Article 2. But in this the love of God was manifested, that he sent his only begotten Son into the world, that whosoever believeth on him should not perish, but have everlasting life, .,
As the word “but” indicates at the beginning of this article, we turn here to a contrasting thought. In the former article it was established that it would not have been unrighteous on the part of God if He had doomed the entire human race to destruction in the way of sin, that therefore it could not possibly be called unrighteous on God’s part if He desired to save some out of that human race, and that certainly no damn-worthy sinner has any ground for complaint whatsoever when and if God should save some, while He might in all justice leave all to perish. We found, further, that the underlying thought in the article, the ultimate principle, is not merely the perfect and unassailable righteousness of God, but His absolute freedom. And now the thought presented in Article 2 stands in direct contrast to the language of Article 1: “God would have done no injustice by leaving them all to perish and delivering them over to condemnation on account of sin….But in this the love of God was manifested, that he sent his only begotten Son into the world, that whosoever believeth on him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” Hence, we are here given to understand that what, from the point of view of divine justice, might have been God’s will, (namely, to leave all to perish), nevertheless was not His will. Instead, God willed to save some men out of their condemnation and to give unto them eternal life.
A word of caution is in order here. For it might seem at first glance as though by the intended contrast of Article 2 the divine virtues of righteousness and love are set at odds with one another, and as though God’s love is presented as overcoming His righteousness. And our Canons must not be thus misunderstood. Others, indeed, present matters thus, just as often God’s mercy is presented as overcoming His justice. This presentation is, I think, quite well known, but is not at all characteristic of the Reformed faith. It runs as follows. God might have, according to His justice, allowed all men to perish. He would have been perfectly righteous, had He done so. But God is a God of love. And as a God of love, He does not allow Himself to be governed by such strict justice. His love is greater than His justice. It overcomes His justice. And in His love He saves men from the condemnation to which His justice would have moved Him. Such a view denies the oneness and simplicity of God, because it denies the unity of His attributes. God is One. And all His attributes are one in Him. His mercy cannot be in conflict with His justice. Nor can His love be in conflict with His justice. But rather is His mercy a just mercy, and His love is a just love. The divine love is characterized by perfect righteousness and justice, because in the Triune God love is the bond of perfectness, the bond which unites Father, Son, and Holy Ghost in the sphere of perfection. And what is true as far as the virtues of God in Himself are concerned is also true as far as the manifestation of those virtues is concerned. God does not reveal His love or His mercy as being in conflict with His justice, but in the manifestation of those virtues He exactly shows forth His love and His mercy as they are characterized by utmost justice.
Nor do the Canons offer any other viewpoint. The contrast set forth here is not between divine justice and divine love. The contrast is between divine wrath and divine love. To leave all men to perish and to deliver them over to condemnation on account of sin,—the possibility mentioned in Article 1,—would be a manifestation of just wrath, but nevertheless a manifestation of wrath. And now Article 2 begins to speak of the manifestation of the love of God, as it stands in contrast with the hypothetical manifestation of the divine wrath suggested in the former article. And it is perfectly correct, of course, to contrast the divine wrath and the divine love. God’s wrath is the manifestation of His hatred. And God’s hatred is the counterpart, the antithesis of His love. But His hatred is a just hatred, and His love is a just love. His wrath, the manifestation of His hatred, is a just wrath; and the manifestation of His love is just. In fact, only a love that is characterized by strictest justice is worthy of the name. Only such a love would be able to save us. And of that divine love this article speaks.
In connection with this main thought of Article 2, that God willed to save some sinners from their doom and to give unto them eternal life, we may notice the following elements.
In the first place, we are here taught that the origin, or cause, of this divine will to save is the love of God: “in this the love of God was manifested.” In other words, God wanted to reveal not only His wrath, but also His love. We need not here develop in detail the Scriptural conception of the attribute of God’s love. Suffice it to say that the love of God is the infinite and eternal bond of fellowship that is based upon the ethical perfection and holiness of the divine nature, and that subsists between the three Persons of the holy Trinity. This divine love it pleased God to make known, to reveal. Notice that this implies that the reason for this manifestation of love is not to be found ultimately in the objects of that manifestation of love, but in God’s eternal love of Himself. Father, Son, and Holy Ghost love one another with an eternally perfect and infinite love, and are pleased to manifest that love for their own sake. And the highest revelation of God’s love is in the work of salvation, that work of God whereby He, in the desire to manifest His own infinite love, reaches down to the in himself and damnworthy sinner, makes him a fit object of His love, receives him into the intimate fellowship of His love in the covenant of friendship, and causes him to partake of that divine love, thus making him to reflect the love of God that is shed abroad in his heart.
In this same connection it is important to notice how our fathers conceive of the relationship between God’s love and the revelation of Christ. Very often this relation is presented as though God was filled with hatred and wrath against men, but that Christ loved them, and that in His love Christ died for His people, thus meriting for them the love of God and changing the divine hatred into a divine love toward us. Christ then is a third party between God and us, and becomes the reason for Cod’s love toward us. Our fathers, however, following Scripture, present the matter in just the other way. God’s love is first! And because God loved His people from all eternity with an unchangeable love in the Son of His love, He sent His only begotten Son into the world. If it were not for God’s love, Christ would never have come. Christ, therefore, is the manifestation of God’s everlasting love. Such is the thought of Scripture. And such is the thought that is already in this second article set forth by the fathers.
In the second place, this article calls attention to the way and the ground of the salvation of some, namely, that God sent his only begotten Son into the world, that whosoever believeth should have everlasting life. The sending of His Son, therefore, is the manifestation of divine love, of a love that saves its object. And that sending of His Son, and all that is connected with it, the work of Christ, is the ground of the salvation of those whom God desires to save out of the whole human race.
And the third element to which this article calls our attention is the means through which some are saved and receive everlasting life, namely, faith: “that whosoever believeth on him should…have everlasting life.”
Numerous are the Scripture passages which might be adduced as proof for the thoughts that are here set forth. Our Canons set forth only two. Striking it is, however, that here, where the positive thought of the Canons is presented, we find no human reasoning whatsoever, but the simple presentation of holy writ, and that too literally. This entire article, with the exception of the word “but”, is literally Scripture. In fact, even here it is evident that the fathers will not use isolated texts, but are interested in the current thought of Scripture. For they take a part of the text in , and add to it the last part of , “that whosoever believeth on him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” Let those who boast that they want only Scripture, and that they will have nothing to do with creeds (and remember, that this is characteristic, at least in our day, of all Arminians especially),—let them take note of the style of the fathers. They indeed allow the Scriptures to speak!
Need it be mentioned that this article is only a beginning? The work of Christ is mentioned, but it is not fully described. The means of faith is mentioned, but its origin and activity is not defined. The love of God is mentioned, but the saving power of that love is not defined as yet, nor are the objects of that love determined in this article. And thus far, although the subject of this chapter is divine predestination, the decree of election and reprobation has not been so much as mentioned. Especially does the question remain, therefore: who are the “whosoever” mentioned in this article? Who are they that believe? Or, to state the question more exactly: how do men come to believe? This question is crucial, for it is this that decides who shall be saved and shall receive everlasting life. And to this question the following articles give the answer.
—H. C. Hoeksema