January 28, 2008

John Bunyan (1628–1688) on General Love and Grace

God hath universal love, and particular love; general love, and distinguishing love; and so accordingly doth decree, purpose, and determine: from general love, the extension of general grace and mercy: but from that love that is distinguishing, peculiar grace and mercy: ‘Was not Esau Jacob’s brother?’ saith the Lord, ‘yet I loved Jacob’ (Mal. 1: 2). Yet I loved Jacob, that is, with a better love, or a love that is more distinguishing. As he further makes appear in his answer to our father Abraham, when he prayed to God for Ishmael: ‘As for Ishmael, [saith he] I have heard thee: Behold, I have blessed him, and will make him fruitful. But my covenant will I establish with Isaac, which Sarah shall bear unto thee’ (Gen. 17:20, 21). Touching which words, there are these things observable.

1. That God had better love for Isaac, than he had for his brother Ishmael. Yet,

2. Not because Isaac had done more worthy and goodly deeds, for Isaac was yet unborn.

3. This choice blessing could not be denied to Ishmael, because he had disinherited himself by sin; for this blessing was entailed to Isaac, before Ishmael had a being also (Rom. 4:16-19; Gen. 15: 4, 5, chapter 16).

4. These things therefore must needs fall out through the working of distinguishing love and mercy, which had so cast the business, ‘that the purpose of God according to election might stand.’

Further, Should not God decree to shew distinguishing love and mercy, as well as that which is general and common, he must not discover his best love at all to the sons of men. Again, if he should reveal and extend his best love to all the world in general, then there would not be such a thing as love that doth distinguish; for distinguishing love appeareth in separating between Isaac and Ishmael, Jacob and Esau, the many called, and the few chosen. Thus by virtue of distinguishing love, some must be reprobate: for distinguishing love must leave some, both of the angels in heaven, and the inhabitants of the earth; wherefore the decree also that doth establish it, must needs leave some.
John Bunyan, "Reprobation Asserted," in The Works of John Bunyan (London: Blackie & Sons, 1862), 2:340. Also in "Reprobation Asserted," The Whole Works of John Bunyan (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1977), 2:340. Archive.org has volume 2 of his Works HERE as well.


Note the association in Bunyan between "general love," "general grace and mercy," and "blessings." He does not think there is a general mercy but no general grace. Further, he does not believe there is a general grace but no general love. In his view, general love is manifested in general grace and mercy, and the example of the "blessings" that Ishmael received in Genesis 17 are given as an example of all of these things.

He even uses the expression "common grace" in the following quote:
Now the book of life in this place must not be so strictly taken as if it included those only that were elect of God to eternal life, but must be understood of that book wherein are recorded the rules and bounds of visible church-communion; and so all those that, through the gifts and operations of special or common grace, do fall within the compass of those rules and bounds. Thus it was in the type at the return out of captivity, none were to be admitted entrance into the church but those that could show their privileges by genealogy and the records of the church; and to others it was said that they had neither portion, nor lot, nor memorial, in Jerusalem (Ezr. 2:62, 63; Neh. 7:64, 65; 2:20).
 Ibid., 3:449.

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