(The text of an address delivered on February 6, 1970, under the auspices of the Lecture Committee of the Michigan Protestant Reformed Churches. The second installment will appear in the May 1 issue.)
Tonight I call your attention to the love of God. I consider it a privilege to speak to you on this subject. How wonderful is the love of God! To be loved by the living Go, Who is in Himself the All-Sufficient One, Who needs no man to establish or add to His glory, Who created the heavens and the earth and all that moves, lives and has being by the word of His power and the breath of His mouth, not, of course, to enrich Himself but to reveal Himself as the God worthy of all adoration, should fill your hearts and mine with all wonder and amazement.
Does God love you, and how do you know that He loves you? If, in answer to this question, you should reply that He loves you because He loves all men, then His love of you would be altogether meaningless. Then He also loves those who perish. Then His love of you will not necessarily save you. What guarantee or assurance do you have that this love of God will save you? It did not save those who perish. How do you know it will save you? Then something else must be added to that love of God to assure your salvation; then something must proceed from you to render the love of God effective. And, if you must do something before the love of God can save you, you will never be saved, and this for the simple reason that nothing can proceed from you, inasmuch as we are all conceived and born in sin. Is this your conception of the love of God? If, however, on the other hand, you believe that the love of God is eternal, sovereign and unconditional, that, therefore, it is always first and never preceded by an act of man, then the answer to this question becomes tremendously vital, the all-controlling and dominating factor in your life and in mine as far as our salvation is concerned. Provided that we understand that there is always something higher than your or my salvation, and that is the principle that concerns the glory of the alone living God. Indeed, the question of the love of God does concern the glory of the living God, that God is God alone! For, this is life eternal, this is-our salvation, that we know Him, the one only true God; through Jesus Christ Whom He has sent. Any conception of the love of God which violates the truth that God is God and He alone, cannot be in harmony with the infallible Scriptures. I now call your attention to:
THE LOVE OF GOD, WHOLLY PARTICULAR
This love of God is:
I. Strictly Divine
II. Wholly Particular
III. Gloriously Efficacious
I. STRICTLY DIVINE
When we speak to you, as in the theme, on the love of God, we understand this “love of God” subjectively: the love which proceeds from God, as God loves; hence, not our love of God, but God’s love of us. And when we call your attention in our first point to the strictly Divine character of this love of God, then we mean that this love of God is strictly Divine subjectively and objectively; it is strictly Divine subjectively because it proceeds exclusively from God, and it is strictly Divine objectively because it has God exclusively for its object. And it is also for this reason that this love proceeds wholly from God, because it is objectively so strictly Divine.
Let us now look at the meaning of “love” as set forth in the infallible Scriptures. And then we turn, first of all, and briefly, to the Old Testament. On the one hand, in the Hebrew is a word that means fundamentally “to adhere, stick together,” and so the word came to mean: to be attached to in a spiritual sense, to cleave to anyone, and in that sense to love; and this word also became an expression of this bond of fellowship: to take delight in and long for the object. This is the meaning of love in Deut. 7:7 and in Ps. 91:14 where we read that the Lord has set His love upon us. On the other hand, also in the Hebrew, is the well-known word: to breathe after; hence, to long after, desire, and in that sense to love. This is the word as used in Is. 63:9, and from this word is also derived the word for “friend,” as in Is. 41:8, where Abraham is called God’s friend. From these uses of the word in the Old Testament we may conclude the following. First, love is a spiritual bond, a union, causing two or more persons to adhere, cleave together. And, in the second place, for this reason the consciousness and operation of this bond reveals itself as a constant yearning of the subject for the object.
Turning to the New Testament, we find that the New Testament is much more abundant in its use of the word for love and its qualifications of the concept. First, the Word of God ascribes to love a moral, ethical, spiritual content, as when we read of “loving righteousness,” or, “loving God or the praise of men.”
Secondly, the Word of God uses the word, “love,” as expressing a certain distinction, preferment, choice. We read in Romans 9:13: Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated.” And in Matt. 6:24 we read that no man can serve two masters; he will hate the one and love the other, or he will love the one and hate the other. So, the word is used where there is the element of preferment, of choice by the will, and it is also used as the opposite of hatred. And again the content or object is ethical, spiritual.
Thirdly, this word for “love” (the stronger of the two words for “love” in the New Testament) is constantly used to express the relation in the Divine Trinity between the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, as in John 3:35: “The Father loveth the Son, and hath given all things in His hand,” or John 10:17: “Therefore doth My Father love Me, because I lay down My life, that I might take it again,” or John 14:31: “But that the world may know that I love the Father; and as the Father gave Me commandment, even so I do. Arise, let us go hence.” These passages, we understand, can be multiplied. This word is also used to express the relation between God and man, as in John 8:42: “Jesus saith unto them, If God were your Father, ye would love Me: for I proceeded forth and come from God; neither came I of Myself, but He sent Me.” And so this word is also used to express the relation between the brethren, as in John 13:34: “A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another.”
Finally, we have the following striking and pertinent passages. We read in Col. 3:14: “And above all these things put on charity (love), which is the bond of perfectness.” Love here is called the “bond of perfectness.” Love is, therefore, the bond that is characterized by ethical, spiritual perfection. Hence, positively, love can be a bond only between the perfect. In Gal. 5:22, 23 we read: “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance: against such there is no law.” Here the word stands at the head of the spiritual virtues and perfections that are the fruit of the Holy Spirit. It stands at the head and is, therefore, the root of them. In I John 4:8 we read the very familiar expression: “For God is love.” Here is surely expressed the deepest principle of love. Here the essence of God’s being is described as love. God is love, His Divine being, essence, life is a bond of perfect fellowship. With God this love is absolute. He is both Subject and Object. He lives the life of perfect love as God Triune. And, closely related with this last passage, we would quote to you three other very striking passages. In I John 4:7 we read: “Beloved, let us love one another: for love is of God; and every one that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God.” It is evident from this passage that to “know” God is more than a merely intellectual understanding. Here we read that love is of God; all love has its source in the living God. In I John 4:10 we read: “Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us, and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” And in II Cor. 13:14 we read: “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Ghost, be with you all. Amen.”
From all these passages, in both the Old and New Testaments, we may surely conclude the following. Love is essentially a bond of fellowship. Love requires a moral-rational subject and object, that is, a person. As a bond it can exist only in the sphere of the perfect; that is, it unites only a perfect subject and a perfect object. As an act it becomes manifest as the delight of the perfect subject in a perfect object. As a one-sided act—and we must remember that love is always one-sided when it refers to God’s love to sinners or the love of the people of God to their enemies—it must reveal itself as a desire to see or make the object of love perfect, as God’s love to a sinful people or our love to our enemies.
This love of God, now, is strictly Divine. It is strictly Divine subjectively. We again quote I John 4:10: “Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us, and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins. ” This means that love never proceeds from us, always from God; hence, the love of God is strictly Divine, subjectively. How true this is of God’s manifestation of His love in Jesus Christ, in fact really the only manifestation of His love in the midst of the world! Whether you view this manifestation of this love of God in Christ from the aspect of God’s promises in the Old Dispensation or from the aspect of Christ’s actual appearance among us and in all His suffering and death, does anything ever proceed from us; do we ever contribute anything but sin and guilt? The whole plan of redemption, as prophesied in the Old Dispensation and as fulfilled in our Lord Jesus Christ, is surely exclusively of the Lord.
However, this love of God is also strictly Divine objectively. God is love. God is the God of infinite goodness and perfection. At His right hand there are pleasures forevermore. Indeed, the Scriptures surely reveal God to us. Today, also in reformed circles, they tell you that the Scriptures do not reveal very much, if anything, of the living God Himself. All that the Scriptures say to us is the kerugma, the proclamation that must go forth to sinners. And this is understandable. There is hardly any room for any conception that lauds the natural man and the good that sinners do, etc. when viewed in the light of the Lord’s revelation, of Himself. And the Scriptures surely reveal God to us. God, we read, is light, and in Him there is no darkness whatever—this surely reveals God to us. God, we also read, is love, and also this Scripture reveals the living God unto us. And, God is Triune: Father, Son and Holy Ghost. These three Divine Persons live and have fellowship with each other in the bond of infinite perfection. And that the Lord is Triune is also surely Scriptural. So, also as far as this Scriptural doctrine of the Trinity is concerned, the Word reveals the living God Himself to us. God, therefore, is love. All His being and life are described as love, the bond of perfection which unites the Three Persons, revealing God to us as eternally delighting in Himself, the perfect fellowship of the three Divine Persons in the bond of infinite goodness and perfection.
This, of course, also determines the meaning of love for us. Of course! God determines and must determine our life. Our love is and can never be anything else than a reflection of His love. Love is, therefore, ethical and spiritual. The love which God bestows upon us centers in Him; it does not mean that we are merely naturally drawn to one another, that we delight in each other merely for natural reasons, but that we delight in perfection, therefore in God, that we would see or make the object of our love perfect, even as God is perfect, that we as saints are drawn to one another, delight in one another, in that sphere of ethical, spiritual perfection. Indeed, the love of God within God Himself and that which He bestows upon His people is surely one, even as God is one. He, the living God, draws us irresistibly into His own covenant fellowship, so that we, according to the measure of the creature, now love God even as He loves Himself.
II. WHOLLY PARTICULAR
Today the love of God is presented, everincreasingly, as universal or common. God loves all men; Christ died for all men; God would save all men. The Arminian, with his emphasis upon the free will of the sinner, tells you that his gospel is far richer than the gospel of the Christ-for-all preachers. Whereas we proclaim a love of God and a redemption of Christ that are restricted, limited only to some, he preaches a love of God and of the Christ that is common, has all men, head for head, as its objects, and therefore his gospel is so much richer than ours. Is it not logical to assume that a gospel that embraces all men is much richer than a gospel that pertains to and embraces only a few. To this we reply, not that our gospel is richer and that of the Arminian poorer, but that our gospel is the only gospel and Arminianism is no gospel at all. And, of course, this conception of a universal or common love of God centers in man. That God is love, all love, meaning that only love emanates from Him to all men, and no wrath or indignation, is fundamentally in error because it seeks the object of this love, not in God but in man. This presentation of the love of God ignores the truth that God Himself is love. Love never centers in man, but always in the living God.
We believe and submit to you that the love of God is, wholly particular. This is surely the truth as set forth in our Reformed Confessions. First, we turn to the Canons of Dordrecht. Of course, time forbids me to quote these articles and to comment on them at length. In the first head of doctrine the fathers set forth the doctrine of sovereign election and reprobation. Please note what we read in Articles 6, 7 and 15 which we now quote:
Art. 6: That some receive the gift of faith from God, and others do not receive it, proceeds from God’s eternal decree, “For known unto are all His works from the beginning of the world,” Acts 15:18. “Who worketh all things after the counsel of His will,” Eph. 1:11.
According to which decree, He graciously softens the hearts of the elect, however obstinate, and inclines them to believe, while He leaves the non-elect in His just judgment to their own wickedness and obduracy. And herein is especially displayed the profound, the merciful, and at the same time the righteous discrimination between men, equally involved in ruin; or that decree of election and reprobation, revealed in the Word of God, which though men of perverse, impure and unstable minds wrest to their own destruction, yet to holy and pious souls affords unspeakable consolation.
Art. 7: Election is the unchangeable purpose of God, whereby, before the foundation of the world, He hath out of mere grace, according to the sovereign good pleasure of His own will, chosen, from the whole human race, which had fallen through their own fault, from their primitive state of rectitude, into sin and destruction, a certain number of persons to redemption in Christ, Whom He from eternity appointed the Mediator and Head of the elect, and the foundation of Salvation.
This elect number; though by nature neither better nor more deserving than others, but with them involved in one common misery, God hath decreed to give to Christ, to be saved by Him, and effectually to call and draw them to His communion by His Word and Spirit, to bestow upon them true faith, justification and sanctification; and having powerfully preserved them in the fellowship of His Son, finally, to glorify them for the demonstration of His mercy, and for the praise of His glorious grace; as it is written: “According as He hath chosen us in Him, before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy, and without blame before Him in love; having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will, to the praise of the glory of His grace, wherein He hath made us accepted in the beloved.” Eph. 1:4, 5, 6. And elsewhere: “Whom He did predestinate, them He also called, and whom He called, them He also justified, and whom He justified them He also glorified.” Rom. 8:30.
Art. 15: What peculiarly tends to illustrate and recommend to us the eternal and unmerited grace of election is the express testimony of sacred Scripture, that not all, but some only are elected, while others are passed by in the eternal decree; whom God, out of His sovereign; most just, irreprehensible and unchangeable good pleasure, hath decreed to leave in the common misery into which they have willfully plunged themselves, and not to bestow upon them saving faith and the grace of conversion; but permitting them in His just judgment to follow their own ways, at last for the declaration of His justice, to condemn and perish them forever, not only on account of their unbelief, but also for all their other sins. And this is the decree of reprobation, which by no means makes God the author of sin (the very thought of which is blasphemy), but declares Him to be an awful, irreprehensible, and righteous judge and avenger thereof.
(to be continued)