September 12, 2007

John Davenant (1572–1641) on the Greatest Love Argument

Objection 14. If we assert that Christ died for all, it will follow, First, That Christ had loved all men with the highest and greatest love. John xv. 13, Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends. And I John iii. 16, Hereby perceive we the love of God, because he laid down his life for us. Which does not appear, because he does not lead all to life by this death. Secondly, it would also follow, that Christ equally loved Peter and Judas, the elect and the non-elect. For he exhibited to all an infallible proof of the highest love; but there are no different degrees in that which is the highest. Lastly, if Christ so died for all that by his death he procured for those who were not elected only the possibility of salvation under the condition of faith, or a remedy only applicable, which he knew would not be applied, but for the elect the application itself and salvation; he may seem to have loved those more who were not elected than the elect, because it shews greater love to suffer death for any one in order to acquire for him a small than a great good; as he would shew a more ardent love for any one who should expose himself to death lest another should be hurt only a very little, than if he should do it lest he should be capitally punished.

Reply 14. The object of both these passages of Scripture is the same; namely, to kindle in Christians a mutual and most tender love from the example of our Savior Jesus Christ, who so far loved us as to endure death for us. But the sense of the words is this: To endure death or to give up life for another, is the greatest external effect and most evident proof of love; which, since Christ exhibited it towards us by laying down his life for us, we ought also, where there is need, to lay down our lives for the brethren, as it is the aforesaid place, I John iii. 16. Therefore, it is not enough that we should be ready to expend gold and silver, to undergo difficult labours or dangers for the brethren, because there is a much greater love, that is, a greater, more certain, and clearer proof of our love, namely, that we should lay down our life for them. And because there is nothing dearer to any one than himself, therefore there is no greater testimony of love than this, that any one should give himself up for his friend.

Now I come nearer to the solution and say, Although we confess that no one has greater love, that is, can manifest on his own part a greater external effect of his love, than in laying down his life, because no one has any thing more precious than his life; yet, we deny that it can be rightly deduced from hence, that the love of a person in dying for some others, is absolutely, simply, and in every respect as to them all, the highest and greatest that any one can conceive. For in the first place, when one person lays down his life for many, nothing hinders that he might not possibly love one more vehemently than another as to the internal act: as if we should suppose that Jacob had suffered death to deliver all his sons from captivity, yet we should assert rightly that he did not love them all in the highest degree, but he loved Joseph and Benjamin more than the others. Therefore, the highest love as to intenseness cannot be inferred in respect of all to whom this greatest proof of love is exhibited.

Secondly, Any one may give up his life for many promiscuously, and yet as to the greatness of the good willed, love some much more than others, and therefore not embrace all either with the highest or with equal love. For the greatness of love is not to be esteemed only by the precious thing which is given to the person loved by the lover, but by the benefits which are intended to be conferred upon the person loved by that gift. For example, if a king's son should suffer death for all who were guilty of treason, on this condition, that all should be absolved who were willing to humble themselves as suppliants before the king's throne, and faithfully promise obedience for the future; but he should design to obtain this in addition from his father for some of them, that on account of the merit of his death he would deign to persuade them to this submission and obedience, and having thus persuaded them, would not only absolve them, but also advance them to the highest honours: who does not perceive that death would have been endured for all, and yet that all were not loved in the highest and greatest degree? For since to love is to wish good things to any one, and to confer them, it follows that in a common benefit being granted to many, those are more loved to whom greater good things are designed and conferred from teh aforesaid benefit.

Lastly, Although men cannot exhibit to men a greater external testimony of love than that one should die for another, yet God the Father, Christ the Mediator, the God-man, and the Holy Spirit can exhibit a greater secret act and effect of their own love towards some of those for whom Christ died than towards others; as if they should determine to give to some not only remission of sins and eternal life through the merit of the death of Christ, provided they should believe in this their Redeemer; but also should choose some from eternity unto life effectually to participate in Christ the Redeemer, and should prepare for them and infallibly give all those things which should effect this infallible participation and application. From these things it appears that that inference is not tenable, Christ died for all; Therefore, he loved all with the highest and with equal love; because, this common benefit of his death being granted to all, yet he may love some more intensely than others, and decree, prepare, and give to some more and greater benefits from the merit of his death than to others. Which is evident in the elect themselves, for they all confess that Christ suffered for all of them, and yet no one would affirm that Christ embraced with equal love every one (if I may so speak) of the multitude of the elect, as he did the patriarchs, apostles, or his own most blessed mother, or enriches every one with equal gifts of grace and glory redounding from the merit of his death. But the other argument, in which it is inferred, If Christ suffered death for all, he would shew greater love to the non-elect than to the elect, because it argues greater love to endure death for any one to procure for him some little good than a great one, seems to me little agreeable to right reason. If different kinds of death were to be suffered for different persons, this objection might have some appearance of truth; but where one death is endured for all, there it is evident that he is more loved to whom he who dies intends more and greater benefits from this one death. For if to love is to wish good things to another, then to wish greater benefits is to love more. but in this manner the love of the dying Christ manifested itself towards the elect, and those who were not elected; for from one and the same death he willed that more and greater benefits should rise to the former than to the latter.
John Davenant, A Dissertation on the Death of Christ (London, 1832), 392–395.

No comments: