Common Grace. It is a term used in theology to describe the grace God gives to every living person on planet earth. It is called “common,” not because it is not worth that much, but because everyone alive gets it.
Grace by definition can never be demanded. God gives grace, not because He has to, but because He decides to. The scripture says that God “makes His sun rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust” (Matthew 5:45).
How gracious this is of God. God doesn’t discriminate against the non-Christian in sending His rain, but gives it freely to saint and sinner alike. That should amaze us. It should take our breath away in fact. Yet the concept of common grace doesn’t usually do that for us. We’re very much accustomed to it, because it is so common, but we must always remember that God is exceedingly gracious in dispensing this kind of grace on people. The point being, He in no way has to.
Through the use of a short story, I’d like to give you a glimpse into why common grace should amaze us.
The story concerns a young Christian lady of 18 years of age in York, England. Born in Malta, of Irish parents, she was engaged to be married to a bright young man in the British military. The plan was that after the war was over, they would both serve the Lord as missionaries together, wherever He would lead them to go.
Sent over to France on D-Day, June 6, 1944, the young man was thrust into the battle for the city of Caen in Normandy, France. Tragically, just weeks afterward, on July 10, 1944, he was killed by one of the enemies’ bullets.
On hearing the news of her fiance’s death, the young lady was obviously devastated. Grief filled her heart. In attending church services in York, for the next several months she would hear dramatic testimonies of Divine protection, as loved ones returned back home recounting the stories. All of these returning soldiers were protected from imminent danger. Many of these soldiers were extremely conscious of the Lord’s direct intervention in keeping them alive, and yet, the young lady had to live on knowing that the man she loved was not coming home.
Question after question plagued the young lady’s mind. Nothing that was said to her seemed to ease the pain and grief… and those hostile and haunting questions continued on relentlessly.
One day, she rushed into her bedroom and flung herself down on the bed in great grief, as she often did. Then something very dramatic and life-changing happened. The Lord Himself appeared to this young lady. The brightness of His glory filled the room. He didn’t say a word, but in that moment, He stretched out His hand to her and she was totally caught up with the look in His eyes of the greatest love and compassion in the world. All her questions subsided as He smiled at her. Her heart’s cry was answered by one look into His eyes, full of unspeakable love.
The young lady very rarely speaks of this incident. However, when she does, usually only with close family and friends, tears well up once again at the grace she found in the face of Christ.
The story continues because at the same time, a Welsh military man was stationed in the same city of York in England. Brought up as a Roman Catholic, this young man had a dramatic conversion to Christ, while serving in the British army in Gibraltar. In understanding the Gospel of Christ, this young man came out of the Roman system, facing the hostility of his family in doing so, and then trained to serve the British forces as a military chaplain.
Very much an Evangelist, this young man saw countless men come to Christ while serving in France and Belgium. For an eighteen month period, the numbers of soldiers he saw professing faith in Christ numbered in the hundreds every week.
One day, this young man was preaching in the city of York, and his eyes fixed on a certain young lady – the lady in our story. The two began to court each other, and married soon after.
Years of married life passed and the hope of having a child grew stronger and stronger. How they wanted a child! Yet time was marching on.
Seventeen years of marriage came and went and no child was forth coming. Just when it looked like all hope was gone, the young lady became pregnant. What joy must have filled the home with this dramatic news!
Two weeks before due date, the baby was coming. Complications ensued, with the afterbirth coming first, and the mother losing a great deal of blood. The mother was not doing at all well, and the little baby was fighting for its life.
Once born, the little one was whisked away into an oxygen tent, where every gasping breath was a severe struggle.
Years later, the father wrote the following words. “I remember when I was called to the hospital where my son lay near to death. When he saw me, he reached out desperately towards me. I could do nothing. He was in an oxygen tent. The doctor gave me a knowing and sympathizing look and shook her head. The lad was dying.”
He continued, “I found a corner where I prayed. I thanked God for the joy that boy had brought into my life, for the privilege of having responsibility for his welfare, be it but for a short while. I told God how much that child meant to me and added, ‘but really he belonged to You all the time. Lord I commend him to your safe keeping. He means more than life to me Lord, but though You take him, I’ll love You still and will praise You all my days.’ That, I learned many years later was a sacrifice of praise. Wonderfully, he is a minister of the Gospel today. Only God could have done it!”
Both the mother and the young child survived, and as the father related, he serves the Lord in ministry today.
Why do I tell you all this?
Well, let me give you the names of the two people in the story. The lady’s name – Muriel Grace MacNamara. The man’s name, Rev. Redvers Joseph Samson.
The lady is my mother and the man is my father. Therefore, their story is really my story too.
I am very conscious that I am alive because of the gracious hand of God upon my life. Though I am now more than 40 years of age, I am aware that each breath that I take is a gift of Divine grace.
Common grace is amazing to me – I am living, breathing and moving, because of the wonderful grace of God.
Common grace is therefore not to be thought of lightly. It is a distinction made by theologians and speaks of the commonality of grace only in relation to that which is special.
In common grace, God gives life, and health, sun and rain to those who don’t deserve it. In special electing grace, God intervenes in the lives of some who are already experiencing common grace, and speaks life into the deadness of human hearts, causing them to be born again.
To the saints at Ephesus Paul wrote:
And you were dead in your trespasses and sins, in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience. Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest. But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved) – Ephesians 2:1-5 NASB.
I am overwhelmed when I think of God, in His grace, allowing so many of His enemies to continue to breathe His air, and see the splendors of His creation, each and every day, as they enjoy His sunlight and the benefits of His rain. How gracious God truly is.
The Lord is good to all. He is the giver of all life and even sustains the lives of both Gospel preachers and terrorists alike.
“He Himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything… in Him we live and move and have our being! ” (Acts 17:25, 28)
The fact that you are reading this right now tells me that God has been unspeakably good to you. The old hymn said, “Count your blessings, name then one by one, and it will surprise you what the Lord has done.”
As you take the time to think about God’s blessings on your life, I trust that you will therefore, like me, stand amazed by common grace.
Copyright 2009 by Rev. John Samson.
All rights reserved. Used by permission.
Rev. Samson is the pastor of Kings Church
in Phoenix, Arizona and the president of
Reformation Study Center