February 25, 2020

Simon J. Kistemaker’s (1930–2017) Doctrinal Considerations on 2 Peter 3:9

Even though Kistemaker seems to prefer to take the “you” (or the “us”) in 2 Peter 3:9 as applying to Peter’s readers, or to “his people” (which likely means the elect, in his view, or believers), not the scoffers, he still said:
Does not God want the false teachers to be saved? Yes, but they disregard God’s patience toward them, they employ their knowledge of Jesus Christ against him, and they willfully reject God’s offer of salvation. They, then, bear full responsibility for their own condemnation.33
33. Consult Louis Berkhof, Systematic Theology, 2nd rev. ed. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1941), p. 442.
Simon J. Kistemaker, James, Epistles of John, Peter, and Jude (NTC; Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2007), 334.

He then adds this doctrinal consideration:
Doctrinal Considerations in 3:18–19

“So wonderful is [God’s] love towards mankind, that he would have them all to be saved, and is of his own self prepared to bestow salvation on the lost.”34 So writes John Calvin on verse 9 and thus touches the doctrine of God’s mercy toward sinful man. Here are two examples of this divine love; one is from the Old Testament, the second from the New Testament.

First, God showed his love to Cain when he asked, “If you do what is right, will you not be accepted?” (Gen. 4:7). Yet Cain, filled with anger and jealousy, murdered Abel (v. 8). When God continued to speak to Cain, he did not meet a repentant sinner but a selfish individual who sought protection from an avenger. “Cain went out from the Lord’s presence” (v. 16), although God demonstrated mercy by shielding him (v. 15). Cain belonged to the evil one, says the apostle John (1 John 3:12). That is, he rejected God’s grace and mercy and willfully departed from God.

Second, before Jesus appointed the twelve disciples, he spent a whole night in prayer (Luke 6:12). He called Judas Iscariot to the circle of his immediate followers. After a period of instruction, Jesus commissioned the twelve disciples to preach the gospel, to heal the sick, to raise the dead, to cleanse the lepers, and to drive out demons (Matt. 10:7–8). In his love, Jesus commissioned Judas, too. Even at the last Passover celebration in the upper room, Jesus visibly indicated to Judas that he knew of the betrayal (John 13:26). Yet Judas delivered his Master to the chief priests. Granted that Judas was filled with remorse, he never repented (Matt. 27:3). He never returned to Jesus, but instead committed suicide.

When Paul writes that God “wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth” (1 Tim. 2:4; also see Ezek. 18:23, 32), he does not mean that all men are indeed saved. Although God desires the redemption of the entire race, he does not decree universal salvation. Therefore, in respect to the verb want or wish theologians distinguish between God’s desire and God’s decree.35

God extends his mercy to sinful man. However, when man repudiates God’s grace, divine condemnation hangs over him (II Peter 2:3) and he faces the inevitable day of judgment (3:7).
34. Calvin, The Second Epistle of Peter, p. 419.
35. Ibid. Compare [Edwin A.] Blum, 2 Peter [Hebrews–Revelation, in vol. 12 of The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, ed. F. E. Gaebelein (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1981)], p. 286.
Ibid., 334–335.


January 15, 2020

Robert Murray McCheyne (1813–1843) on God’s Wish for All to be Saved

Question: Does God not wish men to be saved? Answer: O yes; God willeth all men to be saved. I believe there is not one soul that the Saviour does not yearn over as he did over Jerusalem; and the Father says [in Psalm 81:13]: ‘O that they had hearkened unto me, and Israel had walked in my ways!’ But still, when Jerusalem resisted the word of Christ, Chirst said: ‘Now they are hid from thine eyes.’ And if you refuse the Word of Christ, and neglect this great salvation, I firmly believe that he shall soon come to you with Isaiah‘s dreadful message: ‘Hear ye indeed, but understand not.’
R. M. McCheyne, God Let None of His Words Fall to the Ground, in From the Preacher’s Heart (Additional Remains, 1846; repr. Geanies House, Fearn, Ross-shire, Scotland, UK: Christian Focus Publications, 1993), 94.

Notice that not only did McCheyne teach that God “wishes” all men to be saved, but he alluded to Matthew 23:37 for support. Moreover, it is not merely Jesus (or merely Jesus in His human nature), but the Father also (and so the entire Godhead, in Trinitarian harmony), who “yearns” over every soul according to Psalm 81:13.


November 15, 2019

John Stott on Ephesians 4:26–27 and Christian Anger

‘Be angry, but sin not’ is an echo of Psalm 4:4. It seems clear that this form of words is a Hebrew idiom which permits and then restricts anger, rather than actually commanding it. The equivalent English idiom would be ‘in your anger do not sin’ (NIV). Nevertheless, the verse recognizes that there is such a thing as Christian anger, and too few Christians either feel or express it. Indeed, when we fail to do so, we deny God, damage ourselves and encourage the spread of evil.

Scripture plainly teaches that there are two kinds of anger, righteous and unrighteous. In verse 31 ‘anger’ is one of a number of unpleasant things which we are to ‘put away’ from us. Evidently unrighteous anger is meant. But in 5:6 we are told of the anger of God which will fall on the disobedient, and we know that God’s anger is righteous. So was the anger of Jesus [Mark 3:5]. There must therefore be a good and true anger which God’s people can learn from him and from their Lord Jesus. I go further and say that there is a great need in the contemporary world for more Christian anger. We human beings compromise with sin in a way in which God never does. In the face of blatant evil, we should be indignant, not tolerant; angry, not apathetic. If God hates sin, His people should hate sin, too. If evil arouses His anger, it should arouse ours, too. ‘Hot indignation seizes me because of the wicked, who forsake thy law [Ps. 119:53].’ What other reaction can wickedness be expected to provoke in those who love God?

It is partiicularly noteworthy that the apostle introduces this reference to anger in a letter devoted to God’s new society of love, and in a paragraph concerned with harmonious relationships. He does so because true peace is not identical with appeasement. ‘In such a world as this,’ comments E. K. Simpson, ‘the truest peace-maker may have to assume the role of a peace-breaker as a sacred obligation’ [Commentary on the Epistles to the Ephesians and the Colossians. NICNT (Eerdmans, 1957), 108].
John R.W. Stott, The Message of Ephesians (Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 1979), 185–186.

Substitute the word “hate” for “anger” in the above quote and the same can be said about it.

June 10, 2019

Tom Nettles’s Summary of John Gill’s (1697–1771) View on the Love of God

The love of God, according to Gill, foundations all theology. God’s principal object of love is Himself. This is right and good, for He contains all excellence and perfection and worth. Second, God loves all that He has made, declares it very good and rejoices in His works. Because rational creatures are the particular objects of His care, love and delight, God supports, preserves and bestows the bounty of His providence upon all of His creatures.

To the elect, however, the Triune God bears a special love. Gill identifies this with the “great love” spoken of in Ephesians 2:4. The love of the Father is demonstrated toward the elect by His devising and effecting a plan whereby they might be reconciled to Him through Christ. The Father chose the elect in Christ from the beginning and, in Him, has bestowed upon them all other blessings. The Son’s love for the elect appears in His becoming a surety for their salvation by actually giving Himself as a sacrifice for them, laying down His life on their account, and shedding His blood for the remission of their sins. The special love the Spirit exhibits toward the elect appears in His convincing them of sin and righteousness, shedding abroad the love of God in their hearts, and implanting every grace in them.6
6. John Gill, Body of Divinity, 2 vols. (n.p. Tegg & Co., 1839; reprint ed., Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1978), 1:112–115.
Thomas J. Nettles, By His Grace and For His Glory: A Historical, Theological and Practical Study of the Doctrines of Grace in Baptist Life. Revised and Expanded 20th Anniversary Edition (Cape Coral, FL: Founders Press, 2006), 25.

Note: One should not think that Gill is altogether orthodox or within the boundaries of mainstream Reformed thought on the universal love of God. In classic Calvinistic and Puritan thought, God’s love for all men, including the non-elect, involves His benevolent desire for their ultimate well-being, and His beneficent love or kindness is given with a view to bringing men to evangelical repentance (Rom. 2:4). In Gill’s theology, however, God simply has a regard for the temporal/physical well-being of the non-elect, and a kind of passive delight in them as a part of His good creation as such (which is what Nettles outlines above). It is a “love” that is totally devoid of any willingness or desire on God’s part to bring them to evangelical repentance, though at times he may want to bring them to external, civil repentance, so as to get them to avoid some physical calamity. Nevertheless, at least Gill, unlike other hyper-Calvinists, acknowledges a sense of love in God for all men, and Nettles’s brief summary is basically correct, though it lacks nuance.

June 8, 2019

Peter van Mastricht (1630–1706) on Common Grace

What is common grace and what sort is it?
XVI. There is, second, common grace, by which he dispenses moral goods, particularly to men, but indiscriminately, to the elect and the reprobate. To this kind of grace belong the virtues of the intellect, such as ingenuity, wisdom, and prudence (Ex. 31.3), as well as the virtues of the will, the ethical virtues (Luke 18:11), of which kind are all the virtues of pagans and unbelievers. In this number should be reckoned those things that appear more closely to approach saving things, such as are mentioned in Hebrews 6:4–5, Isaiah 58:2, and 1 Corinthians 13:1. To this pertains external calling to participation in Christ through the proclamation of the Word (Ps. 147:19–20; Matt. 20:16, and also internal calling through some sort of illumination, and all those good things which are conspicuous in temporary believers (Matt. 13:20–21).
Petrus van Mastricht, Theoretical-Practical Theology. Volume 2: Faith in the Triune God, trans. T. M. Rester, ed. J. R. Beeke and M. T. Spangler (Grand Rapids, MI: Reformation Heritage Books, 2019), 354; 1.2.17 §XVI.

Wiki (WDE)

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.