How Many Loves of God?
As our readers know from editorials appearing in theStandard Bearer, there is a growing controversy in the Christian Reformed Church concerning the love of God. Especially the editors of the Reformed Journalare arguing that God’s love extends to all men without distinction.
The striking part of this controversy is that those who are writing about it clearly recognize that the love of God cannot be separated from the grace of God, nor from the decree of election, nor from the atonement of Christ on the cross. Thus, in order to maintain this universal love of God for all men, the editors of theReformed Journal have been insisting on a universal grace of God shown to all men. This is, of course, in harmony with the three points of common grace adopted by the Christian Reformed Church in 1924. Further, they have insisted that the atonement of Christ is also for all men. They have, in recent issues, flatly opposed a limited atonement and insisted upon a universal atonement. What then about the decree of election? Also concerning this they are now writing. And, while it is not yet clearly evident in what direction they shall go in their treatment of this doctrine of election, it seems that they also shall begin to speak about a universal election. Consistency would seem to demand this. So they have a universal love of God as the cause of a universal election revealed in a universal atonement on the cross and resulting in a universal grace.
This is all quite consistent, and the logic of it all is beyond reproach.
There are conservatives in the Christian Reformed Church who are not in agreement with such open universalism. They would like to maintain a limited atonement and a particular election. But they are saddled with the decisions of common grace which they have no intention of repudiating. And so they begin to make all kinds of distinctions which make these doctrines so tremendously complex that all their beauty and power is lost in a maze of words.
An example of this is found in the latest issue of Torch and Trumpet in which John Murray of Westminster Theological Seminary begins a series of articles under the general subject of “The Free Offer Of The Gospel And The Extent Of The Atonement.”
It is his contention first of all that salvation is offered to all men through the preaching of the gospel. This is the “first point” of common grace. He finds this universal offer of salvation implied particularly in the universal demand made upon all men to repent. He writes:
And since repentance is redolent of the gospel, the universality of the demand for repentance implies the universal overture of grace.
Next he turns to a discussion of the relation between this universal offer of grace and the atonement of Christ. And he finds that the universal offer of grace rests upon and is grounded in the atonement. He writes:
This is but to say that what we often speak of as the atonement is that which laid the ground for the preaching of repentance to all nations . . . . We thus see that the universal demand for repentance and the unrestricted overture of grace involved must be grounded, according to our Lord’s own teaching, in the atonement.
From there the author goes on to the question of the relation between the atonement and the love of God and finds that the atonement is indeed an expression of God’s love. He writes:
The atonement in none of its aspects can be properly viewed apart from the love of God as the source from which it springs.
But then the question arises whether or not this does not concede the argument to the editors of theReformed Journal after all. A universal offer grounded in the atonement, which in turn is an expression of the love of God—does not all this necessitate a universal atonement and a universal love?
Not so, says the author. The reason is that we must make distinctions in the doctrine of the atonement and in the love of God. There are various aspects of the atonement, and there are different kinds of love in God.
With respect to the atonement, it is true that Christ died on the cross for his people to take away their sins. But at the same time there is a lot more to the atonement than this. Christ also merited on the cross blessings for the wicked which they receive because He died for them too, although He did not earn for them salvation. The blessings He earned for them fall short of salvation.
The author writes:
Many benefits accrue to the non-elect from the redemptive work of Christ. . . . Many blessings are dispensed to men indiscriminately because God is fulfilling his redemptive purpose in the world. Much in the way of order, equity, benevolence, and mercy is the fruit of the gospel and the gospel is God’s redemptive revelation centered in the gift of his Son . . . . Thus all the good showered on this world, dispensed by Christ in the exercise of his Lordship, is related to the death of Christ and accrues to man in one way or another from the death of Christ. If so it was designed to accrue from the death of Christ. Since many of these blessings fall short of salvation and are enjoyed by many who never become possessors of salvation, we must say that the design of Christ’s death is more inclusive than the blessings that belong-specifically to the atonement. This is to say that even the non-elect are embraced in the design of the atonement in respect of those blessings falling short of salvation which they enjoy in this life. This is equivalent to saying that the atonement sustains this reference to the non-elect and it would not be improper to say that, in respect of what is entailed for the non-elect, Christ died for them.
But then, what about the love of God?
These many blessings that come to the wicked and non-elect through the cross, the author finds, flow forth from God’s kindness, beneficence, mercy, benevolence and goodness. But, of course, this is really saying the same thing as saying that they come forth from God’s love. And so the author concludes that they do. He writes:
The foregoing exposition is sufficient to show that there is a love in God that goes forth to lost men and is manifested in the manifold blessings which all men without distinction enjoy, a love in which non-elect persons are embraced, and a love that comes to its highest expression in the entreaties, overtures, and demands of gospel presentation.
But now to avoid some sort of universal love, we are told that we must also make a distinction in the love of God.
It must be said from the outset that there is differentiation in the love of God.
There is a love which is the fountain of election; a love that is expressed in the vicarious atonement of Christ on the cross when He took away the sins of His people. But there is also another kind of love. A love for all men. A love that expresses itself in the cross when blessings are earned by Christ’s sacrifice for the non-elect. A love expressed in the universal offer of the gospel. A love for all men that falls short of saving love. A love that bestows grace on all men. A love presumably, that turns to wrath when the wicked are cast into eternal punishment.
So we have two kinds of grace; two kinds of blessings merited on the cross; two kinds of sufferings of Christ; two kinds of atonements; two kinds of love of God. And while the author does not say this, we really ought also to have two kinds of election. For they all go together.
It is not our intention to enter into a detailed criticism of all this in this column. This is the business of the editorial page, and criticism is being made there.
But it does seem worthwhile to point out: 1) that the editors of the Reformed Journal, while they are commendably logical, have nevertheless destroyed, one by one, all the fundamentals of the Calvinistic and Reformed faith. They have written precisely what the Arminians maintained, and they have defended what the Canons have condemned. 2) That the conservatives have gotten themselves entangled in awful traps of hair-splitting distinctions and labyrinths of error because they do not want to go as far as the Arminian position, while they still have to reckon with a universal grace and a universal favor of God to all men. 3) That these distinctions of two kinds of grace, two kinds of love, two kinds of atonement, can have no other result but terrible confusion. The gospel of salvation is hidden beneath man-made distinctions. The truth of Scripture is lost in murky byways of confusion. The people of God are robbed of their comfort in the hope of the gospel, for they cannot follow men through these mazes of man-invented distinctions. And this is the saddest of all. There is nothing any more for the people of God. Confusion reigns instead. They cannot find their Christ, the Christ of the Scripture’s, threading their way through such intricate networks of error.
How clear and beautiful stands out the truth of Scripture against such a dark background. God loves Himself with an eternal love, for He alone is God. In His love for Himself, He loves an elect people whom He has chosen in Christ. The cross of Calvary is the full and glorious expression and realization of that love, for the cross is a vicarious atonement for the elect; Christ died to take away the sins of His people. He died for nothing else. To this elect people God reveals the riches of His grace and love through the preaching of the gospel, for by His sovereign and efficacious call effected through the Spirit, God calls His people out of darkness into the light of the fellowship of His grace and love.
How clear this glorious truth is. How brightly it shines. The people of God can easily understand it. And understanding it, they can find refuge in its glorious truth, while in their amazement at the wonder of their salvation they bow in adoration before Him Who alone is worthy of all praise and glory.
The New Morality
Especially since John Robinson’s book “Honest to God” was published, there has risen in the church a cry for the so-called “new morality.” John Robinson himself explained what this is. He stated it as his conviction that the time had come to discard the old rules of morality by which the world lived, and substitute for these rules new rules which were more in keeping with our modern twentieth century. Particularly this means that the law of God embodied especially in the ten commandments has become outdated and can now better be filed away as an old archive with only the value of historical curiosity. In its place we must have the rule of love. And this rule of love comes down to this: do whatever you want to do as long as you do it in love for your fellow man. If what you do, no matter what it is, it is perfectly all right if you have the concern of your neighbor in your heart.
This applied especially to immorality and promiscuity—only there really is no such thing as immorality and promiscuity any more under the new rules. Everything is approved: sexual perversion, extra- and premarital relations, sodomy, prostitution—the whole gamut of an immoral life. Writes one clergyman:
There is only one thing which is always good regardless of circumstances, and that is neighborly concern, social responsibility, agape—which is a divine imperative. In the situational approach of the new morality one enters into every decision-making moment armed with all the wisdom of the culture, but prepared in one’s freedom to suspend and violate any rule except that one must as responsibly as possible seek the good of one’s neighbor.
A nice bit of jargon to serve as a guide for a teenager struggling with the temptations of Satan!
The pity is that all this comes from clergymen. It is increasingly the position of the Churches. It is not enough that we have to have a constant stream of vile mud thrown at us by radio, television, magazines, theaters and books; it all must be approved now by the Church. It’s not adequate that our country is sinking into a morass of moral impurity; the Church has to stand by and cheer.
But God is being denied. God is a holy God Who hates sin with an awful hatred. He demands holiness in His creatures. And He has given His own divine will in the moral law as an objective standard of right and wrong in order that man may know what this holiness is. This law is as eternal and unchangeable as God Himself. And God remains God Who visits sin in His holy and divine wrath; who punishes the sinner with death in this life and everlastingly in hell. It is all this which the new moralists deny. They deny an objective standard of right and wrong, setting up their own corrupt ideas instead as the moral guide for men. They use carnal lust as the criterion of obedience. They deny the reality of sin. In their pride and haughtiness, they determine for themselves good and evil.
The end of this will be a wave of immorality which sweeps this country and the church which would make the Romans of Paul’s day blush with shame. Of these Romans Paul wrote (and the words have double force today): “Who knowing the judgment of God, that they which commit such things are worthy of death, not only do the same, but have pleasure in them that do them,”Romans 1:32.