Common Grace-Pt. 2

In the previous post, I listed several biblical examples of God showering grace upon even those who don’t truly worship and follow him. And before I point out a few practical applications of this doctrine of common grace, I wanted to draw attention to two more places in which we see it supported in the Scriptures. Both illustrate God’s gift of wisdom to those outside of his people.

The first example can be found in the book of Proverbs. Theologian Robert Johnson explains:

The compiler of Proverbs makes use of the thirty sayings of the Egyptian Instruction of Amenemope, for example, as he proffers God’s wisdom in 22:17-24:22. The sayings are freely adapted and put into the larger context of trust in Yahweh, but a reliance on pagan sources is evident.…Proverbs’ authoritative words can even come verbatim from those outside of Israel, as with the sayings of Agur, son of Jakeh (Prov: 30:1f) and those from the mother of King Lemuel (Prov. 31:1f). (Reel Spirituality, 65)

Proverbs, then, indicates that the authors of Scripture were not afraid to recognize wisdom and truth wherever it could be found, readily adapting it for the purposes of the One in whom it originated.

The second example, found in Acts 17, is similar. In that account, the apostle Paul addresses the Aeropagus, a governing council of Athens, with the following words:

And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, that they should seek God, in the hope that they might feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us, for “In him we live and move and have our being”; as even some of your own poets have said, “For we are indeed his offspring.” (Acts 17:26-28)

Interestingly enough, both of the quotations Paul employs in these verses originate from pagan sources. The first is likely attributed to Epimenides of Crete, and the second from a poet named Aratus. As with the book of Proverbs, we find Paul acknowledging the insight and wisdom of those outside of God’s people.

In light of these passages, as well as the previously noted examples, how then should the doctrine of common grace shape our approach to people and culture? In other words, what difference does it make? I’ll mention two vitally important points:

1. If God is willing to extend grace to those who do not follow him, how can God’s people act any differently? After all, the biblical command is not “love only Christians” but rather “love your neighbor”—which Jesus defines in such a way as to include even those we would naturally consider enemies (see Luke 10:25-37; cf. Mat. 5:43:47). I might add that one of the primary reasons we’re to respect and care for any person is that he or she continues to bear God’s own image (see Gen. 9:6; James 3:9-10).

2. Given that God dispenses his gifts so liberally to mankind, we should also be prepared to recognize his gracious handiwork wherever it may be found. And in doing so, we may be instructed, corrected, and encouraged by unlikely sources.

No less a theologian than John Calvin offers these challenging words:

Therefore, in reading the profane authors, the admirable light of truth displayed in them should remind us, that the human mind, however much fallen and perverted from it’s original integrity, is still adorned and invested with admirable gifts from its Creator. If we reflect that the Spirit of God is the only fountain of truth, we will be careful, as we would avoid offering insult to him, not to reject or condemn truth wherever it appears. In despising the gifts, we insult the Giver. How, then, can we deny that truth must have beamed on those ancient lawgivers who arranged civil order and discipline with so much equity? Shall we say that the philosophers, in their exquisite researches and skillful description of nature, were blind? Shall we deny the possession of intellect to those who drew up rules for discourse, and taught us to speak in accordance with reason? Shall we say that those who, by the cultivation of the medical art…were only raving? What shall we say of the mathematical sciences? Shall we deem them to be the dreams of madmen? Nay we cannot read the writings of the ancients on these subjects without the highest admiration; an admiration which their excellence will not allow us to withhold. But shall we deem anything to be noble and praiseworthy, without tracing it to the hand of God? Far from us be such ingratitude; an ingratitude not chargeable even on the heathen poets, who acknowledged that philosophy and laws, and all useful arts were the inventions of the gods. (Institutes of the Christian Religion, II, ii, 15, italics mine)

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