April 9, 2012

A Brief Comment on God’s Love of Benevolence and Love of Complacency

A friend of mine on Facebook recently posted a picture that included these words:
God loves you because of who God is, not because of anything you did or didn’t do.
I left this comment:

While this quote says something that is true, it is too simple. As far as God’s “love of benevolence” which He has for all mankind made in His image, no matter what they do or don’t do, the quote is true. However, theologians rightly distinguish this sense of love from God’s “love of complacency,” which concerns God’s love for and delight in those who are obedient. The following passages speak to this second sense of God’s love, such that we may or may not abide in this love:

NKJ John 14:21 “He who has My commandments and keeps them, it is he who loves Me. And he who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I will love him and manifest Myself to him.”

NKJ John 14:23 Jesus answered and said to him, “If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our home with him.”

NKJ John 15:9–10 9 “As the Father loved Me, I also have loved you; abide in My love. 10 If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love, just as I have kept My Father’s commandments and abide in His love.”

One can see that this sense of God’s love is conditional, and depends on what we do or don’t do. We can liken these two senses of God’s love to human parents who love all their children no matter what they do or don’t do (“love of benevolence”), but take delight in and have a growing affection (“love of complacency”) for children who are obedient. Considering these two aspects of God’s love allows us to account for the above passages which are conditional, as well as for others that differ, and are unconditional in nature. The distinction is important.

Mark Jones noted:
This view [on love of benevolence and love of complacency, and God loving obedient Christians more and more] is by far the majority position among Reformed divines from the time of the Reformation onward, but today it is hardly ever discussed or preached on in Reformed circles.
Mark Jones, Antinomianism: Reformed Theology’s Unwelcome Guest? (Phillipsburg: NJ: P&R Publishing, 2013), 86.


MarieP said...

Mark Jones just gave an excellent paper on Antinomianism at the Andrew Fuller Conference at SBTS. He mentioned God's "love of benevolence" vs "love of complacency," and he stated that this was a distinction that may stem from Edwards, but that he hasn't seen a whole lot written on it except in various systematics. He has a whole chapter defending the concept in his forthcoming book (due out next month!)

Tony Byrne said...

Thanks for the notice, Marie. I hope that the Fuller Conference audio is posted on the Internet. I would very much like to hear some of the lectures.

Also, the love of benevolence (amor benevolentiae)/love of complacency (amor complacentiae) distinction is much older than Edwards. It is in the schoolmen (such as Aquinas and Anselm), the early Reformers and in the Puritans. Scroll through some of my Thomas Manton quotations and you will see him making the distinction. I've seen it in Witsius, Turretin, Ames, von Mastricht, Baxter, and others. The distinction is very old. It would not surprise me if it is in Augustine, Chrysostom, Aristotle (in his discussion on friendship) and Cicero.

Caleb Kolstad said...

I'm preaching through John 14:16-26 and found your comments here via google. Thanks for your work on this subject. Elyse Fitpatrick and others are not writing with enough theological precision and it is hurting the evangelical Church.

Caleb Kolstad said...

Also would you object to me posting this article on my personal blog

Thanks kindly,

Tony Byrne said...

Hi, Caleb.

Thanks for visiting my blog. I am glad you found the post and comments useful. I hope the insight edifies your congregation as you preach through those verses in John 14.

Feel free to share the article on your blog with a link to the original source.

Grace to you,