May 10, 2019

Reconciling Statements Made by J. Gresham Machen (1881–1937) on the Love of God

I recently saw this quote on social media1:
God, according to Jesus, was a loving Father; but He was a loving Father, not of the sinful world, but of those whom He Himself had brought into His Kingdom through the Son.2
Admittedly, at first glance, this reads badly. It appears as though Machen is denying that God the Father loves all men, and this is exactly how hyper-Calvinists (who deny the same) will want to read it. But this unqualified statement by Machen needs to be qualified by what he also said earlier in the same work:
God is indeed represented here [in Matthew 5:44–45] as caring for all men whether evil or good, but He is certainly not called the Father of all. Indeed, it might almost be said that the point of the passage depends on the fact that He is not the Father of all. He cares even for those who are not His children but His enemies; so His children, Jesus’ disciples, ought to imitate Him by loving even those who are not their brethren but their persecutors. The modern doctrine of the universal fatherhood of God is not to be found in the teaching of Jesus.3
Here we see that Machen affirmed, in accord with Matt. 5:44–45, that God indeed “cares” for all men, and that Jesus “loved” even those who were not His brethren, and therefore so should we. It should also be noted that Machen affirmed common grace in the same work, and also taught in another work that God wishes the salvation of all men according to Ezek. 33:11 and possibly 1 Tim. 2:4. So what is the explanation? Did Machen contradict himself on the issue of the love of God, even in the context of the same book?

My Explanation

I do not think it is reasonable to interpret Machen as contradicting himself on this point. In Christianity & Liberalism, as in several other works, Machen was countering the modernistic conception of the universal fatherhood of God. Mainstream Reformed theologians have acknowledged that there is a sense in which God is the father of all, in a creational sense (or God as creator), in accord with Isa. 64:8, Acts 17:28–29, and Luke 3:28, but they have also denied that God is the father of all by way of adoption (or God as redeemer4), obviously. It is in this latter sense, or the sense that “our Father” is being used in Matthew 5, that Machen denies that God is the father of all.

Notice in the original quote that Machen is contrasting the “sinful world” with those who have been brought into Christ’s Kingdom. He is not contrasting the non-elect with the elect as such, as hyper-Calvinists are prone to read things, but rather unbelievers (“the sinful world”) as over against believers (“those whom He Himself had brought into His Kingdom through the Son”). Even the unbelieving elect are not God’s children, yet, by way of adoption, and so they are also a part of “the sinful world” when still dead in their trespasses and sins. God is not even the “loving Father” of the unbelieving elect, in that adoptive sense.

I submit that the best reading of the Machen quote above should put the stress on the term “Father,” and that “loving Father” should be read in an adoptive sense, in contrast to the corrupt, universalizing modernistic sense. Machen should not be read as denying that God loved all men in any sense. He does love all, by way of “common grace,” in “caring” for all men, and in “wishing” the salvation of all men, as Machen elsewhere affirms. That is called God’s love of benevolence (amor benevolentiæ). Machen was rather denying that God was the Father of all in the sense that He is at peace with all men, with a love of friendship or amity (amor amicitiæ), or what is often called God’s love of complacency (amor complacentiæ5).

The quote is better read this way:
God, according to Jesus, was a loving Father; but He was a loving Father [by way of adoption], not of the sinful world, but of those [i.e. believers only] whom He Himself had brought into His Kingdom through the Son. (emphasis mine)
Machen should have been more careful in his terminology, or added some qualifying context to avoid confusion. But readers of Machen today should also be more careful if they are prone to read him as denying that God loves all men. That idea is not only against scripture and virtually the entire Reformed tradition, but it is also against the context of what Machen affirmed in the very same book.

1. I do not know if Matt Estes was using the Machen quote to deny (or to say that Machen denied) that there is any sense in which God loves the non-elect. As of today, he has not responded to the tweet comments I posted.
2. J. Gresham Machen, Christianity & Liberalism (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1990), 84.
3. Ibid., 60.
4. I am using “redeemer” in the sense of redemption applied. But in Machen’s own theology, it is right to limit the sense of the term “redemption” to the elect alone since Machen held to a strict view of the atonement. See “Constraining Love,” in God Transcendent (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1949; repr. Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1982). Also in “Constraining Love,” The Presbyterian Guardian 3.5 (December 12, 1936): 98–102.
5. Amor amicitiæ (love of friendship) is the sense in which God’s amor complacentiæ (love of complacency) is commonly used, though it may be distinguished from God’s simple love of complacency that He has for all of his creation as good (Wisdom of Solomon, 11:4). It is quite common for Reformed theologians to limit God’s love of complacency to God’s children who are in the obedience of faith. God’s love of complacency refers to God’s delight in that which is good. “In theological language the term ‘complacent’ is used more in line with its etymology than with its current usage. The Latin root [complӑcӗo, complacēntia, or complacēre] originally meant ‘to please greatly.’ In this sense, God’s love of complacency refers to His being pleased with His children.... Classical theologians saw this love of complacency as the delight God has for His creatures who manifest the light of His image” (R. C. Sproul, Loved by God [(Nashville, TN: Word Publishing, 2001], 143).

March 25, 2019

John Bartlet (c.1599–1680) on God’s General and Special Love

1. Take heed of concluding the special love, and favor of God to you, because of your prosperous condition in the World: for no man can know love, or hatred, by these outward things, Eccles. 9.1. The wicked have, usually, the most of them, Job 21. Psal. 73. Because it is their portion in this life, Psal. 17. end. And yet such is the deceit of Men’s hearts, as the most fetch the Evidence of God’s love to them from their prosperity in this World, from the abundance of these outward things, which they enjoy, as health, wealth, honor, birth, beauty, gifts, parts, knowledge, utterance, and the esteem they have in the World above others, and that amongst the wise, and the godly: whereas men may enjoy all these, and yet want the special love of God, (special, I say, not God’s general love) for you are to mark well, there is a double love of God, general and special; 1. General to all Men, of which you may read, Mark 10.21. Jesus beholding, loved him, (saith the Text, of the young Man.) 2. There is God’s special love to his Elect, of which you may read, 2 Thes. 2.16. John 13. Now God’s general and common love is manifested in bestowing on Men these outward temporal good things, as on the young Man, that came to Christ, to know what he must do to inherit Eternal Life; But for His special love, that is manifested in giving Spiritual blessings, as Christ, and his Spirit, and Grace, Faith, Repentance, Love, &c. His Fatherly Correction, and Chastisements, Heb. 12.6. And therefore take heed of concluding the special love of God, because of your prosperous condition, without an interest in Christ, and a work of grace.
John Bartlet, The Practical Christian: Or, A Summary View of the Chief Heads of Practical Divinity (London: Printed by T. M. for Thomas Parkhurst, 1670), 71–72.


March 23, 2019

Joseph Hacon’s (1603–1662) Response to the Double Payment Argument

Now because you think that you must maintain, some sins are forgiven absolutely, as of due debt, because otherwise universal Redemption, presupposeth two payments of the same debt, one from the Savior of the world, and another from the person impenitent or unbelieving, pag. 61. [“It is unjust to require two payments of the same debt.”] I desire your attention to what I shall now say. The work of the Son of God in behalf of lost mankind is set forth to us diversely; under the term and likeness of Reconciliation, or Atonement of parties that are at distance: of a Sacrifice offered to propitiate the Deity: of Adoption, whereby not only part for malefactors, but further, the state of sons and heirs is procured: of Redemption, whereby captives are ransomed by some price paid: of one that is punished in another’s stead, or for another’s fault, or that doth satisfy or discharge the debt, which some other owes. These particulars, with divers others, being of a different nature one from another, cannot all of them, perfectly agree to the work of man’s salvation, that Jesus Christ wrought. With men ordinarily, there is a numerical punishment, applied to a numerical or individual fault. But when Christ was smitten for our sins, the punishment was one, but of infinite value, applicable to the sins of all men, were there more than there are, or ever will be. In this similitude therefore, the respect of punishing the same fault twice, must be forborn: so must that also, touching a double payment of the same debt. But take the other similitudes; Reconciliation there may be, and Adoption there may be, which may come to nothing for want of the condition: and a general ransom may be many ways defective, as to some persons: and a Sacrifice may be offered, and the God not appeased; according as the Latins make a difference between Sacrificare and Litare: to your argument therefore I answer, when the payment or satisfaction is absolute, as to all effects, then there is no other satisfaction to be expected.

But when it is absolute as to some effect, and conditional, as to some other, then it is neither against reason, nor justice, nor custom, but that a payment, pardon or satisfaction may be twofold. The General ransom is absolute thus far, that God’s justice or wrath is appeasable. All sins are venial, and way made for pardon, the Covenant of works notwithstanding. But thus far it is conditional, that it shall not be actually beneficial for any to life eternal, but according to the tenor of the Covenant of Grace, namely, upon Repentance and Belief in the Son of God. I gave you the similitude of a general pardon granted from the King: to which you say not one word to the purpose, but most impertinently betake yourself to the point of Free-will, in the fourth Section of your former chapter. And as for the injustice you speak of, I answer, had we ourselves of our own, paid these our debts: or had our Surety and Redeemer paid them and satisfied for them so as that all men should by virtue of his sacrifice have been instantly discharged from all their sins, and admitted to possession of life, no condition whatsoever intervening: or had Almighty God made any such promise or agreement, with his son our Savior, to bestow faith and repentance upon all those, for whom he was to lay down his life: in any of these cases it had not been just to demand a second payment. But inasmuch as God himself did freely procure the ransom and satisfaction for our sins, it was free for him to annex thereto, what conditions it pleased him. There is therefore no wrong done to such persons as are punished for their sins, after the price of their ransom is accepted, because they did neither pay that ransom, nor perform the condition required.
Joseph Hacon, A Vindication of the Review. Or, the Exceptions formerly made against Mr. Horn’s Catechisme set free from his late allegations, and maintained not to be Mistakes (Cambridge: Printed by John Field, 1662), 141–143.

Hacon was a native of Topcroft, Norfolk, where he was born on the 17th of May, 1603. He was educated at Emmanuel College, Cambridge, and, after entering Holy Orders, was made Rector of Massingham in his 40th year. After a few years, he was made Registrar of the Parish. He was buried at Massingham Parva on the 18th September, 1662. See Ronald F. McLeod, Massingham Parva: Past and Present (London: Waterlow & Sons, 1882), 113–114.

March 20, 2019

Theophilus Polwheile (d.1689) on Christ’s Common Love and the Rich Young Ruler

Men may be honorable in respect of some good thing which they have, though contemptible in respect of some better thing which they want. Though men have nothing but gifts, yet they are amiable and honorable for their gift's sake. Christ loved the young man [the rich young ruler] for the excellency of his moral parts, Mar. 10:21. Now if Christ loves such, why should not we? Next unto those that have grace, come they that have gifts, though the men be bad, their gifts are good, and there is an honor due unto them. The Spirit of God will be acknowledged in gifts, as well as in grace, seeing He is the Author of both.
Theophilus Polwheile, Α᾿ΥΘΕ΄ΝΤΗΣ [Authentēs], Or A Treatise of Self-Denial (London: Printed for Thomas Johnson, 1658), 78–79. See John Collinges’s similar comments on the rich young ruler in the second quote here, which I recently added to the blog. See also Polwheile’s comments on Luke 14:26 on pages 222–223 where he says, “We are not to hate them [father, mother, wife, children, brother, or sister] absolutely, so as in no respect to bear any love to them, for we are commanded to love them, and to do good unto them, even the worst of them, as I have showed above.” This work, which cites many Reformed theologians and other Puritans, has a forward to the reader by Ralph Venning.
Christ doth not find his Works perfect before God, Revelation 3:2, therefore he is not well-pleased with him; therefore though he love him, as he did that young man [Polwheile means the "young man" in Matthew 19:21], it is but with a common love, not that love that he bears to a Saint, in whom is the beauty of self-denial, who follows him fully, as Caleb, Numbers 14:24, and fulfills all his will, as David did, Acts 13:22.
Ibid., 274.


February 25, 2019

Edward Elton (c.1569–1624) on God’s Special and Common Love

Now then to make use & profit of this, first this ground of truth serves to discover, that such persons as are out of Christ, they cannot possibly partake in God’s special love, nor in any token or fruit of that love of God. God may and does love them with his general and common love, as he loves all his creatures, as they be his creatures and workmanship of his hands, but undoubtedly he loves them not with his special love, and so long as they remain out of Christ, they cannot possibly partake in that love of God which he does communicate to his children, and what good thing so ever they enjoy, it is no token or fruit of God’s special love to them. Admit they have health, and wealth, and abundance of the good things of this life, yea admit they have grace in their souls, as the common gifts and graces of the Spirit they have wit, learning, and knowledge, and that of heavenly things, yea they have power to abstain from some gross sins, and such like, yet none of these things are tokens and fruits of God’s special love to  them.
Edward Elton, The Triumph of a True Christian Described: Or, An Explication of the Eight[h] Chapter of the Epistle of Saint Paul to the Romans (London: Printed by Richard Field for Robert Mylburne, 1623), 887. Elton also deals with the topic of God’s love for the elect prior to their conversion, even though in their unregenerate state they are children of wrath, even as the rest. See pp. 659–660.


Church of England clergyman, Bachelor in Divinity, and Preacher of God's Word at Saint Marie Magdalen Bermondsey near London. Elton was an eminent Puritan, and was installed (in the pastorate of Saint Marie Magdalens Bermondsey) in 1605. He was a strict Calvinist on the atonement, which is evident in several places in the above cited work. His other works include: An Exposition of the Epistle of St Paule to the Colossians (1615/1620/1637); An Exposition of the Ten Commandments of God (1623); A Plaine and Easie Exposition Upon the Lords Prayer in Questions and Answers (1624/1647); A Form of Catechising: Set Down by Questions and Answers (1629); The Complaint of a Sanctifyed Sinner Answered: Or, An Explanation of the Seventh Chapter of the Epistle of Saint Paul to the Romans (1653); The Great Mystery of Godliness Opened. Being an Exposition Upon the Whole Ninth Chapter of the Epistle of Saint Paul to the Romans (1653); Three Excellent and Pious Treatises; viz. 1. The Complaint of of a Sanctified Sinner. 2. The Triumph of a True Christian. 3. The Great Mystery of Godliness Opened (1653).

December 11, 2018

William Attersoll (d.1640) on God’s Desire for the Conversion and Repentance of Men

[Doctrine. God is desirous to have sinners brought to repentance.]

We learn hereby, that the Lord is very desirous to have sinners converted and brought to repentance, that so he may save them, Isa. 65:2. Ezek. 33:11. and 18:31, 32. Matt. 23:37. 2 Cor. 5:20. Peter preaches repentance to them that killed the Prince of life and denied him in the presence of Pilate, when he was determined to let him go, Acts 3:13, 15. Even to these that murdered and betrayed the Son of God, did the Lord offer salvation. To this end he is of such great patience, because he is not willing that any should perish, 2 Pet. 3:9. The reasons.

Because first, they are his creatures and his workmanship, and therefore there is great reason, why he should desire their good. Natural parents do desire to save and keep in health their children. They that belong to God are dear children, Isa. 49:15, 16. He loves Israel as his first born. Secondly, he has not only created them when they were not, but also redeemed them when they were lost, and that with no less price, then with the blood of his own Son, Col. 1:20. 1 John 1:7. Rom. 5:9, 10. If then he has done this for them, doubtless he will go forward with his love toward them: he will raise up them that are fallen, seek them that are lost, quicken them that are dead, and bring them home that are strangers to him. Thirdly, it is more honor to God to convert and save, then to destroy and cast away his people. Doubt not, but be well assured, that God will do that which tends most to his own glory, Rom. 11:1, 2. Justice and judgement causes him to be feared, but his mercy and love is that which makes him to be honored of men.

The uses remain. Has God an earnest desire to convert and save men? Then it ought also to be our desire to be like in this to our heavenly Father, that is, to labor to convert and bring him others unto God, that go astray from him: for in so doing we shall follow the footsteps and example of God; dealing with our brethren in mercy and compassion as God has dealt with us. Let the husband labor to convert the wise, and the wife to win her husband; the parents their children, and the children their parents: and every one to convert his brother. A duty most acceptable to God, and most profitable to others. An argument of love and charity, greater love then this can no man show. So says Christ to Peter, When thou art converted, strengthen thy brethren, Luke 22:32. James 5:19, 20.

Secondly, this serves to condemn the practice of many men in our times, and to testify that they are far from God, and can have no assurance to themselves that they are his children and bear his image. God is desirous to seek out and to save them that are lost [Luke 19:10], like the good Shepherd [in Luke 15:4] that leaves the 99 [sheep] in the wilderness, and this was the end of the coming of Christ. But we are for the most part careless in this duty: few do think it to belong unto them. Others are so far from seeking to convert, that they rather seek to subvert others: and of these the number is far greater than of the former, who do cross by all the means they can, the purpose and desire of God. He labors to save, and they do destroy; he to build, and they to pull down; he to plant, and they to root up; he to bring to heaven, and they to hell. These are of their father the devil, and his lusts they do: they join with him, they labor for him, they advance and enlarge his kingdom, and they seek to bring more unto him. This is a fearful sin, which we must repent of, or else we shall repent of it when it is too late.

Lastly, this must teach every one to have a special care of his own salvation, seeing God is so desirous of it. For every man should be more careful of his own good, than another, or of another’s. It is so in the body, it ought also to be so in the soul. We cannot be more careful of our own salvation than God is: & therefore seeing he is so desirous of it, let every man labor to do what in him lies toward his conversion, that so God may accept of him.
William Attersoll, A Commentarie upon the Fourth Booke of Moses, called Numbers (London: Printed by William Iaggard, 1618), 678. Some of the English has been modernized.


Credit to Travis Fentiman for originally finding and posting this material at Reformed Books Online.

July 24, 2018

Cornelis P. Venema on the Doctrine of Preaching and the Well-Meant Offer in the Canons of Dort

In the third main point of doctrine, this insistence upon the universal preaching of the gospel is further explained as a serious and genuine calling. Often called the “well-meant offer” of the gospel, this call is extended through the preaching of the gospel.
Nevertheless, all who are called through the gospel are called seriously. For seriously and most genuinely God makes known in his Word what is pleasing to him (quid sibi gratum sit): that those who are called should come to him. Seriously he also promises rest for their souls and eternal life to all who come to him and believe.26
26. The article in the Latin reads: “Quotquot autem per Evangelium vocantur, serio vocantur. Serio enim et verissime ostendit Deus verbo suo, quid sibi gratum sit, nimi rum, ut vocati ad se veniant. Serio etiam omnibus ad se venientibus et credentibus requiem animarum, et vitam aeternam promittit” (Schaff, [3:]565–6). Though this is not the place to address the whole subject of the so-called “well-meant offer” of the gospel, this Article of the Canons clearly suggests the doctrine. If God declares in the Word what pleases him, and if he seriously calls through the Word all to believe and repent, then it seems to follow that he is pleased to save those whom he calls. Those who reject the well-meant offer are not only uncomfortable with the language of this Article in the Canons but also unwilling to distinguish between God’s sovereign intention to save the elect only and his desire that all should be saved. The insistence that the latter distinction amounts to a logical contradiction is born from a failure to distinguish, to borrow terms from Dabney (see below), between God’s “executive volition” to save the elect only and his “propension” to show mercy to all. What to our understanding may appear to be a tension or contradiction, is only due to a limited comprehension of the things of God. The supposed contradiction between God’s sovereign decree of election and the well-meant offer of the gospel is what Cornelius Van Til properly termed an “apparent contradiction,” something which is mysterious to us but known by God to be fully harmonious and consistent. For representative treatments of this issue, see: Robert Lewis Dabney, “God’s Indiscriminate Proposals of Mercy, As Related to His Power, Wisdom, and Sincerity,” in Discussions of Robert Lewis Dabney, vol. 1 (1891; reprint, Carlisle, PA: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1982); John Murray, “The Free Offer of the Gospel,” in Collected Writings of John Murray, vol. 4: Studies in Theology (Carlisle, PA: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1982), 113–132; Iain H. Murray, Spurgeon v. Hyper-Calvinism: The Battle for Gospel Preaching (Carlisle, PA: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1995); A. C. De Jong, The Well-Meant Gospel Offer: The Views of H. Hoeksema and K. Schilder (Franeker: T. Wever, 1954); David J. Engelsma, Hyper-Calvinism & the Call of the Gospel, revised ed. (Grand Rapids: Reformed Free Publishing Assoc., 1994). The studies of Iain Murray and De Jong are historical in nature, though they join Dabney and John Murray in defending a doctrine of the well-meant offer. Engelsma represents the position of the Protestant Reformed Churches: though there is a universal call extended through the gospel to all, this call does not express any favorable disposition, good-pleasure or desire on God’s part that all should believe and repent and so be saved. See Joseph Hall’s article in this collection for a treatment of one chapter in the history of the debates in the Reformed churches regarding the well-meant offer.
Cornelis P. Venema, “The Doctrine of Preaching in the Reformed Confessions,” Mid-America Journal of Theology 10 (1999): 166–67.