What Kind of Grace is “Common” Grace?

Before this question we have been placed repeatedly. Usually we give the same reply when this question is asked, having the conviction that our answer is one that is based upon the Word of God.

This question is generally asked by those who deny or doubt that there is a certain grace or favor of God in addition to saving grace. They are not convinced that there is some kind of favor of God and that there is a sincere offer of salvation also to those who do not accept that offer. They take this stand because the reprobate do not receive the power needed to accept this offer. The question can be asked, which grace, what kind or grace do they then receive?



Zechariah 11:10,14

The portion of Scripture to which we refer is Zechariah 11:10 and 14. In the American Revised version it reads:

And I took my staff Beauty, and cut it asunder, that I might break my covenant which I had made with all the peoples…. Then I cut asunder mine other staff, even Bands, that I might break the brotherhood between Judah and Israel.

According to John Calvin these verses speak of the reprobate, reprobate who stand over against the poor of the flock that waited on the prophet, and acknowledged that the words which he spoke were the Word of God. In connection with Zechariah 11:11, which reads (also A.R.V.),

And it was broken in that day: and thus the poor of the flock that gave heed unto me knew that it was the Word of Jehovah.

Calvin remarks: “But he (the prophet) says further, that the poor of the flock perceived this: and thus he shows, that while the body of the people followed the way to ruin, a few derived benefit from God’s scourges; and thus it never happens, that God chastises without some advantage. Though then the reprobate (italics mine, M.J.W.) obstinately resist God, and hesitate not to tread under foot his judgments, and, as far as they are able, render them void, there are yet some few who receive benefit, and acknowledge God’s hand so as to humble themselves and repent.”*

What then have these Jews received, who without doubt belong to the reprobate?

In verse 7 of this chapter mention is made not of but one staff, but even of two staves wherewith he tends his sheep. We quote Calvin further: “As then every shepherd carried h is nook (staff), the prophet says here that he was furnished with two crooks, or pastoral staves, because the Lord surpassed all men in his solicitude in the office of ruling his people.”

It is, accordingly, an entirely incorrect representation to assert that we have slipped from the old Reformed paths .by maintaining that we observe a favor of God which he manifests toward the reprobate, since Calvin already in his time acknowledged that God manifested a favor toward them.

Repeatedly he so expresses himself in his commentary on this chapter. We quote further: “For the paternal care of God had been most basely and most shamefully repudiated, as well as the kind favor which he had manifested toward the people. They had thrust from them the kindness of God, and in a manner carried on war forwardly with God, so as to prevent any access to his favor. That Zechariah now speaks in his own person, and then introduces God as the speaker, makes no difference…as to the main subject; for his object is to set forth how shamefully the Jews had abused the favor of God, and how unjustly they had despised it” (italics mine, M.J.W.).

What Grace?

What favor or grace do the reprobate who are mentioned in this chapter receive? They receive that which is designated by the two staves: “Beauty” and “Bands,” or if we take the plural of the last word intensively: binders or a binding together. In this beauty and bands or binders the reprobate share, in Zechariah 11, until both symbolic staves are broken because of transgressions.

Now it is possible that the thought would occur to some that the reprobate in reality receive no beauty, because that which this beauty implies is given but temporarily. But the Scripture does not hesitate to speak here of Beauty. (Beauty refers to the friendliness and goodness of God. In a footnote the Revised Version gives the word: “graciousness.” – Dutch S. V.: liefeliikheid.) To place one’s self above the Word of God by eliminating words is something which the higher critics do. In Revelation 22:19 we have a warning of God against an act of this nature.

The Scripture truly ascribes to the reprobate such beauty and bands or binders, as are temporal and subject to being lost. The favor which they receive from the Lord in connection with the shepherd-staves, wherewith the prophet is provided, to feed them thereby, they retain until they reject the prophet and the Lord, Zechariah 11:8, when these staves are broken, Zechariah 11:10, 14.

*This quotation and also those which follow are derived from the English translations of Calvin’s Commentaries of the Prophet Zachariah published in 1849.