March 24, 2008

J. I. Packer (1926–) on God's Love and Will

God's love is spoken of by means of a varied and overlapping vocabulary. Goodness (glorious generosity), love itself (generous goodness in active expression), mercy (generous goodness relieving the needy), grace (mercy contrary to merit and despite demerit), and loving-kindness (KJV) or steadfast love (RSV) (generous goodness in covenantal faithfulness), are the main terms used. The often-echoed self-description whereby God expounds his name (Yahweh, the Lord) to Moses on Sinai crystallizes these ideas: "The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin..." (Exod. 34:6-7). The New Testament gauges divine agape by the staggering gift of God's Son to suffer for mankind's salvation (see Rom. 5:7-8), and thus deepens all these ideas beyond what Old Testament minds could conceive.

God's love is revealed in his providential care for the creatures he made. "The Lord is good to all; he has compassion on all he has made...The eyes of all look to you, and you give them their food at the proper time. You open your hand and satisfy the desires of every living thing" (Ps. 145:9, 15-16; and see also Ps. 104:21; Matt. 5:45; 6:26; Acts 14:17).

God's love is revealed in the universal invitations of the gospel, whereby sinful humans are invited to turn in faith and repentance to the living Christ who died for sins and are promised pardon and life if they do. "God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life" (John 3:16; see also Rom. 10:11-13; Rev. 22:17). "God is love (agape). This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins" (1 John 4:8-10). And God in the gospel expresses a bona fide wish that all may hear, and that all who hear may believe and be saved (1 Tim. 2:3-6; cf. 4:9-10). This is love in active expression.
J. I. Packer, "The Love of God: Universal and Particular," in Still Sovereign, eds. Thomas R. Schreiner & Bruce Ware (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2004), 283.

Incidentally, I am only quoting the above passage to show Packer's statements about God's love, grace, mercy, goodness and universal saving will. I hope the reader does not get the impression that Packer no longer believes in a strict particular redemption. He does, as is seen in the rest of this writing. He favorably cites Berkhof, Owen, and Nicole with respect to their arguments on the nature and extent of the atonement.

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