good gift is even good if it is misused.

    The result might be that sinners DO increase their wrath through the misuse of common grace, but God is not a schemer or deceitful. God is TRULY kind to sinners, and He is patient. It is not a sham kindness, but a true kindness.

    Deniers of common grace ask how it can be called a kindness if it increases the guilt of the sinner. But the Bible calls these things blessings and kindnesses, and so I must as well.

    It is man, who, in his wickedness, uses even the blessings of God in a sinful way, and thus increases his own guilt. Several times in the OT God tells the Israelites, "Watch Out, don't think that your power and strength gave you these riches." But that is often what happened. Man misuses God's good gifts and increases His guilt. Judically, God then uses the misuses of these gifts against man in the final judgment.

    Proverbs 30: 7-9 is a plea against this when the psalmist pleads, "give me neither poverty nor riches, but give me only my daily bread. Otherwise, I may have too much and disown you and say, ‘Who is the LORD?’"

    The Sun both hardens the clay and melts the wax by its shining. But the shining doesn't become an evil thing just because the clay hardens by being shined upon.

    Health and material blessings are kindnesses and blessings...yet sinful man trips himself over these blessings.

    Concerning Pharoah: God often punishes sin and hardness by withdrawing grace and allowing more sin and hardness. God hardens by removing restraining grace. God did not put any sin into Pharoah that was not already there. He merely removed His restraining hand, and allowed Pharoah to run free. God even gave Pharoah many gifts and blessings. And these gifts will increase his guilt. But there was no fault in the gifts themselves or these blessings. These gifts were good in themselves; yet man misuses them. And all of this misuses serves God's will in the end.

    God says He hardens whom He wills. But the manner of this hardening to merely to withdraw grace. God does the sinner no wrong and still shows him a great deal of mercy. Romans 2 tells us, "the kindness of God leads you to repentance? But because of your stubbornness and unrepentant heart YOU are storing up wrath for YOURSELF."

    Fault lies solely at the sinner's feet, who turns God's good blessings into curses to be used against him at the Judgment.
    Last edited: Feb 15, 2019
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