God’s Love Narrowly Defined: It’s Christ’s Atonement

Today we have a guest blogger.

Matthew 5:43-48 says that God’s rain falls on the just and the unjust. Does that mean God loves the vessels of wrath in a sense? I don’t think so. God’s tornadoes fall on the just and the unjust also. I don’t think He is trying to say that God loves the vessels of wrath because it’s clear from Scripture that He hates them (Psalm 5:5, Psalm 11:5, Malachi 1:3, Romans 9:13)).

Also, God’s love in Scripture is defined by Christ’s atoning work on the cross for the elect alone.

The Sermon On The Mount has to do with God’s standards for
the elect. God Himself is not changing, but the standards for His children are. It is no longer an eye for an eye; “You have heard it said in the times of old,” but now I’m raising the bar for you. We should not hate our enemies as David did (Psalm 139:21,22).

Matthew 5:48 cannot mean that God is perfect because He loves His enemies. If God did not love any of His enemies, would that mean God is imperfect? No.

But if a Christian does not love His enemies, is she imperfect? Yes. Because she was given a command and she disobeyed. But God cannot be disobedient. God’s perfection is not measured by any human standard, and He is not bound to do everything He commands His creatures to do.

God always acts according to His own own nature. God always acts justly because God is just. But God does not always love any particular creature, and does not love the vessels of wrath.

Matthew 5:43-47 are commands for the elect. See also Luke 6:35,36 – “But love your enemies, do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High. For He is *kind* to the unthankful and evil. 36 Therefore be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.”

I do not think it necessary to explain John 3:16 as D.A. Carson does, because the same definition for “kosmos” in John 3:16 must be inserted into John 3:17. “The world” through Him is the elect, not every person who ever lived.

Defining kosmos as every single person who ever lived in John 3:16,17 results in universalism and wouldn’t make any sense, since there are millions already dead who will die the second death.

Carson argues that it is too cut and dry to say John 3:16 is only a
reference to the elect, and this is why he calls his book, “The Difficult”
doctrine of the love of God. God’s love is supposedly too difficult
to narrow it down to the fact that God loves the elect alone.
Carson is only making something difficult that is in fact simply and clearly laid out in Scripture.

D.A. Carson argues that God loves everyone equally, but also
loves the elect in an extra special way.This so called “love” is a very short fuse that runs out as soon as the vessels of wrath breathe their last. What good is it for God to give you the whole world, and in the end, not save you from his hate and wrath?

God is not willing that any of His elect should perish, but that all the
elect come to repentance. God does not bring destruction upon the earth now because He is still gathering a remnant, and the vessels of wrath live while God gathers that elect remnant.

How could anyone see love for Edom expressed in Malachi 1:4? God lovingly tears down everything they try to build? God lovingly
has indignation against them? I can’t see it.

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3 Comments on “God’s Love Narrowly Defined: It’s Christ’s Atonement”


  1. A very good article and a bold stand for the truth Brother Mark. To comment on what you have already said above I cannot do better than quote my most favorite of all Theologians and one to whom I owe my High Calvinism – A.W. pink –

    A.W.Pink on John 3:16!

    Turning now to John 3:16, it should be evident from the passages just quoted, that this verse will not bear the construction usually put upon it. “God so loved the world”. Many suppose that this means, The entire human race. But “the entire human race,” includes all mankind from Adam till the close of the earth’s history: it reaches backward as well as forward! Consider, then, the history of mankind before Christ was born. Unnumbered millions lived and died before the Savior came to the earth, lived here “having no hope and without God in the world”, and therefore passed out into an eternity of woe. If God “loved” them, where is the slightest proof thereof? Scripture declares, “Who (God) in times past (from the tower of Babel till after Pentecost) suffered all nations to walk in their own ways” (Acts 14:16).
    Scripture declares that,
    “And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a reprobate mind, to do those things which are not convenient” (Romans 1:28).
    To Israel God said,
    “You only have I known of all the families of the earth” (Amos 3:2).

    In view of these plain passages, who will be so foolish as to insist that God in the past loved all mankind! The same applies with equal force to the future. Read through the book of Revelation, noting especially chapters 8 to 19, where we have described the judgments which will yet be poured out from heaven on this earth. Read of the fearful woes, the frightful plagues, the vials of God’s wrath, which shall be emptied on the wicked. Finally, read the 20th chapter of the Revelation, the great white throne judgment, and see if you can discover there the slightest trace of love. But the objector comes back to John 3:16 and says, “World means world”. True, but we have shown that “the world” does not mean the whole human family. The fact is that “the world” is used in a general way. When the brethren of Christ said, “Shew Thyself to the world” (John 7:4), did they mean “shew Thyself to all mankind”? When the Pharisees said, “Behold, the world is gone after Him” (John 12:19), did they mean that “all the human family” were flocking after Him? When the apostle wrote, “Your faith is spoken of throughout the whole world” (Romans 1:8), did he mean that the faith of the saints at Rome was the subject of conversation by every man, woman, and child on the earth? When Revelation 13:3 informs us that “all the world wondered after the beast”, are we to understand that there will be no exceptions? What of the godly Jewish Remnant, who will be slain (Revelation 20:4) rather than submit?

    These, and other passages which might be quoted, show that the term “the world” often has a relative rather than an absolute force. Now the first thing to note in connection with John 3:16 is that our Lord was there speaking to Nicodemus—a man who believed that God’s mercies were confined to his own nation. Christ there announced that God’s love in giving His Son had a larger object in view, that it flowed beyond the boundary of Palestine, reaching out to “regions beyond”. In other words, this was Christ’s announcement that God had a purpose of grace toward Gentiles as well as Jews. “God so loved the world”, then, signifies, God’s love is international in its scope. But does this mean that God loves every individual among the Gentiles? Not necessarily, for as we have seen, the term “world” is general rather than specific, relative rather than absolute. The term “world” in itself is not conclusive. To ascertain who are the objects of God’s love other passages where His love is mentioned must be consulted.

    In 2 Peter 2:5 we read of “the world of the ungodly”. If then, there is a world of the ungodly there must also be a world of the godly. It is the latter who are in view in the passages we shall now briefly consider.
    “For the bread of God is He which cometh down from heaven, and giveth life unto the world” (John 6:33).
    Now mark it well, Christ did not say, “offereth life unto the world”, but “giveth”. What is the difference between the two terms? This: a thing which is “offered” may be refused, but a thing “given”, necessarily implies its acceptance. If it is not accepted, it is not “given”, it is simply proffered. Here, then, is a scripture that positively states Christ giveth life (spiritual, eternal life) “unto the world.” Now He does not give eternal life to the “world of the ungodly” for they will not have it, they do not want it. Hence, we are obliged to understand the reference in John 6:33 as being to “the world of the godly”, i.e., God’s own people.
    One more: in 2 Corinthians 5:19 we read, “To wit that God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto Himself”. What is meant by this is clearly defined in the words immediately following, “not imputing their trespasses unto them”. Here again, “the world” cannot mean “the world of the ungodly”, for their “trespasses” are “imputed” to them, as the judgment of the Great White Throne will yet show. But 2 Corinthians 5:19 plainly teaches there is a “world” which are “reconciled”, reconciled unto God, because their trespasses are not reckoned to their account, having been borne by their Substitute. Who then are they? Only one answer is fairly possible—the world of God’s people!

    In like manner, the “world” in John 3:16 must, in the final analysis, refer to the world of God’s people. Must we say, for there is no other alternative solution. It cannot mean the whole human race, for one half of the race was already in hell when Christ came to earth. It is unfair to insist that it means every human being now living, for every other passage in the New Testament where God’s love is mentioned limits it to His own people—search and see! The objects of God’s love in John 3:16 are precisely the same as the objects of Christ’s love in John 13:1:
    “Now before the Feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that His time 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”.

    We may admit that our interpretation of John 3:16 is no novel one invented by us, but one almost uniformly given by the Reformers and Puritans, and many others since them.

    • markmcculley Says:

      I just wanted to remind you that I didn’t write the original post. I had a guest, who wrote the initial statement for Amazon books review.

      I don’t care much about being a “high Calvinist”. Supralapsarianism is not my gospel. I only fight “common grace” because the Bible so clearly links the love of God to God giving Jesus Christ to death for those God loves.

  2. markmcculley Says:

    why does Matthew 5:48 come after Matthew 5:43-47.

    43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. 46 For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? 47 And if you greet only your brothers,[i] what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? 48 You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

    It’s not because verses 43 to 47 have commands which we cannot keep. Make no mistake, verses 43 to 47 do have laws which we cannot keep. But we cannot keep any of God’s law, because to do that we need to keep those laws perfectly.

    Verse 48 does not come after verses 43 to 47 because those commands are more difficult or impossible to obey than other commands. In context, what is commanded in verse 48 is our being indiscriminate, our not making a distinction between those who are enemies and those who are not enemies.

    Even though we are all enemies of God before justification, God does discriminate by electing in Christ some to be justified in Christ. But when verse 45 describes God sending rain on the just and the unjust, that is not describing God sending justification on the just and unjust. Nor is it describing God’s “desire to send justification to all of God’s enemies. The goodness of God is indiscriminate in sending rain on those who are justified and also on those who are not justified.

    We are not commanded to send justification to anybody. We cannot send justification to anybody. Nor can we send rain. But we are commanded to be indiscriminate, to NOT RETURN EVIL FOR EVIL, to not send evil to those who are evil, and good to those who are good. But we don’t like to be indiscriminate in this way.


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