Why is there so much good in our fallen world?

John Murray

The answer to this question can be found in the doctrine of common grace.  


Writing during the early years of World War II, Scottish theologian John Murray penned a very helpful exposition of this doctrine, which he introduced with a series of questions about the presence of good in a broken world.


How is it that men who still lie under the wrath and curse of God and are heirs of hell enjoy so many good gifts at the hand of God?


How is it that men who are not savingly renewed by the Spirit of God nevertheless exhibit so many qualities, gifts and accomplishments that promote the preservation, temporal happiness, cultural progress, social and economic improvement of themselves and of others?


How is it that races and peoples that have been apparently untouched by the redemptive and regenerative influences of the gospel contribute so much to what we call human civilisation?


To put the question most comprehensively: how is it that this sin-cursed world enjoys so much favour and kindness at the hand of its holy and ever-blessed Creator?


Dr. Murray is careful, throughout, to distinguish common grace from saving grace in its nature, purpose, and effects.  In simple terms, common grace encompasses the undeserved blessings that God extends to all humans.


The word “common” in the title of the topic is not used in the sense that each particular favour is given to all without discrimination or distinction but rather in the sense that favours of varying kinds and degrees are bestowed upon this sin-cursed world, favours real in their character as expressions of the divine goodness but which are not in themselves and of themselves saving in their nature and effect. So the term “common grace” should rather be defined as every favour of whatever kind or degree, falling short of salvation, which this undeserving and sin-cursed world enjoys at the hand of God.


Working from the proposition that “Common grace is after all God’s grace,” Dr. Murray concludes with a summary of the practical implications of this important doctrine.


[Common grace] is a gift of God and “every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning” (Jas. 1:17). Special grace does not annihilate but rather brings its redemptive, regenerative and sanctifying influence to bear upon every natural or common gift; it transforms all activities and departments of life; it brings every good gift into the service of the kingdom of God. Christianity is not flight from nature; it is the renewal and sanctification of nature. It is not flight from the world; it is the evangelisation of the world.


The practical effect of this principle is very great. It means a profound respect for, and appreciation of, every good and noble thing, and it is this philosophy and ethic that has made Christianity in its true expression a force in every department of legitimate human interest and vocation. Christianity when true to its spirit has not been ascetic or monastic. Rather has it evaluated everything that is good and right as possessing the dignity of divine ordinance. It has recognised the measureless variety of God’s gifts in nature, not only for the subsistence of man and beast but also for their pleasure and delight. It has appreciated the endless variety of human aptitude, skill, art, and vocation. It has not spurned the most humble and menial tasks. It has embraced the divine command, “Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might” (Eccl. 9:10). It has placed around all the halo and dignity of divine vocation. It has sought to bring all of life into the service of the King of kings. It has striven to give expression to the Christian faith in politics, economics, industry, education, art, science and philosophy, for its controlling conception has been the absolute sovereignty of God in all of life. While it has recognised itself as constituted in those who are pilgrims and strangers in the earth, looking for a city which hath foundations whose builder and maker is God, it has sought to give full-orbed expression to the truth of God in all the paths of their pilgrimage. It has not been isolationist with respect to the life that now is while waiting for the new heavens and the new earth wherein dwelleth righteousness. Its anthem has been “The earth is the Lord’s, and the fullness thereof; the world, and they that dwell therein” (Ps. 24:1), “O Lord, how manifold are thy works! In wisdom hast thou made them all: the earth is full of thy riches” (Ps. 104:24). And its practical outlook has been, “For every creature of God is good, and nothing to be refused, if it be received with thanksgiving: for it is sanctified by the word of God and prayer” (1 Tim. 4:4, 5).


Here’s the outline of Dr. Murray’s essay, “Common Grace.”


Definition of Common Grace


The Nature of Common Grace


(I) Restraint of sin, divine wrath, and evil.


(II) Bestowal of Good and Excitation to Good.


1. Creation is the recipient of divine bounty.


2. Unregenerate men are recipients of divine favour and goodness.


3. Good is attributed to unregenerate men.


4. Unregenerate men receive operations and influences of the Spirit in connection with the administration of the gospel, influences that result in experience of the power and glory of the gospel, yet influences which do not issue in genuine and lasting conversion and are finally withdrawn.


5. The institution of civil government is for the purpose of restraining evil and promoting good in the whole body politic.


The Purpose of Common Grace


The Practical Lessons



John Murray (1898 – 1975) was a Scottish-born theologian who taught at Princeton Seminary and later helped found Westminster Theological Seminary.  He is the author of several books, including Redemption Accomplished and Applied, and Principles of Conduct.  Common Grace” was published in 1942 in Westminster Theological Journal and is available online.



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