Sanlon’s Response to Turner’s Letter
Dear Mr Turner,
Thank you for engaging with my article on Common Grace. You are correct that neither the 39 Articles nor Westminster Confession use the phrase. When the Westminster Divines met they were aware of the term – the Assembly minutes record discussion of it. The point is worth noting as sometimes people mistakenly think the concept was invented by Kuyper.
The debate is whether you think common grace a useful term to summarise Biblical verses which show God gives gifts and shows kindnesses to unregenerate people. One may treat all that under the rubric of providence – but many reformed theologians have felt that ‘common grace’ orders the data elegantly.
Calvin discussed God’s gifts to the unregenerate in Book 2 – under the heading of ‘Knowledge of God the Redeemer.’ He was happy to use the word ‘grace’ to refer to God’s gifts to unbelievers: ‘so universal is this good that every man ought to recognise for himself in it the peculiar grace of God.’ (2.2.14)
No reformed divine who uses the term would intend for common and special grace to be confused. Berkhof wrote, ‘No amount of common grace can ever introduce the sinner into the new life in Christ.’ (p.439)
Like all theological terms, Common Grace can be misunderstood or disconnected from other doctrines. I believe it remains a helpful term but, of course, nobody is under compulsion to use it. The relevant doctrines can, as you suggest, be treated as aspects of providence.
Revd Dr. Peter Sanlon