Previous article in this series: August 2006, p. 436.
As indicated in our previous article we intend to look a bit more closely at Matthew 5:43ff., pointing out where the free-offer interpretation goes astray.
In our last article we noted and responded to the charge of the promoters of the WMO (Well-Meant Offer) that we ‘high-Calvinists’ are in many instances guilty of claiming to have a greater love for certain lost sinners than God does, because we claim there are many sinners whose salvation in love we seek, but whom God does not love at all, but only hates.
Our response is, guilty as charged.
However, for the sake of accuracy, let us be clear. Our claim is not that we have a “greater” love for certain lost sinners than God does, because the certain sinners of whom we are speaking are those for whom God has no love at all, never has, never will. Not according to Scripture. To state it as clearly as we can, our contention is that we as disciples of Christ love many whom God does not love at all, whom He has reprobated (the Esaus of this life), whom He neither has, nor ever had, any intention of saving (for instance, the greater part of that apostate Israel living when Christ spoke the very words of Matthew 5:43ff.); and, we assert, to this God Himself calls us. To this the sovereign and electing God calls us for His own secret and predestinating purpose, as He works out His ‘saving’ and ‘condemning’ will.
And please note that we speak not only of God’s ‘condemning’ will, but also of His ‘saving’ will. In fact, we mentioned ‘saving’ first, because with God ‘to save’ is always His first and primary purpose. So it must be with us. And yet God’s purpose of passing a just condemnation upon the reprobate ungodly is also always part of the picture.
Any proper interpretation of Matthew 5:43-48 must keep this in mind.
And note further, we are not saying that we know who the elect and who the reprobate are in the state of unbelief (that belongs to the secret and hidden things of God); we are simply saying that many of those whom we love, and to whom we are called to do good, will prove in fact to be reprobate according to God’s own predestinating purpose and will. God does not call us to start speculating about who may or may not be what; in fact, He sternly forbids us to engage in such guesswork, calling us rather to do good to all indiscriminately (in love), leaving the fullness of knowledge and purpose to Himself as Almighty God.
It is in this context that we assert that Matthew 5:43ff. does not teach that God loves all men (nor, for that matter, that God loves all those whom He calls us to love). The WMO men insist it does—if not directly, then by clear and necessary implication. But it does not.
We can understand their reasoning, based on a surface reading of the text; just as we understand why many might conclude, on the basis of a first reading I Timothy 2:3-6, that it teaches a general atonement, or that Revelation 22:17 (“And whosoever will, let him take…”) teaches free willism. But, in the light of the rest of Scripture, do they? Is this what the apostles are actually teaching in such passages? Not according to Reformed insight and explanation. So it is with Matthew 5:43ff.
The reasoning of the WMO men is clear. Christ calls us to love our enemies, namely, even those who hate us, and to do good to them. Basically this amounts to loving all men with whom we have contact, none to be excluded, not even our enemies, loving them also as our neighbors. And, since Christ says this in the context of showing ourselves to be children of God (i.e., reflecting the character of God as our Father), what must one conclude but that God must also love all men without distinction?
Surely this is the clear and necessary implication.
Not so. Such a conclusion is indeed an inference made by many, but that is exactly the problem—it is but an inference. And not a necessary one at that.
Let us be clear what we are saying here. We are not saying that this text is proof against a free-offer kind of love; for that there are plenty of other texts in Scripture. We are saying thatMatthew 5:43ff. offers no proof for any free-offer gospel. Such is something that must be read into the text. Matthew 5:43ff. requires no free-offer idea in order to interpret it as it stands, nor to bring home Christ’s point with power.
And further, to insert a WMO concept requires one to do violence to any number of other scriptural passages.
What Christ is doing here is giving incentive and reason why we are to love even those miserable, abusive, ungrateful enemies of ours, loving many more than only those who love us—loving even those who have failed to treat us with the respect and consideration we are sure we so richly deserve (at least I do! I do not know about the rest of you!). And the reason Christ gives is that God also has loved such miserable ingrates throughout the centuries, and He still does, as we well know. Christ is saying to His disciples, “Now, knowing that, go and do thou likewise. Do that in order to demonstrate that you understand what love and goodness has been shown to you as abusers of God and His Word.” Yes, a love shown even to us who were once counted as the enemies of God (Eph. 2:11ff.).
But note well, declaring that God has loved and saved many abusive ingrates through the centuries, and has turned enemies into friends, is not the same as saying He loves or has loved all the abusive ingrates of the human race. That the text does not say.
Christ chose His wording carefully.
The simple, undeniable fact is that at no place in the passage does Christ utter the words, “…for your Father also loves all men” or “…for your Father also loves all of His enemies,” as if that is the reason why we are to show love to all with whom we come into contact—we are to love even our enemies, because God loves all His enemies, i.e., those who hate Him. He does not. Some He does and has, but nowhere in Scripture do you read that God loves all His enemies. Nor does Christ say that in this text.
The passage says that God makes His sun to rise on all men without distinction, on the evil and the good, and that He sends on all the cheering rain. He does good to all alike. Therefore so must we. But that still does not say God loves them all alike. The sending of sunshine and rain does not indicate God’s desiring a salvation for all. In His sending of good things upon many of the ungodly, God has a different purpose in mind, even as He has in our love for many of our neighbors.
Indeed, we are called to love all of our enemies. But that’s not because God loves all of His, or ours either. That is not what Christ is saying. What Christ is saying is, we are called to love all of our enemies because God loved us, even us who were once God’s enemies. That is the significance of verse 46, “For if you love them which love you, what reward have ye? do not even the publicans the same?”
It is obvious that Christ here is reminding His disciples of a love that goes beyond the love of publicans, which is only for those who also loved them. Christ is reminding them of God’s love, which love loved even those who did not love Him. But that does not mean that Christ is saying that God loves all who do not love Him. That is to read something in the text that is not there. The conclusion is an extrapolation without any basis. Rather, the proof for this love of God for those who did not love Him is His love for some, namely for them, Christ’s disciples. God loved and loves me, and many others who make the same testimony (Gal. 2:20), who did not love Him at all. Who am I not to love others likewise?
Not only is this all that is necessary for Christ to make His point, but in this way He makes His point in the most personally powerful way.
We say again, to maintain that Matthew 5:43ff. teaches that God has a love for everyone because we as His children are to love all of our neighbors is an unwarranted inference. It reads something into the text that Christ carefully avoids saying. And it puts one at odds with the rest of the Scriptures as well.
What serves as motive for the believer to love and to do good to one’s enemies is not an imagined love of God for all humanity and for all our enemies besides. All that is necessary is the knowledge of God’s particular, personal love, namely, that I was once numbered among God’s enemies (as was a certain young, arrogant Saul of Tarsus of old), and yet He loved me, and returned me good for evil. When I reflect on that love of God, I have more than enough incentive to love my own personal enemies. And when I actually do reflect unto others that love of God for me (what God was willing as the Divine parent to endure from me), then I show as well that I am a child of God.
And if we need any more motivation to love our enemies, consider that any number of them may prove to be elect after all, maybe even from our own household.
We say again, not only is a free-offer notion not found in the text, neither does the text require such to bring its message home with power.Why do such, when all it does is to force one to place this passage into contradiction with other passages, and then necessitates calling upon a paradox once again to “save the day”?
But there remains another question in all of this, and that is, what is God’s purpose in all of this? Why will Christ, God’s Son, have us express such a self-effacing, self-denying, much-enduring love to all?
The answer is twofold: the first (and surely the primary) reason is that our rendering good for evil in longsuffering love is a means God is pleased to use in a powerful way to draw others unto salvation. Consider I Peter 3:1ff. and the calling of the Christian wife towards an unbelieving and perhaps even harsh husband: “that…they also may without the word be won by the (chaste) conversation of the wives.”
But the second part of the answer is that this is also the way God is pleased to work out His decree of reprobation, working out damnation of the ‘non-elect,’ and bringing upon them their just condemnation. I am not saying this is a thought we are to relish. In fact, there is evidence in Scripture that indicates quite the opposite (which we intend to consider next time), but this is a fact of Scripture and revelation. And we must be willing to be used by God as such, if that is His will. It is no different than it was with Paul and the gospel word that He was to bring to the Jews first of all, which Word he knew would serve, in instance after instance, as a savor of death unto death. As he cried out, “And who is sufficient for these things?” (II Cor. 2:16). But such was his calling.
So that salvation might find God’s true Israel, Paul went forth and did good, bringing the Word, knowing that, even as he opened his mouth and preached, God was using it to harden and judge the larger segment of his beloved kinsmen. And yet, even in this hardening and condemning aspect of the good gospel preaching, Paul was so bold as to call himself a “sweet savor of Christ” unto God (nota bene!). In other words, what Paul was doing was pleasing to God, even in his bringing the Word that was to serve as condemnation unto so many. It was so intended by God all along. It belonged to God’s deeper purpose. And Paul had to bring himself into submission to that reality.
And note as well, this purpose of God to use the witness of His people unto the condemnation of many is not something hidden. It is revealed and known. God in His Word has made it plain that He will use us in that way. What is hidden is who God is pleased to harden as a reprobate, why this one and not that one (me, or you!), but not that God will use the good words and actions of His own in this hardening way. That is not hidden at all. Paul could not be plainer. We must also be willing to be used in this way if God so wills.
But our larger point is this, that this twofold purpose and effect not only belong to the preaching, but are also part of the reason why God will have us do good to all men and to show love to our enemies. It may not be why we want to do these things (does anyone want to have his parental instruction used to harden and condemn his own children?), but it still belongs to why our Lord calls us to do these things.
So it is also in Matthew 5:43ff.
Again we reiterate, to prevent any misunderstanding, that the main reason we are called to return good for evil is not so that many may be condemned through us. God’s central reason surely is His good pleasure to use such to bring even those of our enemies to conversion and faith. But this unto-condemnation-purpose remains one of the reasons why God will have us to love and do good to the neighbor. And it has that outcomeas well, a divinely appointed outcome, to a definite number no less.
But God says, “You leave that with Me. You simply do unto others as I have done unto you.”
A passage that brings this all home with some power is Romans 12:20, 21. We will quote it next time when we consider it in more detail. It is a passage hotly disputed and universally altered. Few, it seems, want to live with the plain teaching of this passage. Not even very many good men. Certainly not the WMO men. They find this passage as difficult to come to terms with as Romans 9:13. So they change its explanation to fit their WMO presuppositions. Yes, of all things, they allow their theology to rule their exegesis.
Strange as it may sound—that the WMO theologians of all men should allow their doctrinal presuppositions to rule their exegesis, preventing the ‘freedom’ of explaining a text according to its plain meaning (ask the late ‘rationalist’ Gordon Clark and that notorious ‘scholastic dogmatician’ Herman Hoeksema about such persistent charges)—yet so it is.
Next time we will consider the Romans 12:20, 21passage and the light it sheds on the above discussion, as we bring our analysis of the free offer to a close.