GOD IS LOVE
The Bible tells us so. And it also adds that love is the bond of perfectness. Col. 3:14. Since love has its source in the heart, it is the ethical bond that unites two persons in the sphere of truth, righteousness, justice, holiness, and devotion. Love is the power that draws two persons together in truth, in righteousness, and in holiness. It knits them together in perfect harmony, trust, and friendship, so that they experience complete unity and fellowship. Love seeks its perfect object, longs for it, yearns for its companionship, and delights in the joy, peace, and sublime blessedness that they experience together. You have, no doubt, heard the expression: “I love you, not merely for what you are, but for what I am in your presence.” That love is abiding, can only be broken by death, for such love is of God. How beautifully that is expressed in the genuine love between husband and wife, who love one another in the Lord.
Since true love can exist only in the sphere of moral perfection, there is no love in darkness. Darkness, in the ethical sense of falsehood, deceit, hatred, bitterness, unfaithfulness, and selfishness, always disrupts the bond of perfectness. Therefore the believing husband and wife must always meet at the cross of Christ, finding their unity in the blood of the cross, forgiving one another, even as in Christ each is forgiven. That which passes for love in the sphere of darkness is nothing but a wicked corruption, a carnal caricature of the genuine article. It is actually hatred, selfishness. For the wicked love those who love them. They walk in darkness, for they hate God and the neighbor. They are interested in the neighbor only in as far as the neighbor serves their own interests. “In this the children of God are manifest, and the children of the devil: whosoever doeth not righteousness is not of God, neither he that loveth not his brother.” I John 3:10.
GOD LOVES HIMSELF
This follows from the very fact that He is God, the fulness of infinite perfections. God loves His holiness, His justice, His truth, and His grace. In them His soul delights. In them is all His blessedness. This love finds expression within God’s own Being; for God is one in Being and three in Persons. The Father loves the Son, and gives expression to that love by saying in every conceivable manner: “Thou art My Son, this day have I begotten Thee.” The Son loves the Father, and turns His face to the Father to delight in His perfections, in order that they may radiate upon His countenance, and He may show forth the glory of God as the Word, the revelation of the Father. Father and Son love the Spirit, even as the Spirit seeks them in love, always delving into the infinite depths of God’s glorious virtues, that through Him the Word may give expression to the exalted NAME of the Most High, writing that NAME upon all God’s handiwork, now and unto all eternity, that God may be all in all.
GOD LOVES THE CHRIST
Since love is the bond of perfectness in God, it also follows that God loves the Christ. God loves Him because in the eternal counsel Christ “is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of every creature: for by him were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers: all things were created by him, and for him: and he is before all things, and by him all things consist.” Col. 1:15-17. Or to express it in the majestic language of Hebrews 1:1-6, “God who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets, hath in these last days spoken unto us by His Son, whom he hath appointed heir of all things, by whom also he made the worlds; who being the brightness of his glory, and the express image of his person, and upholding all things by the word of his power, when he had by himself purged our sins sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on high, being made so much better than the angels, as he hath by inheritance obtained a more excellent name than they.”
Those two passages of Scripture so profoundly and so beautifully declare to us the love of God that each word deserves to be underscored. But the point I want to make is this, that Christ is the perfect object of the love of God. In Christ God reveals that bond of perfectness that is so uniquely His, for God is love.
GOD LOVES HIS PEOPLE IN CHRIST
Scripture uses the figure of the Bridegroom and His Bride to describe the exclusive and intimate bond of love. that exists between God and His people in Christ. Christ is also called the Head, while His people are the members of His Body. And again, Christ is the Good Shepherd Who loves and cares for His sheep. In fact, one of the basic truths of Scripture is the intimate fellowship of God’s covenant, whereby God unites Himself to His people, and His people to Himself in everlasting blessedness. God says to Abraham, and in him to all his spiritual seed, to all true believers, “I will establish my covenant between me and thee and thy seed after thee in their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be a God unto thee, and to thy seed after thee.” Gen. 17:7 Therefore when all things are accomplished, John in vision sees “the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.” Rev. 21:2. And he hears a great voice out of heaven, saying, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God Himself shall be with them, and be their God.” vs. 3.
THIS LOVE IS ALWAYS PARTICULAR
God loves His people in Christ, but He hates all the workers of iniquity. Psalm 5:5. Since God loves holiness, that very love turns in hatred against unholiness and sin. Since He is righteous, He burns with righteous indignation against all wickedness. Since He loves Himself as the sole Good, He banishes from His presence all that is in conflict with His Holy Name. God is a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate Him. No one has ever dared to deny that God hates the devil. And yet also the devil is one of God’s creatures, who was created as a holy angel. If God hates the devil and his host, does He not hate those who are branded in Scripture as the very seed of the serpent, a generation of vipers? Nor can we distinguish between the deed and the person, as if God hates the sin but loves the sinner. For the deed can never be separated from the depravity of the one who commits the sin, nor can the guilt be reckoned to anyone but the guilty party. Therefore God does not banish sin to hell, but the sinner. The Word of God never hesitates, therefore, to declare that God’s very soul hates the wicked and him that loveth violence.Psalm 11:5. “Jacob have I loved, and Esau have I hated.”Romans 9:13. See also verses 17 and 18.
Anyone who proclaims the glorious Gospel of God’s eternal, sovereign love to His people in Christ can and must declare the whole counsel of God, even as Scripture always does.
PARTICULAR LOVE AND PARTICULAR ATONEMENT
Now this may seem to be an unduly long approach to our present subject of particular atonement. Yet the love of God and the atonement of the cross are most intimately related. Also Prof. Dekker speaks of both in one breath when he wants to declare on the mission field to all men promiscuously, “God loves you, Christ died for you.” If, as Prof. Dekker and others maintain, God loves all men, it must necessarily follow that Christ died for all men. A universal love and a universal atonement go hand in hand. There can be no doubt about that. While, on the other hand, if we maintain with Scripture and our Confessions that Go love is a particular and distinctive love to His people in Christ, then it must also follow that the atonement of the cross is particular in all its aspects.
God reveals His love to us in the cross of Jesus Christ as nowhere else. There the love of God shines forth in all its radiant brilliance of divine majesty. There the full power of that love is revealed in consuming wrath and redeeming mercy. God never loved His Son more, if I may say so, than at the moment when the Son brought the sacrifice for sin in His own body. And yet there God’s love burned in consuming wrath against our sins. God so loved us, that He spared not His only begotten Son, but gave Him unto the accursed death of hell for our sins. Rather would God commit His Son to the torments of hell than that His people should perish. God paid the price of His own blood in the death of His Son, Jesus Christ, to pay the ransom price for our sins. Greater love than that there simply is not, according to the Gospel. Love and atonement are inseparably one.
Now Prof. Dekker likes to speak of but one love of God. And he is so very right. He also likes to speak of one grace of God. And again, he is absolutely right. God’s love and grace are always one in God. They have their source in the heart of God. They are perfections of His glorious Being. They have their meritorious basis in the cross. They find their expression by the work of the Holy Spirit of Christ in our hearts. They are the power of God that draws us from death into life, from darkness of banishment of sin into the glorious liberty of the sons of God. God’s love is saving, even as God’s grace is saving. Dekker is right about that.
But Dekker wants to maintain that God’s love is unlimited in its scope, that it is universal, to all mankind. He wrote in the Reformed Journal of December, 1962,
“Love without limit! Can an unlimited love be limited in its scope? Can an unrestricted love be restricted in those whom it loves? Can the infinite love of the incarnation have as its object only a part of mankind? Hardly. Neither does the Bible teach this. Rather we are told, “God so loved the world that he gave.” Whether taken as the cosmos or as the human race, “world” in this passage clearly covers all men. By no strain of exegesis can God’s redemptive love be confined to any special group. Neither the language of this verse nor the broadest context of Scripture will allow any other interpretation but that God loves all men.
And yet Prof. Dekker wants to distinguish between love that is “redemptive” and love that is “redeeming.” He writes:
“There are, therefore, three senses in which we may legitimately speak of the atonement as being universal in design, i.e., the sufficiency, and availability of salvation for all men and the divine desire that all will receive it. The only point at which Scripture and the Reformed confessions point to a limited design in the atonement is at the point of efficacy. Only there can a doctrine of limited atonement be formulated which does not do clear violence to Biblical teaching concerning the universal love of God.” Reformed Journal, December 1962.
Is Dekker talking about a divine love that is thwarted by some?
Are there instances where God loves in vain? Or is the Almighty capable of loving with a love that does not exert all its power to draw to Himself and to save? Did Christ die in vain?
By what right, on the basis of Scripture, can we distinguish between one and the same love that saves and does not save?