In the second head of doctrine in these Canons, the fathers, dealing with the doctrine of the death of Christ upon the cross, set forth the doctrine of limited or particular atonement, and they emphatically (please note this emphasis as we underscore) endorse this manifestation of the love of God in Christ as only for the elect. We quote Art. 8:
For this was the sovereign counsel, and most gracious will and purpose of God the Father, that the quickening and saving efficacy of the most precious death of His Son should extend to all the elect, for bestowing upon them ALONE the gift of justifying faith, thereby to bring them infallibly to salvation: that is; it was the will of God, that Christ by the blood of the cross, whereby He confirmed the new covenant, should effectually redeem out of every people, tribe, nation, and language, all those, AND THOSE ONLY, who were from eternity chosen to salvation, and given to Him by the Father; that He should confer upon them faith, which together with all the other saving gifts of the Holy Spirit, He purchased for them by His death; should purge them from all sin, both original and actual, whether committed before or after believing; and having faithfully preserved them even to the end, should at last bring them free from every spot and blemish to the enjoyment of glory in His own presence forever.
And in the fifth and final head of these Canons, dealing with the perseverance of the saints, calling attention to the work of the Holy Spirit, which preserves God’s people even unto the end, the fathers declare that this takes place in the elect and is to be ascribed solely to the rich and free mercy of God. Please note how the fathers emphasize this. We quote, in support of this, Articles 6-9 of this fifth head of doctrine:
Art. 6: But God; Who is RICH IN MERCY, ACCORDING TO HIS UNCHANGEABLE PURPOSE OF ELECTION, does not wholly withdraw the Holy Spirit from His own people, even in their melancholy falls; nor suffers them to proceed so far as to lose the grace of adoption, and forfeit the state of justification, or to commit the sin unto death; nor does He permit them to be totally deserted, and to plunge themselves into everlasting destruction.
Art. 7: For in the first place, in these falls He preserves in them the INCORRUPTIBLE seed of regeneration from perishing, or being totally lost; and again, by His Word and Spirit, certainly and effectually renews them to repentance, to a sincere and godly sorrow for their sins, that they may seek and obtain remission in the blood of the Mediator, may again experience the favor of a reconciled God, through faith adore His MERCIES, and henceforward diligently work out their own salvation with fear and trembling.
Art. 8: Thus, it is not in consequence of their own merits, or strength, but of GOD’S FREE MERCY, that they do not totally fall from faith and grace, nor continue and perish finally in their backslidings, which, with respect to themselves, is not only possible, but would undoubtedly happen; but with respect to God, it is utterly impossible, since His COUNSEL CANNOT BE CHANGED, NOR HIS PROMISE FAIL, NEITHER CAN THE CALL ACCORDING TO HIS PURPOSE BE REVOKED, NOR THE MERIT, INTERCESSION AND PRESERVATION OF CHRIST BE RENDERED INEFFECTUAL, NOR THE SEALING OF THE HOLY SPIRIT BE FRUSTRATED OR OBLITERATED.
Art. 9: Of this preservation of the ELECT to salvation, and of their perseverance in the faith, true believers for themselves may and do obtain assurance according to the measure of their faith, whereby they arrive at the certain persuasion, that they ever will continue true and living members of the church; and that they experience forgiveness of sins, and will at last inherit eternal life.
Now we turn to our Heidelberg Catechism. Of course, we cannot quote from this entire book of instruction. Nowhere do we read in this Catechism of a universal or common love of God. We will limit ourselves to only one passage, Question and Answer 10, which we consider very striking and pertinent. We quote:
Q. 10. Will God suffer such disobedience and rebellion to go unpunished?
A. By no means; but is terribly displeased with our original as well as actual sins; and will punish them in His just judgment temporally and eternally, as He hath declared, “Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things, which are written in the book of the law, to do them.”
Please notice the following in this quotation. First, we should note Question 10 and its immediate answer: “By no means.” Will God ever suffer, allow disobedience and rebellion to go unpunished? Is there ever a moment when the Lord is not punishing the wicked sinner (the wicked sinner outside of Christ, of course); does God love him; does He delay or postpone punishment upon his sin until the Judgment Day? Is this life for that sinner a dispensation of grace and favor, in distinction from the hereafter which is an endless dispensation of Divine wrath and indignation? And. the answer is immediate: By no means! Secondly, God is terribly displeased with our original as well as our actual sins. Of course, our actual sins are constant. The sinner is never without them. Never does he do anything but sin. He cannot love God or the neighbor; hence, he always hates the Lord and his neighbor. Never allowing sin to go unpunished, the Lord is always punishing sin, also his actual sins. So, this punishment is constant. Thirdly, God punishes temporally and eternally. Temporally must not be identified or confused with temporarily. Temporarily means “for a time,” is not constant, comes to a stop. But the word “temporally” refers to this time, in distinction from “eternally,” the hereafter. That God punishes temporally and eternally means, therefore, that He is punishing all the time, now and forever. There is never a let-up in this Divine punishment. And, fourthly, notice, please, the quotation of Gal. 3:10 in this tenth answer. We read: “Cursed is everyone that continueth not in all things, which are written in the book of the law, to do them.” All the emphasis in this text must be laid upon the word, “is.” We do not read that he will be cursed, but that he is cursed.
This is the language of our Reformed Confessions; we read of no love or mercy of the Lord to anyone outside of Christ Jesus. And, incidentally, this particular keynote characterizes all the Protestant Reformed Confessions.
Turning next to the Scriptures, we remark, in the first place, that Scripture surely designates the objects of the Lord’s love and also of His hatred. On the one hand, the Word of God uses a synonym for love, namely: to know. We read in Ps. 1:6: “For the Lord knoweth the way of the righteous: but the way of the ungodly shall perish.” Do not minimize this particular Scripture. This Word of God is a key text, gives us the keynote to all the psalms. The psalms are full of this very thought; never do we read anything else throughout the one hundred and fifty psalms. And inRomans 8:29-30 we read: “For whom He did foreknow, He also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren. Moreover whom He did predestinate, them He also called: and whom He called, them He also justified: and whom He justified, them He also glorified.” Indeed, this “foreknowledge” of this text must not be confused with the Arminian conception of the foreknowledge of God. His conception of this foreknowledge is that the Lord saw beforehand who would believe and who would not believe; the believers He elected and the unbelievers He rejected. This surely does not make sense in the light of the rest of this passage. But this knowledge of the Lord is foreknowledge because it is before all things, in the eternal counsel of the Lord; and therefore this foreknowledge is mentioned first in the text and is the Divine source of all that follows in this particular Scripture.
On the other hand, the love of God is particular. Again and again, this particular love and grace of the Lord are emphasized at the beginning of the various epistles, in the apostolic greetings to the various churches, as, for example: Grace, mercy and peace be to all the saints in Christ Jesus, to the elect, etc. And this we also read in I Thess. 1:4: “Knowing, brethren beloved, your election of God.” They are addressed by the apostle as “brethren beloved,” and the meaning is that they are beloved of God. These elect beloved of the Lord must know their election. How often this’ particular love of God is mentioned in the psalms! Many, many passages can be quoted. We will quote the following:
Ps. 5:5: “The foolish shall not stand in Thy sight: Thou hatest all workers of iniquity.”
Ps. 11:5: “The Lord trieth the righteous: but the wicked and him that loveth violence His soul hateth.”
Ps. 34:16: “The face of the Lord is against them that do evil, to cut off the remembrance of them from the earth.”
The same sentiment is expressed in the Book of Proverbs. We again limit ourselves to only a few passages. Many could be quoted, but we quote only the following:
Prov. 3:33: “The curse of the Lord is in the house of the wicked: but He blesseth the habitation of the just.” Note well: the curse of the Lord is in the house of the wicked, and this means that this curse rests upon him and all that he has.
Prov. 11:20: “They that are of a froward heart are abomination to the Lord: but such as are upright in their way are His delight.”
In Deut. 7-8 we read of the love of the Lord upon Israel as in distinction from all other nations: “The Lord did not set His love upon you, nor choose you, because ye were more in number than any people; for ye were the fewest of all people: But because the Lord loved you, and because He would keep the oath which He had sworn unto your fathers, hath the Lord brought you out with a mighty hand, and redeemed you out of the house of bondmen, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt.”
In I Cor. 10:5 we read: “But with many of them God was not well pleased: for they were overthrown in the wilderness.”
And in Romans 9:13 we read: “Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated.”
Besides, this particular love of God is particular because it is sovereignly, unconditionally particular. To be sure, we read in John 3:16: “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” Now it is certainly true that any student of Holy Writ knows that the word, “world” does not always have the same connotation in the Word of God. We cannot, of course, treat this passage this evening. We do wish to remark that the expression, “that whosoever believeth” does not merely express God’s purpose in the sending of His Son, but also its result. Were it not for God’s sending of His Son it would be impossible for anyone to believe unto salvation, and we do well to remember that “believing” in the Scriptures always stands opposed to our works. But, we read in John 17:9: “I pray for them: I pray not for the world, but for them which Thou hast given Me; for they are Thine.” God should love the whole world, head for head, send His Son in order to save that entire world, and Christ should pray only for some, and, mind you, not for them who would come unto Him, but for them whom the Father had given Him? How strange this would be!
Indeed, the Lord chose Israel, but why did He choose Israel, according to Deut. 7:7? Did He choose them because of any superior qualities He found in them? But this word of God informs us that He chose them, not because they were more in number, but only because He loved them and would keep the oath which He had sworn unto their fathers. Surely, the love of the Lord upon Israel is solely of the Lord’s sovereign good pleasure.
The Lord chose Israel to be His people. He loved them in distinction from all the other nations and peoples of the earth. But does this mean that He loved all within Israel? To the contrary, we read in I Cor. 10:5: “But with many of them God was not well pleased: for they were overthrown in the wilderness.”
And this love of God, which rests only upon some within Israel, so that not all that are called Israel are the beloved of the Lord, is strictly sovereign and unconditional. How clearly this truth is set forth in Romans 9:10-13, and we quote:
For this is the word of promise, At this time will I come, and Sarah shall have a son. And not only this; but when Rebecca also had conceived by one, even by our father Isaac; (for the children being not yet born, neither having done any good or evil, that the purpose of God according to election might stand, not of works, but of Him that calleth:) It was said unto her, The elder shall serve the younger. As it is written, Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated.
Permit me in this connection to ask you two questions. First, why was Esau born first? He did not receive the blessing of the firstborn. Surely God caused him to be born first, sovereignly. This none will dispute. That Esau was born first was surely solely of the Lord. But why? Imagine all the misery and grief that could have been spared Rebecca and Isaac and Jacob had Jacob been the firstborn! Esau did not receive the birthright blessing anyway. So, why was Jacob not born first? Secondly, why must Rebecca and also we be told before these twins are born that “the elder must serve the younger?” Imagine if this had not been revealed to Rebecca and Isaac and to us? Had this not been revealed to her and us, would it not have been possible, in the light of Esau’s subsequent profanity, to conclude that he had been rejected and denied the birthright blessing because of his profanity and that he had rendered himself unworthy of it? He surely was profane, as we read it in Heb. 12:16: “Lest there be any fornicator, or profane person, as Esau, who for one morsel of meat sold his birthright.” Of course, the Lord had never given him the birthright, had never intended that the birthright would be his. But, viewed subjectively from the viewpoint of Esau, he, as the older of the two brothers, sold it. And he sold it for a morsel of meat, and thereby revealed his profanity, his complete and utter disdain and contempt for the blessing of the firstborn. But, was he rejected and reprobated because of his profanity? Esau is born first, and Rebecca and we are told before they are born, that “the elder would serve the younger,” because God loved Jacob and hated Esau before they did good or evil, in order that the purpose of God according to election might stand. And Jacob surely did not reveal himself particularly worthy of the birthright blessing. Hence, the love of God is solely particular, and it is sovereignly and unconditionally particular. God, Who loves Himself, only Himself, loves only His own, whom He has sovereignly loved, eternally; only in them does His soul delight, and this only for the sake of Jesus Christ, His Son, our Lord.
III. GLORIOUSLY EFFICACIOUS
In connection with the truth that the love of God is gloriously efficacious, we wish to quote the following Scriptures, some of which we have already quoted:
As an eagle stirreth up her nest, fluttereth over her young, spreadeth abroad her wings, taketh them, beareth them on her wings: So the Lord alone did lead them, and there was no strange god with Him.
For whom He did foreknow, He also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren. Moreover, whom He did predestinate, them He also called: and whom He called, them He also justified: and whom He justified, them He also glorified.
Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us, and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins.
We love Him, because He fast loved us.
And hope maketh not ashamed; because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us. But God commendeth His love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. For if, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of His Son, much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by His life.
What are the implications of these passages, and many more in the Word of God? Negatively, the love of God is wholly unconditional. This is not love, that we loved God. Love never proceeds from us, always from God. Nothing we do can ever prompt the love of God to us. Its success or failure is never dependent upon the will of a sinner.
And what are the positive implications of these passages? As the apple of His eye He leads us, all the way, and He leads us ALONE. There is never any strange god with Him, never anything of man. HE LEADS US ALONE! Esau He hated and from this follows all his misery; Jacob He loved, and, therefore, he is the firstborn in the counsel of the Lord. Whom He has foreknown, loved, eternally, He finally glorifies, and there is nothing, absolutely nothing that can possibly frustrate or thwart this. In His love He redeems us, while we were sinners; because of that love hope maketh not ashamed, never disappoints, never, falls short of our expectations; in fact, arriving in the city that has foundations, we shall exclaim that the half was never told us. We love Him, only because He loved, and loves us first. Of course! God is God! His love is eternal, unchangeable, wholly irresistibly and efficacious! Loving God, by His grace and Holy Spirit, we know that He loved us first; and being the apple of His eye, whatever life’s trails and vicissitudes may be, we shall be loved even until the end, even as we read it in John 13:1 (“Now before the feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that His hour was come that He should depart out of this world unto the Father, having loved His own which were in the world, He loved them unto the end”). And this wonderful love of God will surely guide us and keep us even until the end, and will surely lead us into everlasting and heavenly glory and immortality. Indeed, how wonderful is the love of our God!