Gordon Clark on "Common Grace"

The most significant note on “Common Grace” in Clark’s writings comes from his unpublished First Lessons in Theology. There, in chapter seven on “Salvation,” he writes,

“Before the discussion of clearly heretical views begins, one may consider for a moment a theory of so-­called common grace that is undoubtedly Biblical. If there is anything wrong with it, the fault lies in its defenders’ overemphasis. Since it is no part of saving grace, it is best mentioned briefly and then passed by. This grace is called common because it consists of benefits which God confers on all men indiscriminately. They are common to the regenerate and the unregenerate alike. The verse usually quoted is:
Mt. 5:45 He maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust.
This can be called grace, if it be agreed that it is both unmerited and a favor or blessing. But though sun and rain are essential for food, in comparison with eternal salvation they are rather trivial. The frivolity may disappear, however, if the preaching of the gospel to all and sundry is an unmerited favor. One theologian argues that the gospel is both a savor of life unto life and also a savor of death unto death. To the reprobate the preaching of the gospel is no favor because as it increases their knowledge, it increases their responsibility and condemnation. Better if they had never heard the gospel. One can reply, nonetheless, that in some cases the preaching of the gospel may restrain an evil man from some of his evil ways. Since therefore sins are not all equal, and since some are punished with many stripes, but others with few, the preaching of the gospel results in the lessening of the punishment. Thus preaching would be a small favor, a modicum of grace. We note it and pass on.”

Here Clark argues that that “Common Grace” is favor to the reprobate only in that the Gospel may lead to some restraint of sin and lessening of punishment. It is evident that he would reject the “Three Points of Common Grace” presented at the 1924 Synod of Kalamazoo; the points over which the Protestant Reformed Churches emerged out of the Christian Reformed Churhes.
Clark’s opposition to the “Three Points of Common Grace” is particularly clear when it comes to the first point on the so-called “Well-meant” or “Free” offer of the Gospel. As detailed in The Presbyterian Philosopher (p. 118-127) Clark defended his position (essentially the same as the PRC) against the CRC-influenced faculty at Westminster Theological Seminary in his ordination controversy.

1 thought on “Gordon Clark on "Common Grace"”

  1. 2. And not for ours only. He added this for the sake of amplifying, in order that the faithful might be assured that the expiation made by Christ, extends to all who by faith embrace the gospel.
    Here a question may be raised, how have the sins of the whole world been expiated? I pass by the dotages of the fanatics, who under this pretence extend salvation to all the reprobate, and therefore to Satan himself. Such a monstrous thing deserves no refutation. They who seek to avoid this absurdity, have said that Christ1 suffered sufficiently for the whole world, but efficiently only for the elect. This solution has commonly prevailed in the schools. Though then I allow that what has been said is true, yet I deny that it is suitable to this passage; for the design of John was no other than to make this benefit common to the whole Church. Then under the word all or whole, he does not include the reprobate, but designates those who should believe as well as those who were then scattered through various parts of the world. For then is really made evident, as it is meet, the grace of Christ, when it is declared to be the only true salvation of the world.
    Commentary on 1 John 2:2
    John Calvin

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