The Saving Design of God’s Common Grace

This article was originally posted in Issue 116 of the Founders Journal.

Theologians frequently distinguish two species of divine grace in the Scriptures: saving grace and common grace. God directs the former particularly to the elect; God showers the latter indiscriminately on all men in general. Saving grace is, as its designation suggests, efficacious in effecting the redemption of those to whom it is given. Common grace, on the other hand, does not guarantee the salvation of its recipients. Nevertheless, God’s common grace is saving in its design. That is, God sincerely intends the kindness and patience he shows to all sinners (whether elect or non-elect) to lead them unto saving repentance. The apostle Paul underscores this biblical truth in Romans 2:4.

Before we demonstrate our thesis concerning the teaching of Romans 2:4, we believe it would be helpful to read the verse in its larger context:

Therefore you have no excuse, O man, every one of you who judges. For in passing judgment on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, practice the very same things. We know that the judgment of God rightly falls on those who practice such things. Do you suppose, O man–you who judge those who practice such things and yet do them yourself–that you will escape the judgment of God? Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance? But because of your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed (Rom 2:1-5, ESV).

From this passage (especially verse 4), we’ll identify the recipients, the nature, and the design of God’s common grace.

The Recipients of God’s Common Grace

Precisely whom is Paul addressing in Romans 2:1-5?

The “Moralist” whether Jew or Gentile

The majority of commentators believe Paul has transitioned from indicting pagan Gentiles in Romans 1:18-32 to condemning self-righteous Jews in 2:1ff.[i] There are good reasons, however, to interpret the scope of Paul’s indictment as inclusive of any moralist, whether Jew or Gentile.[ii]

The Sinfully Self-Righteous Person

Not only is Paul addressing the self-confessed “moralist.” He seems to have in view the person who not only prides himself in his assumed “superior” ethical mores, but also makes it his business to judge and condemn others less outwardly decent or religious. This is the kind of judgmentalism Jesus warned against in the Sermon on the Mount (Matt 7:1-5). It’s epitomized in the parable of the Pharisee and the Publican where the former, looking condescendingly on the latter, has the audacity to pray,

God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get (Luke 18:11-12, ESV).

The Blind and Stubborn Reprobate

Paul’s characterization darkens as the passage progresses. This is not just a moralist who’s got nothing better to do than to complain about the ills of the decadent society around him. Paul’s diatribe is aimed at the man who shows contempt[iii] for the abundance of God’s “kindness and forbearance and patience” of which he is a recipient. This contempt actually blinds him[iv] to the fact that such undeserved kindness has a benevolent design (2:4). And in this case, the blindness is the willful, sinful, and culpable variety.[v] Worse, it results in a stubborn impenitence that accrues, rather ironically for the moralist, a “treasury”[vi] of divine wrath and judgment (2:5).[vii]

The Nature of God’s Common Grace

The “common grace” in this passage is God’s indiscriminate kindness shown to the undeserving or, better, ill-deserving. Paul describes this kindness using three nouns. The first, χρηστότητος, denotes the quality of beneficence. The second, ἀνοχῆς, signifies the quality of being forbearing or tolerant. It’s used in Romans 3:26 to refer to God’s postponement of judgment. The third, μακροθυμίας, refers to the quality of patience or long-suffering. Paul summarizes these ideas with the cognate adjective of the first noun, χρηστὸς, which is here used substantively–”God’s kindness.”

Some Grace Saves

Sometimes divine “kindness” is employed to signify a discriminate, salvific, and efficacious grace. For example, consider Paul’s words to the church of Ephesus:

But God, being rich in mercy (ἐλέει), because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ–by grace (χάριτί) you have been saved–and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace (χάριτος) in kindness (χρηστότητι) toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace (χάριτί) you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God (2:4-8).

Worth noting is that Paul portrays God’s saving “kindness” (χρηστότης) as a species of “grace” (χάρις) and expression of “mercy” (ἔλεος). Moreover, we see a parallel in this text with Romans 2:4 in that both passages describe God’s kindness or grace in lavish terms: here, “God being rich” (πλούσιος); there, “the riches (πλούτου) of his kindness.”

Paul employs the same salvific kindness terminology in his letter to Titus:

But when the goodness (χρηστότης) and loving kindness (φιλανθρωπία) of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of any works of righteousness that we had done, but according to his mercy (ἔλεος), through the water of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit. This Spirit he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by his grace (χάριτι), we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life (3:4-7).

In this case χρηστότης (“goodness”) and φιλανθρωπία (“loving-kindness”) function as the more general terms of which God’s saving ἔλεος (“mercy”) and χάριτι (“grace”) are species. And, like our text (Rom 2:4) and Ephesians 2 above, this divine kindness is extravagant: “this Spirit he poured out on us richly (πλουσίως) through Jesus Christ our Savior.”

Some Grace Does Not

Some Christians seem to believe that “grace” vocabulary, like that above, always and necessarily denotes God’s efficacious and saving kindness to the ill-deserving. But this is simply not the case for several reasons.

First, the fact that the phrase “common grace” doesn’t occur in the Bible does not mean the concept behind the phrase is absent. To assume that the absence of a special term or a technical phrase precludes the idea or notion conveyed by such a word or phrase is to commit a linguistic fallacy. As James Barr explains, “It is the sentence (and of course the still larger literary complex such as the complete speech or poem) which is the linguistic bearer of the usual theological statement, and not the word (the lexical unit) or the morphological and syntactical connection.”[viii] For example, one will scour Genesis 3 in vain for such terms as “sin,” “evil,” “rebellion,” “transgression,” or “guilt.” But it’s obvious to most readers that the chapter is all about mankind’s fall into sin. Similarly, the Scriptures teach that God is one nature and three persons. Thus, we may affirm the doctrine of the “Trinity” even though the term doesn’t occur in the Bible. The same holds true for the phrase “common grace.”

Second, and related to the point above, it’s not the term “grace” by itself that denotes efficacious grace. Rather, the larger context in which the term occurs is what constrains the special (soteriological) signification. In general, the term “grace” denotes ideas like “favor,” “goodwill,” or “kindness.” Only when the term is employed in contexts where God’s regenerating, justifying, or sanctifying activity is in view does it convey the theological notion of divine saving grace to the ill-deserving. To assume that the English term or its Hebrew or Greek counterparts (see below) must always have a technical meaning in biblical discourse is, once again, linguistically fallacious. D. A. Carson calls this the terminus technicus fallacy in which “an interpreter falsely assumes that a word [e.g., “grace”] always has a certain technical meaning–a meaning derived either from a subset of the evidence or from the interpreter’s personal systematic theology.”[ix]

Third, even the Hebrew and Greek terms commonly translated as “grace” (Hebrew: חן [noun], חנן [verb]/Greek: χάρις [noun]; χαρίζω [verb]) do not always denote God’s efficacious and saving kindness to the ill-deserving. When, for instance, Noah finds “grace (חן) in the eyes of the Lord” (Gen 6:8), he’s not receiving God’s saving grace as an ill-deserving sinner, but God’s approval as a righteous saint (see Gen 6:10). In other words, there is a species of grace that’s actually merited (cf. Gen 33:12-17; Prov 12:2). Such is what the Gospel writer Luke had in view when he tells us, ”Jesus increased in wisdom and in stature and in favor (χάριτι) with God and man” (Luke 2:52). Obviously, divine saving grace to the ill-deserving doesn’t fit this context. There are many other examples of non-soteriological usage.[x]

Fourth, the biblical terms translated “grace” belong to a larger semantic domain that includes words such as “mercy,” “compassion,” “patience,” “long-suffering,” and “kindness.” Such terms may denote God’s discriminate saving grace, or they can signify a more general idea like God’s indiscriminate kindness. Psalm 145 seems to bring both kinds of divine grace into close relation. The psalmist highlights God’s covenantal or special grace in verse 8 with an allusion to Yahweh’s self-revelation in Exodus 34: “The LORD is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.” Then, in the next verse, he places God’s special grace under the umbrella of God’s common grace: “The LORD is good to all, and his mercy is over all that he has made.”[xi] The Greek term used to translate “all” in the LXX often signifies the entire world (Job 2:2; Isa 11:9; Nah 1:5), which nicely parallels the phrase “all that he has made.” It seems then, there is a species of God’s grace or kindness that is more general in scope.

Fifth, that the noun χρηστότητος (“kindness”) and adjective χρηστὸς (“kind”) can denote a non-salvific favor, that is, a general kindness, is shown by the fact that they are predicated of Christians. That is, believers are commanded to be kind and gracious to others (2 Cor 6:6; Gal 5:22; Col 3:12; Eph 4:32). One should note that the species of “kindness” enjoined of humans in these passages is represented as analogous to the kindness God has showed toward us in salvation, not necessarily in terms of efficacy but in terms of its general nature, i.e., a kind of favor that is benevolent and merciful in character. Note how Jesus enjoins his disciples to imitate God’s common kindness by being gracious even toward their enemies:

But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind (χρηστός) to the ungrateful and the evil. Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful (Luke 6:35-36, ESV).

Sixth, our text in Romans plainly refers to a species of divine grace or kindness that is not limited to the elect and that falls short of actually effecting the conversion of its recipients (see Rom 2:5). So we agree with William G. T. Shedd when he comments on Romans 2:4 and remarks, “The apostle is not speaking, here, of the effectual operation of special grace upon the human will, but only of common influences.”[xii]

In summary, though the phrase “common grace” doesn’t appear in the Bible, the concept of common grace does. Common grace refers to God’s blessings on the human race that fall short of salvation from sin. Theologians usually classify these common expressions of divine kindness and benevolence as follows: (1) God’s restraint of human sin and its effects, (2) God’s bestowal of temporal blessings on humanity in general, and (3) God’s endowment of unbelievers with knowledge and skills to benefit human society as a whole.[xiii] The goodwill, tolerance, and patience of Romans 2:4 would extend to all three of these dimensions of common grace. Yet these indiscriminate blessings are not an end in themselves. God has an agenda.

The Design of God’s Common Grace

Why is God so amazingly good, tolerant of, and patient toward the self-righteous and self-sufficient reprobate who spends his life condemning others and commending himself? Before we identify the obvious reason, which the apostle Paul highlights, let’s address two incorrect answers to the question.

To Assure the Sinner “All’s Well”

The first incorrect answer to the question is the one assumed by the impenitent moralist Paul is describing. Such a person interprets God’s gracious providence as a sure sign that God is pleased with him. The fact God hasn’t struck him dead with a bolt of lightning must mean God approves of him and that he has no need to fear. This kind of gross and groundless presumption characterized the Jewish nation who foolishly interpreted God’s deferral of judgment as a certain sign that all was well (see Jeremiah 7).

But Paul exposes the folly of this presumptuous attitude and in no uncertain terms declares quite the opposite. The self-righteous moralist is just as much under God’s condemnation as the depraved pagan. After all, all things are open before the eyes of whom we must give an account (Heb 4:13). Accordingly, the aim of God’s common grace has not been to stoke the moralist’s pride, to foster complacency, or to promote presumption. Rather, says Paul, God’s goodness is aimed at the self-righteous moralist’s repentance.

To Fatten the Sinner for Judgment

Some, especially those of the ultra-Calvinist bent, insist on reading the text as if God’s design in demonstrating kindness to the non-elect were nothing more than a means to aggravate their guilt and increase their punishment. Just as the farmer feeds and fattens the turkey for the chopping block, so God showers good things upon and withholds immediate judgment from the self-righteous sinner in order to make him “ripe” for damnation. It’s as if God’s only intention toward the non-elect can be malevolent; any beneficence, on God’s part, is disallowed. For example, in a critical review of John Murray’s The Free Offer of the Gospel, Matthew Winzer asserts,

The reprobate are not considered merely as creatures when God dispenses his temporal benefits to them. They are “vessels of wrath fitted to destruction,” and God is said to endure them “with much longsuffering” (Rom 9:22). And this longsuffering is not presented as being in any sense for their benefit, as if He were patiently waiting for them to turn to Him that He might be favourable to them. No, it is so that “he might make known the riches of his glory on the vessels of mercy, which he had afore prepared unto glory” (verse 23). Thus, God’s wrathful enduring of the reprobate is for the purpose of mercifully manifesting His glory to the elect. Every temporal benefit, therefore, which comes to the reprobate is not without purpose, but is made effectual to them for their inuring [i.e., hardening] and making meet for damnation.[xiv]

In the same paper, Winzer concedes that God has a general love or benevolence for humanity in general, but he strongly insists that such benevolence cannot include any disposition of goodwill toward the non-elect.[xv] God can only be said to desire the damnation of those whose damnation he actually decrees.

Of course, it’s true enough that God’s indiscriminate common grace will aggravate the guilt and increase the punishment of the impenitent. That’s the point of Romans 2:5. Moreover, God’s damnation of the reprobate will also serve to highlight God’s perfect justice and sovereign power while accentuating his mercy to the elect. That’s the point of Romans 9:21-23. Nevertheless, the point of Romans 2:4 is quite another biblical truth.[xvi]

To Lead the Sinner to Repentance

Paul states the design of God’s common grace in no uncertain terms. Addressing the self-righteous moralist who stubbornly persists in his impenitence, the apostle asserts, “God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance” (Rom 2:4 ESV). Paul uses the present indicative, which literally reads, “… is leading you to repentance” (cf. KJV, NAS, NIV). Some wrongly interpret this as a simple statement of fact, viz., God’s goodness [efficaciously] leads [a subgroup of sinful humanity, namely, the elect] to saving repentance.”[xvii] But Paul’s use of the present indicative here has a tendential or voluntative force.[xviii] Accordingly, the ESV correctly renders it “is meant to lead” (cf. NRSV, NJB). Other English versions convey the tendential or voluntative as “is intended to lead” (HSCB; cf. NLT) or “would lead” (NAB).

That the force of Paul’s language suggests a beneficent disposition on the part of God is further suggested by the likelihood that Paul is here echoing the language of the Wisdom of Solomon (circa 1st or 2nd century BC), an apocryphal book with which Paul would have been familiar. That book contains an indictment on the human race analogous to Paul’s discourse in Romans 1:18-32. What’s more, the author of Wisdom of Solomon highlights God’s merciful design behind his patience and longsuffering toward sinners:

But you are merciful to all (ἐλεεῖς δὲ πάντας) for you can do all things, and you overlook people’s sins, so that they may repent (παρορᾷς ἁμαρτήματα ἀνθρώπων εἰς μετάνοιαν) (Wisdom 11:23, NRSV).

A little later he writes,

Though you were not unable to give the ungodly into the hands of the righteous in battle, or to destroy them at one blow by dread wild animals or your stern word. But judging them little by little you gave them an opportunity to repent (ἐδίδους τόπον μετανοίας), though you were not unaware that their origin was evil and their wickedness inborn, and that their way of thinking would never change (Wisdom 12:9-10, NRSV).

Paul’s thought here finds some analogy in his discourse to the Greek philosophers at the Areopagus:

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 (ζητεῖν τὸν θεόν), 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 (Acts 17:26-27 ESV).

It’s probable the apostle Peter had Paul’s teaching in Romans 2:4 in view when Peter wrote in his Second Epistle:

Therefore, beloved, since you are waiting for these, be diligent to be found by him without spot or blemish, and at peace. And count the patience of our Lord as salvation (καὶ τὴν τοῦ κυρίου ἡμῶν μακροθυμίαν σωτηρίαν ἡγεῖσθε), just as our beloved brother Paul also wrote to you according to the wisdom given him (2 Pet 3:14-15 ESV).

Finally, we would suggest that this Pauline and Petrine notion of a saving design underlying God’s benevolence and patience is what a pseudonymous writer in the fourth century plainly commends in the so-called the Apostolic Constitutions (AD 375-380) when he writes,

Great art thou, Lord Almighty, and great is thy power; and to thine understanding there is no limit; our Creator and Saviour, rich in benefits, long-suffering, and the Bestower of mercy, who dost not take away thy salvation from thy creatures; for thou art good by nature, and sparest sinners, and invitest them to repentance (Greek: εις μετανοιαν προσκαλουμενος [summon] / Latin: eos ad penitential provocans); for admonition is the effect of thy bowels of compassion. For how should we abide if we were required to come to judgment immediately, when, after so much long-suffering, we hardly emerge from our miserable condition![xix]

In summary, then, from the evidence above we may conclude a saving design in the indiscriminate common grace God showers on all men whether elect or non-elect.


The larger implication of Romans 2:4 is the fact that we cannot limit God’s desire for human compliance with the terms of the law and the gospel to the elect alone. Yet we fear that a strain of “High-Calvinism” does this very thing. Constrained by a “substance metaphysics” assumption that one cannot predicate non-actualized potency of God, i.e., unfulfilled wishes or desires,[xx] these theologians make every effort to avoid the force of such texts as Romans 2:4. Thus, John Gill admits that “the providential goodness of God has a tendency to lead persons to repentance.” However, Gill is shackled to the unbiblical notion that God can only desire what he decrees. Since God evidently did not decree the salvation of the person(s) envisioned in this text, Gill must find a way to “reinterpret” it to fit his system:

This is to be understood not of a spiritual and evangelical repentance, which is a free grace gift, and which none but the Spirit of God can lead, or bring persons to; but of a natural and legal repentance, which lies in an external sorrow for sin, and in an outward cessation from it, and reformation of life and manners, which the goodness of God to the Jews should have led them to.[xxi]

But if the repentance (μετάνοιάν) of verse four is the “natural and legal” kind, why does Paul insist that those who’ve been lead to such non-saving repentance will be judged as the Last Day because of the lack of repentance (ἀμετανόητον) in verse 5? Same Greek term with alpha privative! Closer to the truth is John Calvin when he concludes, “The design of [God’s] benevolence is … to convert sinners to himself.”[xxii] Indeed, it is Calvin’s moderate and chaste form of “Calvinism” that better reflects the apostle’s thinking. God’s common grace cannot effect repentance in the sinner’s heart apart from his saving grace. Nevertheless, God’s common grace does serve to reveal God’s salfivic posture toward fallen humanity, including those who ultimately resist his overtures of good will.

[i] See, for example, Charles Hodge, A Commentary on Romans (1835; reprint, Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1983), 46-47; C. E. B. Cranfield, Romans 1–8, ICC (London: T & T Clark, 2001), 136-39; John Murray, The Epistle to the Romans, 2 vols. NICNT (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1968), 1:54-56; Leon Morris, The Epistle to the Romans, PNTC (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1988), 107-08; Douglas Moo, The Epistle to the Romans, NICNT (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1996), 126-27; Thomas Schreiner, Romans, BECNT (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 1998), 105-07, among others.

[ii] The arguments for an inclusive reading include the following: (1) Romans 1:16 speaks of Jews and Greeks; no indication of a narrowing of scope to Gentiles in 1:18; (2) Romans 1:18-32 not just directed to Gentiles–verse 23 alludes to Ps 16:20 and Jer 2:11, which are indictments against Jews; (3) Romans 2:1 begins with a logical connector, “therefore,” and suggests a continuation of the argument. “O Man” and “Everyone who” are general terms that apply to all men. Note also that “passing judgment” is something Gentiles are said to do in 2:15; (4) both Jews and Gentiles are addressed in 2:1-16; (5) the occurrence of anthropos in 1:18 and 2:16 may serve to bracket the whole pericope; (6) Romans 2:17 provides a clear transitional marker for shift from mankind in general to the Jews in particular: “But if you call yourself a Jew and rely on the law and boast in God ….” These arguments are drawn from Samuel Waldron’s lecture notes for “Prolegomena I: Introduction to Systematic Theology and Apologetics” (Unpublished, n.d.), 108-09. Commentators who read the passage as inclusive include John Calvin, The Epistles of Paul to the Romans and to the Thessalonians, in vol. 8 of Calvin’s Commentaries, trans. Ross Mackenzie (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1991), 40-44; R. C. Lenski, The Interpretation of St. Paul’s Epistle to the Romans (Colombus, OH: Wartburg Press, 1945), 128-30; F. F. Bruce, The Epistle of Paul to the Romans, TNTC (Downers Grove: Intervarsity, 1963), 86-89.

[iii] The Greek term καταφρονεῖς frequently refers to disrespect or contempt for authority. See 1 Tim 4:12; 6:2; Titus 2:15; 2 Pet 2:10.

[iv] “Failing to understand” (ἀγνοῶν) stands in apposition to “showing contempt” (καταφρονεῖς).

[v] In some cases, “not knowing” doesn’t imply any fault or moral culpability. See Rom 1:13; 1 Cor 12:1; 1 Thess 4:13. In other cases, however, such blindness is morally culpable. See Rom 10:3; 1 Cor 14:38; 2 Pet 2:12). We agree with W. G. T. Shedd who interprets the ignorance in Romans 2:4 as belonging to the second category: ”The word implies an action of the will along with that of the understanding. It is that culpable ignorance which results: 1. from not reflecting upon the truth; and 2. from an aversion to the repentance which the truth is fitted to produce. It is the ‘willing ignorance’ spoken of in 2 Pet. iii.5.” Commentary on Romans (1879; repr., Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1967), 37.

[vi] Thomas Schreiner doesn’t miss the irony: “The word θησαυρίζεις (thesaurizeis, you are storing up, v. 5) is probably ironical, for it typically denotes the future bliss Jews would have because of their good works (Tob 4:9-10; 2 Esdr [4 Ezra] 6:5; 7:77; 8:33, 36; 2 Bar 14:12).” Romans, 109.

[vii] Herman Hoeksema tries to interpret the 2nd person singular pronoun σε (“you”) as generic for humanity in general, thus allowing that some of whom Paul addresses here (the elect) actually come to repentance (2:4) while others (the reprobate) do not and are condemned (2:5). See his Reformed Dogmatics (Grand Rapids: Reformed Free Publishing Association, 1966), 119. Of course, the “Man” (ἄνθρωπε) whom Paul here addresses (2:1, 3) is generic. But, as argued above, Paul’s focus is more narrow than humanity in general. Moreover, the σε (“you”) in verse 4 is the same “you” in verse 5 as the 2nd person singular pronoun σου (“your”) and reflexive σεαυτῷ (“yourself”) demonstrate. We suspect that Hoeksema’s dogmatics are driving his exegesis, rather than the other way around. See K. W. Stebbins’ critique of Hoeksema’s exegesis in Christ Freely Offered (Strathpine North, Australia: Covenanter Press, 1978), 72-73.

[viii] Semantics of Biblical Language (1961; reprint, Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 2004). 263.

[ix] Exegetical Fallacies (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1984), 45-46.

[x] Sometimes humans show “grace” or withhold it (Gen 33:10; 39:4; 50:4; Exod 3:21; Ruth 2:2, 10; 1 Sam 20:3, 29; Eph 4:29; Deut 24:1; Luke 6:32-34; Acts 20:27; 25:29; 2 Cor 8:7, 9). Sometimes “grace” is used for “adornment” (Prov 3:22; 4:9; Prov 17:8) or something like “graceful,” “charming” or “fitting” (Prov 5:19; 7:5; Prov 10:32).

[xi] The parallelism of verse 8 and 9 make God’s “grace” synonymous with his “goodness.”

[xii] Commentary on Romans, 37.

[xiii] I expand on each of these points in my brief theology of human culture, “Pro-Cultural” or “Counter-Cultural”? A Theology of Human Culture (Nov 11, 2011). For fuller treatments, see Louis Berkhof, Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1941), 432-46; John Murray, “Common Grace,” in vol. 2 of Collected Writings of John Murray (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1977), 93-119; Anthony Hoekema, Created in God’s Image (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1986), 187-202; Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1994), 657-668.

[xiv] “Murray on the Free Offer: A Review by Matthew Winzer“ (2000): http://www.fpcr.org/blue_banner_articles/murray-free-offer-review.htm (accessed Sept 18, 2008).

[xv] We rather agree with John Murray when he remarks, “It is a metallic conception of God’s forbearance and longsuffering that isolates them from the kindness of disposition and of benefaction which the goodness of God implies.” The Epistle to the Romans, 59.

[xvi] Robert Haldane is on target in his commentary on Romans 2:4: “From this it evidently follows that God externally calls many to whom He has not purposed to give the grace of conversion. It also follows that it cannot be said that when God thus externally calls persons on whom it is not His purpose to bestow grace, His object is only to render them inexcusable. For if that were the case, the Apostle would not have spoken of the riches of His goodness, and forbearance, and long-suffering,–terms which would not be applicable, if, by such a call, it was intended merely to render men inexcusable.” The Epistle to the Romans (Edinburgh: William Oliphant and Co., 1874), 78-79.

[xvii] For instance, in Hoeksema’s opinion “the text states a fact: the goodness of God leadeth thee to repentance, εἰς μετάνοιάν σε ἄγει.” Then he argues that Paul is addressing humanity in general. Finally, Hoeksema opines, “It makes no difference whether the apostle has in mind the Jew or Jews and Gentiles both. Of this ‘man’ it may, indeed, be said that God’s goodness actually leads him to repentance, as is clearly evident in the case of the elect. Yet, it may also be said of man that he despises the goodness of God, and does not know by actual experience that it leads him to repentance as, again, is evident in the case of the reprobate that rejects the gospel, and thus aggravates his condemnation.” Reformed Dogmatics, 119. Once again, we think Hoeksema’s dogmatics skew his exegesis.

[xviii] More fully, the present indicative as gnomic (affirming a general truth) and voluntative or tendential (expressing intention without reference to the outcome). Douglas Moo refers to it as conative, which coveys a similar modal sense. The Epistle to the Romans, 133, n. 42; cf. Cranfield, Romans I, 145; C. F. D. Moule, An Idiom Book of the New Testament (Cambridge, 1953), 8; Henry Alford, The New Testament for English Readers (Chicago: Moody Press, n.d.), 856; Barclay M. Newman and Eugene A. Nida, A Translator’s Handbook on Paul’s Letter to the Romans (New York: United Bible Societies, 1973), 33-34. Grammarians who discuss this use of the indicative include Dana and Mantey, A Manual Grammar (New York: MacMillan Company, 1956), 186; and Daniel Wallace, Beyond Basics: An Exegetical Syntax of the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1997), 534-35, 752).

[xix] Clement, Bishop and Citizen Of Rome (Pseudonym) The Work Claiming To Be The Constitutions Of The Holy Apostles, Including The Canons; William Whiston’s Version, Revised From The Greek; Irah Chase, Otto Krabbe; D. Appleton and company, 1848), Book 7, 35.1, [p. 150]. http://ldsfocuschrist2.files.wordpress.com/2012/03/apostolic-constitutions-william-whiston.pdf (accessed Feb 22, 2014).

[xx] The argument seems to go something like this: God’s essence is identical with his will and God’s will is delimited by God’s decree. To predicate unfulfilled desires of God is to affirm parts of God that are non-actualized potencies. In a word, it is to deny that God is “pure act” (actus purus) and to affirm that he is composed of both actualized desires and also non-actualized desires. For a philosophical defense of this notion, see James E. Dolezal, God Without Parts: Divine Simplicity and the Metaphysics of God’s Absoluteness (Eugene, OR: Pickwick, 2011), 34-44, 177-87, 188-91, 194-97. Yet here is a case when the musings of “natural theology” bump up against the clear testimony of Scripture. When that happens, so much the worse for natural theology.

[xxi] Exposition of the Bible, Online edition: Romans 2: http://www.biblestudytools.com/commentaries/gills-exposition-of-the-bible/romans-2-4.html (accessed Feb 24, 2014).

[xxii] Calvin’s Commentaries, trans. John King; Edinburgh: Calvin Translation Society, 1847), Accordance electronic edition. Cf. Shedd, Commentary on Romans, 37; Hodge, A Commentary on Romans, 48-49; Thomas Chalmers, Lectures on the Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Romans (New York: Robert Carter, 1845), 39; Murray, The Epistle to the Romans, 59-60; Moo, The Epistle to the Romans, 133; Cranfield, Romans 1–8, 145.

Bob Gonzales has served as a pastor of four Reformed Baptist congregations and has been the Academic Dean and a professor of RBS since 2005. He is the author of Where Sin Abounds: the Spread of Sin and the Curse in Genesis with Special Focus on the Patriarchal Narratives (Wipf & Stock, 2010) and has contributed to the Reformed Baptist Theological Review and Westminster Theological Journal. Dr Gonzales is a member of the Evangelical Theological Society. He and his wife, Becky, reside in Sacramento, California.
Get Founders
in Your Inbox
A weekly brief of our new teaching resources.

"*" indicates required fields

This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

Teaching BY TYPE
Teaching BY Author
Founders Podcasts