God’s Love is Difficult to Understand if God Desires to Save those who Refuse God’s Offer
D A Carson, The Difficult Doctrine of the Love of God, Crossway, 76—-“If one holds that the Atonement is sufficient for all and effective for the elect, both sets of texts and concerns are accommodated.”
John Calvin— “This passage of the apostle (1 Tim. ii. 4) was long ago brought forth by the Pelagians, and handled against us with all their might. . . . I have nevertheless extorted from Pighius this much: that no one but a man deprived of his common judgment can believe that salvation was ordained by the secret counsel of God equally and indiscriminately for all men. The true meaning of Paul, however, in this passage now under consideration is clear. The apostle is exhorting that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks, be made for all men: for kings and all that are in authority. Who does not see that the apostle here is speaking of orders of men rather than of individuals? ”
Calvin: “But Paul teaches us (continues Georgius) that God would have all men to be saved. It follows, therefore, according to his understanding of that passage, either that God is disappointed in His wishes, or that all men without exception must be saved. If he should reply that God wills all men to be saved on His part, or as far as He is concerned, seeing that salvation is, nevertheless, left to the free will of each individual,
Calvin: “I, in return, ask him why, if such be the case, God did not command the Gospel to be preached indiscriminately from the beginning of the world? why he suffered so many generations of men to wander for so many ages in all the darkness of death? ”
David Engelsma—The love of God of John 3:16 and the will of God for the salvation of sinners of John 3:16 are expressed in the giving of the only begotten Son to the death of the cross: “God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son.” If the love of God of the text and the desire of God for the salvation of sinners in the text are universal, so also is the atonement of the cross universal. The editors of the book themselves teach this idea of God’s desire to save all sinners in their introductory essay. They deny that the love of God in John 3:16 “refers to his love for the elect.” Explaining the love of God in John 3:16 in the light of their own notion of “the universal offer of Christ to all,” they open the way to viewing the giving of the Son in John 3:16 as a giving for the salvation of all, that is, as universal atonement (40). Typical of the weakness in the matter of the “well-meant offer” that runs through the entire book (From Heaven He Came) is Schreiner’s explanation of I Timothy 4:1. “God desires all to be saved” (386)
Engelsma—Schreiner does not hesitate to draw out the implication of the supposed desire of God for the salvation of all, which is Schreiner’s theology. He speaks of “a desire of God that is frustrated.” Thinking to mitigate his heresy of a frustrated God, Schreiner adds, “in part” (393). In fact, the words, “in part,” only make the heresy palpable. Schreiner’s God is at odds with Himself. Like us mortals, He cannot make up His mind. Does He, or does He not, desire to save Esau? With His sovereign will of reprobation, no. With His fervent will of love and love’s desire, yes.
Davenant’s last words on the the atonement appeared in his posthumous “A Dissertation on the Death of Christ, as to its Extent and special Benefits.” The core thesis of the “Dissertation” posits two divine wills: “There was in Christ himself a will according to which he willed that his death should regard all men individually; and there was also a will according to which he willed that it should pertain to the elect alone” (424, 425).
D. Broughton Knox— Were it not true that Christ had died for all men, it would not be possible to extend a universal offer; for the offer, if it is to be a true offer, must rest on true and adequate grounds, which cannot be less than the death of Christ for those to whom the offer is being made (468).
Engelsma—To every human without exception, in his own words, “every person on the planet,” John Piper preaches, “God loves you, and he offers you in Christ the fullest possible redemption in everlasting, all-satisfying fellowship with himself” (665). Boldly avowing the contradiction which is Piper’s gospel, Piper declares that “Jesus sincerely desires all to be saved, yet he does not always act to bring all to salvation.” Similarly, “God desires the salvation of the lost, but he does not save all of them.” Piper teaches an incoherent, heretical doctrine of a will of God for the salvation of sinners that fails to save (which implies, as none of the contributors seemingly recognizes, that the explanation of the salvation of some is not the will of God, but their own will)
According to John Murray, “many benefits accrue to the non-elect from the redemptive work of Christ,” and chief among the benefits is “the free offer of the gospel.” That is, Christ died for all in certain respects, including God’s making to all humans an offer of salvation that is grounded in His saving love for all; that expresses a sincere desire of God for the salvation of all; that may announce to all that Christ died for them all; and that unmistakably leaves the impression with all that the efficacy of the cross with regard to their salvation depends upon their decision to accept the offer (657).
Engelsma–Piper’s tortured account of God’s love makes a mockery of that love. In His love for all, God offers salvation to all, desiring to save all. But at the same time, God decrees not to save all, so that His universal love actually increases the punishment of many. His love, and the giving of the Son to the death of the cross in this love, fail to save.
Engelsma—This is outrageous theology. Sailing under the flag of the Reformed faith, it pretends that the Canons of Dordt do not exist). The day I am deceived into believing this outrageous theology is the same day I become one of the most fervent advocates of universal salvation the world of theology has ever seen. The cross of Christ cannot fail of achieving the loving purpose of God and of His Christ. By virtue of the saving love of God, the almighty will of God, and the very nature of the cross, this is absolute certainty. The cross of Christ cannot fail. Every one for whom Christ died will certainly be saved. For even one to perish in whose stead Christ died, in the loving will of God, would be the “ungodding” of God, the exposure of Jesus Christ as both unjust and a failure.
more from the outrageous theology of D A Carson—
Surely it is best not to introduce disjunctions where God himself has not introduced them. Of one holds that the Atonement is sufficient for all and effective for the elect, then both sets of texts and concerns are accommodated. As far as I can see, a text such as 1 John 2:2 states something about the potential breadth of the Atonement When Jesus Christ died, John rejoins, it was not for the sake of, say, the Jews only or, now, of some group, gnostic or otherwise, that sets itself up as intrinsically superior. Far from it. It was not for our sins only, but also for the sins of the whole world. The context, then, understands this to mean something like “potentially for all without distinction” rather than “effectively for all without exception” – for in the latter case all without exception must surely be saved, and John does not suppose that that will take place.
Carson—In recent years I have tried to read both primary and secondary sources on the doctrine of the Atonement from Calvin on. [Footnote 3: One of the latest treatments is G. Michael Thomas, The extent of the Atonement: A Dilemma for Reformed Theology from Calvin to the Consensus (1536-1675), Paternoster Biblical and Theological Monographs (Carlisle: Paternoster, 1997).] One of my most forceful impressions is that the categories of the debate gradually shift with time so as to force disjunction where a slightly different bit of question-framing would allow synthesis. Correcting this, I suggest, is one of the useful things we may accomplish from an adequate study of the love of God in holy Scripture. For God is a person. Surely it is unsurprising if the love that characterizes him as a person is manifest in a variety of ways toward other persons. But it is always love, for all that.
Carson—I argue, then, that both Arminians and Calvinists should rightly affirm that Christ died for all, in the sense that Christ’s death was sufficient for all and that Scripture portrays God as inviting, commanding, and desiring the salvation of all, out of love . Further, all Christians ought also to confess that, in a slightly different sense, Christ Jesus, in the intent of God, died effectively for the elect alone, in line with the way the Bible speaks of God’s special selecting love for the elect
Carson– This approach, I content, must surely come as a relief to young preachers in the Reformed tradition who hunger to preach the Gospel effectively but who do not know how far they can go in saying things such as “God loves you” to unbelievers. When I have preached or lectured in Reformed circles, I have often been asked the question, “Do you feel free to tell unbelievers that God loves them?” No doubt the question is put to me because I still do a fair bit of evangelism, and people want models. I have no hesitation in answering this question from young Reformed preachers affirmatively: Of course I tell the unconverted that God loves them.
Carson: Certainly it is possible to preach evangelistically when dealing with a passage that explicitly teaches election. Spurgeon did this sort of thing regularly. But I am saying that, provided there is an honest commitment to preaching the whole counsel of God, preachers in the Reformed tradition should not hesitate for an instant to declare the love of God for a lost world, for lost individuals. The Bible’s ways of speaking about the love of God are comprehensive enough not only to permit this but to mandate it. [Footnote: see somewhat similar reflections by Hywel R. Jones, “Is God Love?” in Banner of Truth Magazine 412 (January 1998), 10-16.]
Carson—The Arminian believes that the cross is the ground of the Christian’s acceptance before God; the choice to believe is not in any sense the ground. Still, this view of grace surely requires the conclusion that the ultimate distinction between the believer and the unbeliever lies, finally, in the human beings themselves. That entails an understanding of grace quite different than the view that traces the ultimate distinction back to the purposes of God, including his purposes in the cross.
Assuming that whatever the taught was “the bible but not system” view of things, Spurgeon took the Arminian view of I Timothy 2:4 I quote: “You must, most of you, be acquainted with the general method in which our older Calvinistic friends deal with this text. “All men,” they say,–”that is some men”: as if the Holy Ghost could not have said “some men” if he had meant some men. “All men,” say they; that is, some of all sorts of men”; as if the Lord could not have said “All sorts of men” if he had meant that. The Holy Ghost by the apostle has written “all men,” and unquestionably he means all men. . . .
Spurgeon: “As it is my wish that it should be so, as it is your wish that it might be so, so it is God’s wish that all men should be saved; for, assuredly, he is not less benevolent than we are. . . . It is God’s wish that the sick should not suffer. Do you doubt it? Is it not your own wish? And yet the Lord does not work a miracle to heal every sick person. It is God’s wish that his creatures should be happy. Do you deny that? He does not interpose by any miraculous agency to make us all happy, and yet it would be wicked to suppose that he does not wish the happiness of all the creatures that he has made.”
Hugh L. Williams, in his excellent article on this sermon, gives a good reaction to Spurgeon’s assertions: “This is wrong. The Holy Ghost did not by the apostle write ‘all men.’ He wrote pantas anthropous. Now the question is what does the phrase mean.” Williams goes on to show that this means “all without distinction” rather than “all without exception.”
But hear more of what Spurgeon thinks he knows from the Bible: “God has an infinite benevolence which, nevertheless, is not in all points worked out by his infinite omnipotence; and if anybody asked me why it is not, I cannot tell…”
Spurgeon can tell you dogmatically what the Bible texts means. When contradicted (by an invented rhetorical dissent), instead of examining again his own reading, Spurgeon affirms the contradiction. and labels all dissent as rationalism: “Those who will only believe what they can reconcile will necessarily disbelieve much of divine revelation..Those who receive by faith anything which they find in the Bible will receive two things, twenty things, or twenty thousand things, though they cannot construct a theory which harmonizes them.”
mark: yes, I know that a confession is more than a system of theology, but it’s not less.