The Westminster Standards & Divines on Common Grace


Order of Contents


Westminster                                                                                        Westminster Divines

On “Goodness” in the Standards – David Silversides            Samuel Rutherford
The Westminster Assembly                                                       George Gillespie
Westminster Directory of Public Worship                                        Robert Harris
Westmimnster Larger Catechism                                               Thomas Gataker
Westminster Confession of Faith                                                           John Ley
Westminster Shorter Catechism                                                Anthony Burgess
Westminster Larger Catechism                                                 Edward Reynolds
Westminster Confession of Faith                                                 Thomas Manton



On “Goodness” in the Westminster Standards

David Silversides, The Free Offer: Biblical & Reformed (Marpet Press, 2005), p. 16-17.  This quote was compiled by Tony Byrne.

It must also be borne in mind that elsewhere Hoeksema’s [who denies common grace] definition of the word ‘goodness’ is very different from the meaning commonly given to it by Reformed writers and, more particularly, its usage in the Westminster Standards.  For example, in Answer 4 of the Shorter Catechism, we read, ‘God is a Spirit, infinite eternal and unchangeable in his being, wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness and truth’.  The Shorter Catechism has been criticised by some at this point for not using the terms ‘grace, mercy, love’, but it must be recognised that in the minds of the Westminster Assembly the term goodness included all of these.  This explains why the term ‘goodness’ is expanded in the Larger Catechism as equivalent to ‘most merciful and gracious, long-suffering, and abundant in goodness’ (Answer 7) and in the Westminster Confession as ‘most loving, gracious, merciful, longsuffering, abundant in goodness…forgiving iniquity, transgression and sin; the rewarder of them that diligently seek him…’ (Ch. 2.1).

The terms ‘good’ and ‘goodness’ (Heb. tob) are consistently linked to God’s mercy or faithful love (Heb. chesed), for example in Psalms 23:6, 25:7-8, 86:5, 100:5, 145:9 etc., and when Psalm 34:8 is referred to in 1 Peter 2:3, the term is rendered ‘gracious’ (Gk. chreestos: A.V. ‘kind’).  No doubt this explains why the term is rendered ‘gracious’ in the 1650 Metrical Psalter rendering Psalm 86:5.




The Westminster Assembly, 1644-1646

From Alexander Mitchell and John Struthers, Minutes of the Sessions of the Westminster Assembly of Divines (London: William Blackwood and Sons, 1874), p. lix

“A committee, apparently of English members only, prepared and brought up for discussion (p. 369) the following questions and answers:–

‘Q. Do all men equally partake of the benefits of Christ?

A. Although from Christ some common favors redound to all mankind, and some special privileges to the visible Church, yet none partake of the principal benefits of His mediation but only such as are members of the Church invisible.

Q. What common favors redound from Christ to all mankind?

A. Besides much forbearance and many supplies for this life, which all mankind receive from Christ as Lord of all, they by him are made capable of having salvation tendered to them by the gospel, and are under such dispensations of Providence and operations of the Spirit as lead to repentance.’

These questions and answers were first agreed to be discussed, and then referred back to a Committee with which the Scotch Commissioners were associated.”

[The proposed questions and answers did not end up in the Larger Catechism.  There were various changes and modifications to them until the fruit of the discussions appeared finalized as LC # 68 below.]



Westminster Directory for Public Worship

Of Publick Prayer before the Sermon.

“which sins of ours receive many fearful aggravations, we having broken all the commandments of the holy, just, and good law of God, doing that which is forbidden, and leaving undone what is enjoined; and that not only out of ignorance and infirmity, but also more presumptuously, against the light of our minds, checks of our consciences, and motions of his own Holy Spirit to the contrary, so that we have no cloak for our sins; yea, not only despising the riches of God’s goodness, forbearance, and long-suffering, but standing out against many invitations and offers of grace in the gospel; not endeavoring, as we ought, to receive Christ into our hearts by faith, or to walk worthy of him in our lives.” 



Westminster Larger Catechism

68. Are the elect only effectually called?

All the elect, and they only, are effectually called; although others may be, and often are, outwardly called by the ministry of the word, and have some common operations of the Spirit; who, for their willful neglect and contempt of the grace offered to them, being justly left in their unbelief, do never truly come to Jesus Christ.

[See the note on WCF 10.4 and the Directory of Public Worship below.]


105. What are the sins forbidden in the first commandment?

The sins forbidden in the first commandment, are… slighting and despising God and his commands; resisting and grieving of his Spirit



The Westminster Confession of Faith

Ch. 2.1

“There is but one only living and true God, who ismost loving, gracious, merciful, long suffering, abundant in goodness and truth, forgiving iniquity, transgression and sin, the rewarder of them that diligently seek Him.” 

[William Shedd comments (Calvinism: Pure and Mixed, 1893, pp. 24-5):

Of whom speaks the Confession this?  Of the God of the elect only?  Or of the God of every man?  Is He the God of the elect only?  Is He not also of the non-elect?  Is this description of the gracious nature and attributes of God intended to be restricted to a part of mankind?  Is not God as thus delineated the Creator and Father of every man without exception?  Can it be supposed that the authors of this statement meant to be understood to say that God is not such a being for all men, but only for some?  If this section does not teach the unlimited love and compassion of God towards all men as men, as his creatures, it teaches nothing.”

Shedd argues on pp. 25-9 for the conclusion:

“With what show of reason can it be said that a symbol [creed] containing such declarations as these respecting the nature and attributes of God, his requirement that every man confess sin to Him, repent of it, pray for its forgiveness and trust in his mercy, contains no announcement of his infinite love and compassion [to all men]?”]

Ch. 10.4

“Others, not elected, although they may be called by the ministry of the Word, and may have some common operations of the Spirit, yet they never truly come unto Christ, and therefore cannot be saved…”

[Note that the common operations of the Spirit are connected to the call of the ministry of the Word, and thus refer to the non-salvific, non-effectual, but sincere drawings, motions, and suasions of the Holy Spirit on the reprobate that he should embrace and believe on Christ in the Gospel.  One of the proof-texts in the WCF is Heb. 6:4,5.  Compare Larger Catechism #105, which speaks of resisting and grieving the Holy Spirit.  “Resisting” means actively opposing a force that would draw one to a given end.  “Grieving” conveys going against the sincere good pleasure and will of someone.  Compare the Directory of Public Worship below.]


Ch. 17.6

Works done by unregenerate men, although, for the matter of them, they may be things which God commands, and of good use both to themselves and others; yet, because they proceed not from a heart purified by faith; nor are done in a right manner, according to the word; nor to a right end, the glory of God; they are therefore sinful, and cannot please God, or make a man meet to receive grace from God.  And yet their neglect of them is more sinful, and displeasing unto God.” 

[One aspect of common grace has historically been defined as God’s common operations of his Spirit that account for unregenerate men doing good things that God commands, which have a relative righteousness to them (as opposed to being utterly wicked in all and every sense), though they are not done in a godly manner or end and hence are still sinful and merit nothing.  The substance of this is taught here in the Confession.]



Shorter Catechism

#4.  What is God?

God is a Spirit, infinite, eternal, and unchangeable, in his being, wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness, and truth.


Larger Catechism

#7. What is God?

God is a Spirit, in and of himself infinite in being, glory, blessedness, and perfection; all-sufficient, eternal, unchangeable, incomprehensible, everywhere present, almighty, knowing all things, most wise, most holy, most just, most merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abundant in goodness and truth.


Westminster Confession of Faith 

Chapter 2.1

There is but one only, living, and true God… most loving, gracious, merciful, long-suffering, abundant in goodness and truth, forgiving iniquity, transgression, and sin…




Westminster Divines



Samuel Rutherford

Christ Dying and Drawing Sinners  1647

p. 240.  This quote was compiled by Andrew Myers.

All preparations even wrought in us, by the common and general restraining grace of God, can have no effectual influence to produce our conversion.”

p. 476 ff. (some copies, p. 440 ff., due to faulty numbering)  This quote was compiled by Tony Byrne.

We are hence taught to acknowledge no love to be in God, which is not effectual in doing good to the creature; there is no lip-love, no raw well-wishing to the creature which God does not make good: we know but three sorts of love, that God has to the creature, all the three are like the fruitful womb; there is no miscarrying, no barrenness in the womb of divine love;
1. He loves all that He has made; so far as to give them a being, to conserve them in being so long as he pleases: He had a desire to have Sun, Moon, Stars, Earth, Heaven, Sea, Cloud, Air; He created them out of the womb of love, and out of goodness, and keeps them in being
2. There is a second love and mercy, in God, by which he loves all Men and Angels; yea, even his enemies, makes the Sun to shine on the unjust man, as well as the just, and causes dew and rain to fall on the orchard and fields of the bloody and deceitful man, whom the Lord abhors; as Christ teaches us, (Matt. 5:43-48).  Nor does God miscarry in this love, He desires the eternal being of damned angels and men; He sends the Gospel to many reprobates, and invites them to repentance and with longanimity and forbearance suffers pieces of froward dust to fill the measure of their iniquity, yet does not the Lord’s general love fall short of what He willeth to them.
3. There is a love of special election to glory; far less can God come short in the end of this love…


The Covenant of Life Opened  1655

p. 14

“Many who are such as are not chosen are created and live under a Covenant of Works, having only some [1.] concomitant favors of the Gospel, as the preaching thereof.  2. Common grace, inward warnings.  3. Protections of providence and forbearance, in regard [that] they are mixed with the elect.

p. 70

“4….  but the conscience is more dull in apprehending that spiritual vengeance follows such spiritual sins as unbelief, because until there be some supernatural revelation, we are dead to the Gospel truths, and Gospel sins, but when a common grace heightens the soul to a supernatural assent, that Christ is a Teacher sent of God (Jn. 7:28; Jn. 3:2), the conviction is more strong: But because it is more supernatural, and in stead of kindly affection of love which it wants [lacks], it is mixed with hatred and anger and so degenerates into fiery indignation against the Holy Ghost, as Jn. 15:24 compared with Mt.12:15; 26:31 clears.”

p. 107.  This quote was compiled by Andrew Myers.

It’s a state of common grace to be within the visible church…  The same blessings of Abraham come on us Gentiles.  But he and all his seed were blessed and in grace by the external call of the covenant…  And this external calling is of grace and so grace, no merit, as well as predestination to life is grace, or for grace.  For whosoever are called [externally], not because they are elect, but because freely loved of such a God and without merit called…  they are in a state of grace.  But so are all within the visible church…  And external covenanting with God is of itself free grace and a singular favor bestowed of God.



George Gillespie

A Treatise of Miscellany Questions, Chapter 21

“Surely such a Testimony or voice in the soul [as claimed by Gillespie’s opponent], as the soul sits down satisfied with before ever any work of sanctification can possibly give any evidence, is not an evidence according to the word, but contrary to the word, and therefore not the revealing evidence of the spirit of God, so that in this I must needs dissent from him, for he casts the soul upon a most dangerous precipice, neither is the danger helped, but rather increased by that posterior evidence, or after comfort of sanctification, which he speaks of, for the soul being before set down satisfied with the Testimony of the spirit of the Lord, and Faith receiving that Testimony (so he supposes) it cannot now examine whether its sanctification be sound or not sound, whether its graces be common or special, seeming or real:…”



Robert Harris

This quote was compiled by Joseph Nally.

There are graces of two sorts.  First, common graces, which even reprobates may have.  Secondly, peculiar, such as accompany salvation, as the Apostle has it, proper to Gods own children only.  The matter is not whether we have the first sort of graces, for those do not seal up Gods special love to a man’s soul, but it must be saving grace alone that can do this for us.




Thomas Gataker

The Westminster Annotations, 3rd edition, 1658.

Isa. 26:10 – “Let favour be shewed to the wicked, yet will he not learn righteousness: in the land of uprightness will he deal unjustly, and will not behold the majesty of the Lord.”

Let favor be showed to the wicked, yet will he not learn righteousness.  Having [previously] intimated what should be done, when God’s judgments are in the world, He subjoins now, the contrary disposition and carriage of many so perverse in their demeanor towards towards God, and so desperately bent to, and set upon evil, that neither God’s mercies nor his judgments have any gracious or kindly work upon them, they take the more liberty to live loosely from the one and they stand out obstinately against the other, until at length they bring destruction upon themselves, deservedly for either, verse 11.  See a pregnant proof hereof in Pharaoh, Ex. 7:12,14.  The like texture of sentence, as it is here conceived, may be found, Job 13:15.  Lo, let Him slay me, yet will I trust in Him.  Howbeit, it may be rendered, with some others, Yet when favor is showed the wicked, he will not learn righteousness; or, Though favor be showed him, he will not learn righteousness.  See Rom. 2:4-5.



John Ley

[The Westminster Annotations, 1st edition, 1645, compiled by Dr. Donald Maclean]

Mark 10:21 – “Then Jesus beholding him loved him, and said unto him, One thing thou lackest: go thy way, sell whatsoever thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come, take up the cross, and follow me.”

Pitied him, that, having outwardly kept the commandments, which many did not, he should lose heaven nevertheless.

[3rd edition, 1658, John Ley]

Loved him. [in Greek] Egapon autou, loved, kissed, or cheerfully and in a friendly manner received him, as truly pitying him who having with so much care outwardly kept the law of God, which many did not; yet did but deceive himself with a vain opinion of righteousness, as if he were perfect, or near thereto; when yet without faith in Christ, he could not possibly be saved.



Anthony Burgess

Spiritual Refining: or A Treatise of Grace and AssurancePart 1, Sermon 66, “Showing that the Damnation of Wicked Men is unpleasing to God, and that which He delights not in.” 1652p. 403-408, reprint edition: Ames, Iowa, 1990.  This quote was compiled by Tony Byrne.


“As I live, saith the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked; but that the wicked turn from his way and live: turn ye, turn ye from your evil ways; for why will ye die, O house of Israel?”

Ezekiel 33:11


Fifthly, Gods unwillingness that the wicked should perish, appears in those internal means, and inward works of God’s Spirit, that are vouchsafed to many:
God thinks it not enough to give the word, and the ordinances, and thus outwardly to knock at the door; but He also opens the door in some measure.  Hence come those convictions of Conscience, those illuminations of the understanding, and many such secret motions of Gods spirit, that if possible, the soul might at last bewail its sins, and turn unto God.  It’s true, thus far God does not go with every one, neither are all admitted unto such favor, but many within the means of Grace, have their hearts thus continually beaten upon, and their consciences thus convinced and smitten: And therefore such who shall yet retain their natural pravity and wickedness, when so many remedies shall be applied, argue the greater obstinacy, and judgement of God upon them.


Now the means God has appointed for a man’s recovery are diverse:
First, There are means by way of love and goodness: There are also means by way of chastisements and afflictions
By way of Love; How winning and overcoming should that be?  Love does surround you; it’s love that you live, that you breath; its love, you are preserved from hell and damnation; its love, that you have any support at all; therefore the goodness of God in all the creatures you enjoy, should lead you to repentance, Rom. 2[:4].  The sun that shines to you, the earth that brings forth fruit for you, the health and perfection of the senses, should melt you always into good.


Edward Reynolds

The Life of Christ, from his Three Treatises

Secondly, we must from hence be exhorted to take heed of usurping Christ’s honor to our selves, of being our own rule or way.  The Lord is a jealous God, and will not suffer any to be a self mover, or a God unto himself.  It is one of God’s extremest judgments to give men over to themselves, and leave them to follow their own rules.  When He has first woo’d men by his Spirit, and that is resisted; enticed them by his mercies, and they are abused; threatened them with his judgments, and they are mis-attributed to second causes; cried unto them by his prophets, and they are reviled; sent his own Son to persuade them, and He is trampled on and despised: when He offers to teach them, and they stop their ears; to lead them, and they pull away their shoulder; to convert them, and they hardened their heart; when they set up mounds against the Gospel, as it were to non-plus and pose the mercies of God, that there may be no remedy left; then after all these indignities to the Spirit of Grace, this is the judgement with which God uses to revenge the quarrel of his Grace and Covenant, to leave them to the hardness and impenitency of their own hearts, to be a rule and way unto themselves.  My people would not hearken to my voice, and Israel would none of me.

[Reynolds below is describing Christ’s offers, wooings and entreaties both before and after conversion, which is clear from the beginning and end of the quote]

We see then, to conclude all, what an absolute necessity lies upon us of having Christ, because with Him we have All things, and can do all things: without Him we are poor and can do nothing.  And the more necessary the duty, the more sinful the neglect: especially considering that Christ withholds not Himself, but is ready to meet, to prevent, to attend every heart that in truth desires Him.  If a man have a serious, simple, sincere will, to come wholly to Christ, not to be held back from him by His dearest and closest corruptions, by the sweetest pleasures, or strongest temptations, which can allure or assault him, he may draw near unto Him with boldness, and assurance of acceptation: he has a call, Christ invites [Margin Note: Rev. 22:17], yea entreats him, and therefore he may come: he has a command, Christ requires it of him, and therefore he must come.  

And now when we have Christ, how careful should we be to keep Him; how tender and watchful over all our behaviors towards Him, lest He be grieved and depart again.  The Spirit of the Lord is a delicate spirit, most sensible of those injuries which his friends do Him.  Let us therefore take heed of violating, afflicting, discouraging, grieving this Spirit (which is the bond of all our union and interest with Christ) in any of those his sacred breathings and operations upon the Soul.  But when He teaches, let us submit and obey, receive the belief and the love of His Truth: when He promises, let us neither distrust nor despise, but embrace as true, and admire as precious, all the offers which He makes to us: when He contends with our lusts in His Word and secret suggestions, let him not always strive, but let us give up our fleshly affections to be crucified by Him: when He woos and invites us, when He offers to lead and to draw us, let us not stop the ear, or pull away the shoulder, or draw backward like froward children, or cast cold water in the face of Grace, by thwarting the motions, and rebelling against the dictates thereof, but let us yield our selves unto Him, captivate all our lusts, and consecrate all our powers, and submit all our desires to His rule and government; and then when He has been a Spirit of union, to incorporate us into Christ’s Body; and a Spirit of unction, to sanctify us with His Grace, He will undoubtedly be a Spirit of comfort and assurance, to seal us unto the day of our full redemption.



Thomas Manton

Manton, although not a member of the Assembly, wrote a dedicatory letter to the Westminster Confession shortly after it was published, which is printed in many of the editions of the Standards.


Works, Volume 16, p. 457

“Then Jesus beholding him loved him, and said unto him… And he was sad at that saying, and went away grieved”

Mark 10:21-23


[1]  If you interpret it of his divine love, the difficulty will not be great; for there is a general and common love, and a special love.  With the first, God loves all his creatures, especially mankind, and amongst them those that have any strictures of his image in them more than others.  But then there is a special love, and so all those are saved whom God thus loves.  So God loves his own people, either with a love of good-will when they are uncalled: Jer. 31:3, “Yea, I have loved thee with an everlasting love”; or else with a love of complacency, when called and converted: Zeph. 3:17, “He will rejoice over thee with joy, he will rest in his love.”; Now this will easily solve the matter; there was a general love, or a liking and approbation of those moral virtues and good things which He saw in him [the rich young ruler], but not that special love which brings grace and salvation along with it.


Works, Volume 21, p. 463-479, Two sermons on Eze. 18:23.  This quote was compiled by David Ponter.  

Sermon 1:

“Have I any pleasure at all that the wicked should die? saith the Lord God: and not that he should return from his ways, and live?”

Eze. 18:23


He manifests the more grace and goodwill to our salvation, and that He is more ready to pardon than to punish, in that He waits so long on the sinner’s choice: Rom. 9:22, ‘What if God, willing to show his wrath, and to make his power known, endured with much long‑suffering the vessels of wrath filled to destruction?’  He tarries the sinner’s leisure till the day of patience be quite spent ere [before] He executes this threatening of the new covenant; and offers men all this while many helps and advantages, enticing them by his mercies, awing them by his judgments, persuading them by his word, drawing them by his Spirit, knocking at the door of their hearts by the serious impressions of his grace, and awakening them by the stings and checks of their own consciences; all which are so many signs and evidences that He takes no pleasure in the death of sinners, as the prejudiced world thinks, but does all that becomes Him to do, as a prudent and gracious lawgiver (though not all that He could do as an almighty God) and sovereign disposer of his grace; and if He should do that, the world would never be put upon choice and trial, and obedience would be a matter of necessity and constraint, not of willing acceptation; and men may as well quarrel at this as that He has not made them all angels.


Sermon 2

God made man upright, gave him a righteous law, which, when broken, that all hopes might not be cut off, He sent his Son: Rom. 8:3, ‘God sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh,’ to be the foundation of a new covenant; offered you grace in Him, pardon of all your sins past, to help you in the course of obedience for time to come; moved you by powerful arguments, not by low and cheap considerations, but those of the greatest weight, the joys of heaven, the torments of hell; called upon you often by the ministry, knocked at your hearts as well as your ears by his Spirit; waited for your amendment for many years, tried you by mercies if they could melt you, by afflictions if they would reduce you to a sense of your duty.  But all this will not do; yet you are still alive, and these means continued.  What shall God do more?  Now why are you not converted? Others are wrought upon by the same means and turned to the Lord, and have entered in by the strait gate, and framed their desire to walk in the narrow way.  They have not offers more rich, or free, or particular.  God has not told them of a hotter hell or a better heaven, or another or a more taking gospel.  God speaks to you and them in the same terms, with the same grace and favor, and makes the door wide enough to get in.


Works, Volume 10, Several sermons upon Matthew 25

To refuse the Father’s riches of wisdom and grace, the Son’s self-denial and sufferings, is the greatest ingratitude that can be.  When all the labours and wooings of the Spirit are in vain, it is the greatest spite we can do to God; it is the greatest profaneness to set light by holy things, especially this great mystery, when we do not think it worthy our care and thoughts, Mat 22:5.”





See Also

Quotes on the Common Operations of the Spirit During the Puritan Age

Historic Reformed Quotes on Common Grace




Related Pages

Common Grace 

The Sincere Free Offer of the Gospel in the Westminster Standards