Rev. Angus Stewart
(Pastor CPRC-the church of which I am a member)
“Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; that ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust” (Matt. 5:44-45).
Of the few texts which are cited in support of common grace with any plausibility, Matthew 5:44-45 perhaps occurs the most frequently, though usually without any supporting exegesis. All agree that God does give good things to the reprobate in this life. But does this text really teach that the earthly good things given by God to the reprobate are given by God out of **love** for the reprobate?
The common grace interpretation of Matthew 5:44-45, of course, creates several serious problems, problems which are largely ignored by the theory’s advocates. How can the one and undivided God love and hate the same people at the same time? How can the eternal, unchanging God have a temporal, changeable love for the reprobate? Remember … this alleged “love” of God for the reprobate begins with their conception (unless it is posited that God eternally loved the reprobate) and ends with their death (unless it is posited that God loves the reprobate in Hell). Various evasions, such as “paradox,” have been made but no proper response has been given. In the meantime, the churches and individuals who hold this theory (and those who follow them) go further away from the truth of Calvinism (which they profess to hold) and deeper and deeper into Arminianism, protesting all the while that they are Reformed.
But aside from these wider issues, we must examine the text itself. Its subject is the Christian’s treatment of his “enemies,” who are also called “them that curse you,” “them that hate you” and “them which despitefully use you, and persecute you.” Christ tells us here that we must do four things with respect to our enemies: we must “love,” “bless,” “do good” and “pray for” them. Our motivation for loving, blessing, doing good and praying for our enemies is “that [we] may be the children of [our] Father which is in heaven.” For there is a likeness between our righteous actions and those of our Father who “maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust.” To put it differently, the text makes a comparison between what believers are called to do (v. 44) and what God does (v. 45), for in our doing these things (v. 44), we show ourselves to be His children (v. 45). Thus we need to consider the similarities and dissimilarities between what we must do towards our enemies and what our Father does towards the “evil” and “unjust.” What exactly is being compared?
Does Christ do any of the four things (i.e. “love,” “bless,” “do good” and “pray”) for His enemies that we are to do to our enemies? Christ most certainly does “love,” “bless,” “do good” and “pray for” His **elect** enemies. His doing these very things for us is our salvation through the blood of His cross. But does Christ do any, all or some of these things for His **reprobate** enemies? And does God do any, all or some of these things for His reprobate enemies?
First, Christ certainly does not pray for them, for He says in His “high priestly prayer:” “I pray not for the world, but for them which thou hast given me; for they are thine” (John 17:9). Second, Christ blesses the children of Israel (Gen. 48:16) and His disciples (Luke 24:50-51), but there is no word in Scripture of Christ blessing the reprobate. Third, all agree that Christ did good to the ungodly. He healed 10 lepers though 9 did not return to thank Him, and He fed 5,000 though many of them did not believe on Him. So with respect to the reprobate, Christ did not do two of the four things that we are commanded to do for our neighbours: He did not pray for nor bless the reprobate. He did do one of the four things we are commanded to do: He “did good” to the reprobate. What about the fourth one? Did He love the reprobate? We say that He did not; those who believe in common grace say that He did. This verse of itself does not determine the issue either way. Other texts will have to decide this question.
What then about God? Does He “love,” “bless,” “do good to” and “pray for” His reprobate enemies? First, God does not **pray** for the reprobate, for God does not pray! Second, God blesses His elect (Eph. 1:3), the righteous (Ps. 5:12), His inheritance (Ps. 28:9) and those who fear Him (Ps. 115:13). Each of the beatitudes begins “Blessed are …” (Matt. 5:3-11), and many Psalms contain the line: “Blessed is the man …” (e.g., Ps. 1:1) or “Blessed are they …” (e.g., Ps. 84:4). In each case it is God’s people (the meek, the godly, etc.) who are blessed. God blesses His elect people “with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ” (Eph. 1:3-4), who is the One supremely blessed of the Father (Ps. 45:2). Our being blessed in Christ is the realization of the Abrahamic covenant in Christ with His elect (Gen. 12:2-3; Gal. 3:8-9, 14, 16, 29). This is God’s irreversible blessing of salvation (Num. 23:20) which turns us away from our iniquities (Acts 3:26). What then about the reprobate? As those who curse Christ and His people, God curses them (Gen. 12:3; Num. 24:9). Scripture teaches that “the wicked … blesseth the covetous, whom the Lord abhorreth” (Ps. 10:3). Proverbs 3:33 declares, “The curse of the Lord is in the house of the wicked: but he blesseth the habitation of the just.” Third, all agree that God does good to the reprobate wicked in this life. Acts 14:17 states that God “did good” to the pagan nations by giving them “rain from heaven, and fruitful seasons, filling our hearts with food and gladness.” We conclude that with respect to the reprobate, God does not do two of the four things that we are commanded to do for our neighbours: God does not pray for nor bless the reprobate. God does one of the four things we are commanded to do: He “does good” to the reprobate. What about the fourth one? Does God love the reprobate? We say that he does not; those who believe in common grace say that He does. This verse of itself does not determine the issue either way. Other texts will have to decide this question.
How are we to decide which view is correct? First, one could argue from the analogy between what we are called to do (v. 44) and what God does (v. 45). But since we are called to do two things (i.e. pray for and bless our enemies) which God does not do for His reprobate enemies, it cannot be proved that God loves His reprobate enemies. Second, we could look more closely at what God is said to do in verse 45: “he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust.” The “evil” and the “unjust” surely include those who are reprobate. Causing the sun to rise and the rain to fall (in moderate amounts) on the reprobate is doing good to them (cf. Acts 14:17), but it does not prove that God “loves” them. God gives earthly “prosperity” to “the wicked” (Ps. 73:3)—something which requires sunshine and rain—but this is “surely” His setting them in “slippery places” before He casts “them down into destruction” (v. 18). Though God gives them good things in His providence, He “despises” them (v. 20) as “corrupt” sinners (v. 8). Third, since the passage itself does not prove whether or not God loves His reprobate enemies, this will have to be settled on the basis of other biblical texts and doctrines. To quote a couple of relevant verses, Romans 9:13 declares, “Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated,” and Psalm 11:5 teaches that “the wicked and him that loveth violence [God’s] soul hateth.”
But what of our calling? We are to love, bless, do good to and pray for our enemies who curse, hate, despitefully use and persecute us (Matt. 5:44). Loving our enemies is not fellowshipping with them in their sin (II Cor. 6:14-18) but desiring and “seeking their good” physically and spiritually. Out of love, we “do good” to our enemies by helping them in whatever way we can, including greeting them and being friendly towards them (Matt. 5:47). Out of love, we “pray” for them, that is, we ask God to save them from their sins and grant them eternal life through Jesus Christ, if it be His will. Our calling to “bless” our enemies does not mean that we actually confer blessedness upon them; only the Triune God can do that. Nor are we to declare that they are blessed by God, for they are living under His curse (Prov. 3:33; Gal. 3:10). Blessedness is only found in Jesus Christ (Gal. 3:14). Thus we bless our enemies by pointing them to Christ and calling them to repent and believe. As frail creatures made from the dust, as guilty sinners redeemed by grace and as rational-moral beings before God’s holy law, this is our calling towards our ungodly fellow creatures and neighbours. In loving, blessing, doing good to and praying for our enemies (Matt. 5:44), we show ourselves to be the children of our heavenly Father who does good to both just and unjust by giving them the good gifts of rain and sunshine (v. 45).
More articles by Rev. Stewart/CPRC website