The Particular Love of God

This extract is from a larger article, ‘A response to Philip R Johnston’s A Primer on Hyper-Calvinism’ . The ‘Primer’ was published in the Sword and Trowel and previously reviewed in New Focus magazine.

There is a close connection between the idea that God loves everyone and that he provides a common grace for everyone. John Murray summarises this in his works,

There is a love in God that goes forth to lost men and is manifest in the manifold blessings which all men without distinction enjoy, a love in which non-elect persons are embraced.1

This is why Johnson links his definitions of Hyper-Calvinism together; they each dovetail into each other. God loves everybody so he gives a type of grace to everyone, desires their salvation and sends a sincere free-offer that whoever responds will be saved. This offer goes out in the Gospel call which all men have a duty to respond to. This sort of Gospel is what John Duncan called a blurring of the edges of Calvinism that approached Arminianism. Does God tell us that he loves all men?

The Bible shows us that God is perfect. When he loves, he loves fully and perfectly. The God of the free-offer loves everyone, and yet fails to achieve his desired ends since many of those loved end up being damned; sentenced by the same God. This God is not the God of the Bible who loves the elect from eternity to the uttermost; Whatever God does, it shall be forever. Nothing can be added to it, and nothing taken from it. (Ecclesiastes 3:14). God only loves forever, as this verse explicitly teaches. It is impossible for God to love men for a while, offer them life, desire their salvation and then hate them in hell.

There is not one scripture that clearly states God’s love for everyone, but there are many that state that he hates certain types of people and certain individuals (Psalm 5:5; 11:5; Hosea 9:15; Malachi 1:2-3; Romans 9:13 etc.). In the face of this, it is foolish or disobedient to state that God loves the wicked when his word states clearly that he does not. Neither can we ameliorate the word ‘hate’. The original is usually a strong word which does not mean ‘to love less’; in fact the word hate regarding Esau is the same word used in John 15:25 - a hate strong enough to lead to murder!

John 3:16 is of no use to Johnson here since if ‘the world’ means everyone in it, then there is no hell since that same world is not condemned and is saved in the next verse. ‘World’ cannot mean every human being in John 3:16, just as it doesn’t in John 12:19, and there is not a single other text which implies that God loves everyone.2

The idea of a universal divine love is of no help in evangelism anyway. It was originally posited in order to make Calvinism more attractive to critics (as it still is today). If God loves everyone, why should sinners bother repenting and following Christ? A God of love won’t do anything un-loving (like condemning them) will he? If God does not love fully, but only partly, then the evangel of Johnson and others should tell sinners this. ‘God loves you a little bit, so give your life to him. If you don’t, he will send you to hell. If you receive Christ, he will love you much more.’ How can telling people that God loves them inculcate the divine fear which is the beginning of wisdom? The apostles never used this method, in fact, the word ‘love’ doesn’t appear in the Acts at all; rather they taught that man was in sin, and man had a responsibility to repent and honour the God who created him by believing in Christ the Saviour.

Calvin followed the apostles and categorically stated that God, by an eternal decree fixed the number of those whom he is pleased to embrace in love, and of those whom he is pleased to display his wrath.3 God only loves the elect, while his wrath rests above those who are not elect. Obviously, Calvinism does not imply that God loves everyone. On the contrary, God hates the reprobate:

The reprobate are hateful to God, and that with a perfect justice, since those destitute of his Spirit cannot produce anything that does not deserve cursing.4

The Canons of the Synod of Dort are also infused with particularism. The blessings of the elect are detailed throughout and are contrasted with the wrath destined for the reprobate wicked. There is no sense of a love of God poured out upon mankind in general. See: First Head (Predestination), Article 10: the text describing that God loved Jacob before he was born (Romans 9:11-13) is used to illustrate God’s love for the elect. Second Head, Article 9: everlasting love is towards the elect only. Third & Fourth Head, Article 7: the sovereign good pleasure and unmerited love of God is only communicated to the elect.

1 John Murray, Collected Writings, Vol 1, p67-68.

2 The word ‘love’ in the NIV translation of Psalm 145 does not appear at all in the Received Text.

3 John Calvin, Institutes 3:29,17.

4 John Calvin, Institutes 3:24,17

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