God So Loved -- ALL Men!
by Harold Dekker Associate Professor of Missions, Calvin Theological Seminary
The most basic and comprehensive of all missionary principles is the love of God. In divine love missions finds both its conception and its initiation. "God so loved . . . that he gave. . . ." From God's love missions draws its motivation and its methodology. As Paul puts it, "The love of Christ constraineth us." Moreover, the message of missions is a message of the love of God. It proclaims that God is love, that He has acted in love for man's salvation and that this love demands decisive response.
How much did God love? So much that He gave His only begotten Son. So much that He emptied Himself; He gave Himself. The amount of the love is indicated by the amount of the gift. That means no less than an infinite love.
Love without limit! Can an unlimited love be limited in its scope? Can an unrestricted love be restricted in those whom it loves? Can the infinite love of the incarnation have as its object only a part of mankind? Hardly. Neither does the Bible teach this. Rather we are told, "God so loved the world that he gave." Whether taken as the cosmos or as the human race, "world" in this passage clearly covers all men. By no strain of exegesis can God's redemptive love be confined to any special group. Neither the language of this verse nor the broadest context of the Scripture will allow any other interpretation but that God loves all men.
The universal love of God is taught in the Old Testament as well as the New. God's very love of Israel was a way of expressing His love for all men. In her would all the nations of the earth be blessed. She was called to be a priest-nation for all the nations, as Levi was a priest-tribe for all her tribes. In many ways Israel was reminded that though God dealt temporarily in a special way with her, His love was really for all men. Her feasts and her temple were open to all without discrimination. Her passover was restricted, but open to anyone who by way of circumcision would meet the full conditions of the covenant. Furthermore, Israel was admonished to love all men precisely because God loved all men indiscriminately. "Jehovah your God, he is God of gods, and Lord of lords, the great God, the mighty, and terrible, who regardeth not persons, nor taketh reward. He doth execute justice for the fatherless and widow, and loveth the sojourner, in giving him food and raiment. Love ye therefore the sojourner" (Deut. 10:17-19).
When Jesus taught His followers to love their enemies, the clear premise of His precept was the fact that God loves His enemies (Matt. 5:43-45 and Luke 6:35). Already in Proverbs came the lofty injunction: "If thine enemy be hungry, give him bread to eat; and if he be thirsty, give him water to drink" (Prov. 25:21). Is then the servant greater than his Lord? Is the creature nobler than the Creator? God loves His enemies; God loves all men.
The universal love of God is also revealed in His invitation of the gospel, sincerely extended to all without reservation or limitation. Scripture gives numerous examples of God's universal and well-meant offer of the gospel (e.g., Isa. 45:22 and Matt. 11:28). The Canons of Dort also speak clearly: "The promise of the gospel is that whosoever believes in Christ crucified shall not perish, but have eternal life. This promise, together with the command to repent and believe, ought to be declared and published to all nations, and to all persons promiscuously and without distinction, to whom God out of His good pleasure sends the gospel" (II-5). In that connection the following may also be noted: "As many as are called by the gospel are unfeignedly called. For God has most earnestly and truly declared in His Word what is acceptable to Him, namely, that those who are called should come unto Him. He also seriously promises rest of soul and eternal life to all who come to Him and believe (III, IV-8).
Moreover, God's sincere invitation of the gospel to all involves His desire that it be accepted by all. In a purely theoretical way it is possible to conceive of someone offering something to another without the desire that it be accepted. But the Scriptures allow no such casuistry in conceiving of God's offer of the gospel to all men. The question of Ezekiel 18:23 is answered by Ezekiel 33:11 -- "Have I any pleasure in the death of the wicked? saith the Lord Jehovah; and not rather that he should return from his way and live? . . . Say unto them, As I live, saith the Lord Jehovah, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked; but that the wicked turn from his way and live." On the former verse Calvin comments: "God desires nothing more earnestly than that those who were perishing and rushing to destruction should return to the way of safety." Concerning II Peter 3:9 -- "not wishing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance" -- Calvin says, "So wonderful is his love to all men that he would have them all to be saved." One more Scripture passage will suffice: "I exhort therefore . . . that supplications, prayers, intercessions, thanksgivings be made for all men. . . . This is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour; who would have all men to be saved, and come to the knowledge of the truth" (I Tim. 2:1-4).
The universal love of God stands out in Scripture in bold beauty and unimpaired power. It is regrettable that some theologians, for the sake of a limited election, place limitation on the love of God. The most extreme and destructive form that this takes is the arbitrary interpretation of words such as "world" as "elect world," and "all men" as "all elect men." This kind of limitation has neither hermeneutical nor dogmatical justification. However, a basically similar compromise of the Biblical paradox is made by those who distinguish between two kinds of love in God, positing a qualitative difference between God's love for all men and His love for the elect. Their view is not altogether unlike the view of those who say that God loves elect men and hates all other men. Essentially these two views are different forms of a double-track theology which drives a wedge into the very nature of God and which sacrifices Biblical realism to logical structure. God's love is love. It cannot be something else. Where in Biblical language or concept is there a qualitative difference within love as agape? Where in man's experience with God is there something which is at one and the same time both love and other-than-love? A qualitative disjunction between different kinds of divine love is a sheer contradiction in terms. It safeguards neither the love of God nor the decree of election.
This leads us to a consideration of the relationship between universal divine live and the atonement of Christ. If God's love in giving Christ is universal, is the atonement universal? Or is it limited? Before answering this question we must carefully understand the terms which it uses and the alternative which is poses.
Just what is the Reformed doctrine of limited atonement? As far as the average reader of this journal is concerned, the definition of Louis Berkhof may be considered representative. We quote from his Systematic Theology: "The question with which we are concerned at this point is not (a) whether the satisfaction rendered by Christ was in itself sufficient for the salvation of all men . . . (b) whether the saving benefits are actually applied to all men . . . (c) whether the bona fide offer of salvation is made to all that hear the gospel . . . nor (d) whether an of the fruits of the death of Christ accrue to the benefit of the non-elect. . . . On the other hand, the question does relate to the design of the atonement. Did the Father in sending Christ, and did Christ in coming into the world to make atonement for sin, do with the design or for the purpose of saving only the elect or all men? That is the question, and that only is the question. . . . If it had been His intention to save all men, this purpose couldnot have been frustrated by the unbelief of man" (pp. 393-395).
In order to evaluate Berkhof's position, let us first consider the Biblical evidence which he cites. We quote his own statement: "Scripture repeatedly qualifies those for whom Christ laid down His life in such a way as to point to a very definite limitation. Those for whom He suffered and died are variously called 'His sheep,' John 10:11, 15, 'His Church,' Acts 20:28, Eph. 5:25-27, 'His people,' Matt. 1:21, and 'the elect,' Rom. 8:32-35" (p. 395). These passages do not adequately support Berkhof's argument. In none of them is the predication regarding those for whom Christ died stated exhaustively or exclusively. They do affirm that Christ died for His sheep, His Church, His people or the elect, but about the possibility that He may also have died for others these passages say nothing. Moreover, if the predications made are to be taken as limitations, consistent interpretation of similar passages results in absurdity. Then, for instance, Isaiah 58:8 teaches that Christ died only for Israel and Galatians 2:20 that He died only for Paul. It would appear that the passages used by Berkhof as proof of his position really beg the question. They are relevant to his argument only when they are first interpreted in the light of the doctrine which they are used to prove.
Scriptural evidence used by Berkhof is further brought into question by the fact that Scripture speaks also of the death of Christ as being "for every man" (Heb. 2:9), "for the whole world" (1 John 2:2), for "many" (Matt. 20:28) and "for all" (1 Tim. 2:6). To say the least, the proof texts used by Berkhof must be interpreted in connection with the foregoing. It may also be suggested that the Bible speak of the design or purpose of the atonement in differing senses, which we elucidate further below.
In addition to Biblical data we should note what the Canons of Dort have to say. The question for Berkhof is the design of the atonement as such. To this detached question the Canons do not speak. They speak of the design of the atonement as far as its "saving efficacy" is concerned. The relevant statement (from II-8) is as follows: "For this was the sovereign counsel and most gracious will and purpose of God the Father that the quickening and saving efficacy of the most precious death of His Son should extend to the elect, for bestowing upon them alone the gift of justifying faith, thereby to bring them infallibly to salvation; that is, it was the will of God that Christ by the blood of the cross . . . should effectually redeem out of every people, tribe, nation and language . . . all those, and those only, who were from eternity chosen to salvation and given Him by the Father; that He should confer upon them faith, which, together with all the other saving gifts of the Holy Spirit, He purchased for them by His death.
"Limited atonement" as taught by the Canons is not precisely the same, it seems, as that taught by Berkhof. Dort did not deal with the design of the atonement in general, as Berkhof does. It dealt rather with the design of the atonement in specific connection with the efficacious application of saving grace. Contrary to the Arminians who taught that the atonement was intended to apply enabling grace to all men, Dort insisted that the atonement in no sense was intended to effectuate saving grace for all men. The key phrases in the above excerpt from the Canons are "saving efficacy," "justifying faith" and "effectually redeem." But Berkhof deals with the design of the atonement in a broader sense and it seems clear that the Canons of Dort do not demand adherence to the doctrine of limited atonement in exactly the way he sets forth.
Limited atonement as construed by Berkhof is apparently more a logical inference from the doctrine of election than a Biblically demonstrable doctrine. If any doctrine of limited atonement is allowed to stand as mere logical inference, without compelling Biblical evidence, it must be recognized that by equally logical inference from the doctrine of election one may hold that God loves not all men but only some, and that God's sincere offer of the gospel is not for all but for a limited number. We must accept the paradoxes of Scripture wherever we find them, not merely where they suit our dogmatical predilections.
Now let us return to our original question. Is the atonement limited or universal in its design? The answer depends on what we mean by design. As far as the atonement is concerned, four factors may be distinguished when we speak of design: sufficiency, availability, desire, and efficacy.
First, can those who recognize the sufficiency of the atonement for all men, as Berkhof certainly does, deny that this was part of its design? If universal sufficiency is not part of the divine design of the atonement it is an accident, an unintended by-product. Any such conception is of course theologically impossible and amply discredited by the Bible.
Second, is the salvation which the atonement provides available to all men? Indeed it is. Otherwise the well-meant offer of the gospel is a farce, for it then offers sincerely to all men what cannot be sincerely said to be available to all. Moreover, Scripture such as Titus 2:11 is very precise at this point: "For the grace of God hath appeared, bringing salvation to all men."
Third, does God desire the salvation of all? This we have already shown. Can God's desire for the salvation of all men be dissociated from His design in the atonement? Not according to logic or, more decisively, Biblical teaching. 1 Timothy 2:4-6 says about the design of God's desire: "Who would have all men to be saved, and come to the knowledge of the truth. For there is one God, one mediator also between God and men, himself man, Christ Jesus, who gave himself a ransom for all."
There are, therefore, three senses in which we may legitimately speak of the atonement as being universal in design, i.e., the sufficiency and availability of salvation for all men and the divine desire that all will receive it. The only point at which Scripture and the Reformed confessions point to a limited design in the atonement is at the point of efficacy. Only there can a doctrine of limited atonement be formulated which does not do clear violence to Biblical teaching concerning the universal love of God.
Seemingly, Berkhof did not recognize adequately the complexities of the concept of design with respect to the atonement. But he has faithfully and cogently set forth the essence of the historic Calvinistic view that as far as the actual salvation of men is concerned there is a limitation of numbers which is embraced in the eternal purpose of God and in the design of the atonement. When it comes to the efficacy of the atonement there can be no doubt that its existential limitation is to be explained ultimately in terms of the sovereign disposition of divine grace. On this score the Scriptures, explicated by the Canons of Dort, are decisive and convincing.
The doctrine of limited atonement as taught by Berkhof and others has commonly been used to place a taboo on the proposition that Christ died for all men and on any statement by a missionary to unbelievers such as, "Christ died for you." Supposedly such language is Arminian. Actually it is not necessarily so. There is no warrant in Scripture or the Reformed confessions for disallowing such expressions when they are used in any one of the first three meanings explained above. If the Church is unwilling to say in any sense that Christ died for all men and refuses to say to unbelievers, in addition to "God loves you," "Christ died for you," it places the infinite love of God under an illegitimate restriction.
The doctrine of limited atonement as commonly understood and observed in the Christian Reformed Church impairs the principle of the universal love of God and tends to inhibit missionary spirit and activity. God so loved all men that He gave His only begotten Son! May this great truth permeate the life and witness of the Church in full power.
Harold Dekker, "God So Loved -- ALL Men!," in The Reformed Journal 12:11 (December 1962), 5-7.
God's Love to Sinners -- One or Two?
by Harold Dekker Associate Professor of Missions, Calvin Theological Seminary
In this article I wish to continue the discussion of universal divine love and missions which has been carried on in the two previous issues of this journal and which arose out of the response by readers to my article "God So Loved -- All Men!" (December, 1962). Remaining in the current discussion are one major theological issue and certain practical questions. The former is the subject for this article and the latter will be dealt with in a subsequent article.
The practical questions referred to are of real importance. Perhaps some readers are becoming a bit impatient with the present theoretical discussion and are inclined to ask, "So what?" That's a good question, and I can only hope that you will stay with the discussion a bit longer. The theological issues under consideration do have practical implications -- very important ones -- for the life and work of the church, and I hope to explore these at some length.
The major theological issue remaining is ably stated by Rev. Peter DeJong in his letter which appears in this issue under the question "Does God Love All Men Alike?" Essentially the same question was raised in some of the letters which appeared in the February issue of this journal. My answer depends on the exact meaning of what is strictly speaking an ambiguous question. God does love all men alike in the sense that He loves them all without exclusion -- and He does so with a redemptive love. On the contrary, God does not love all men alike in the sense that the love relationship which actually exists between God and man is the same for all men alike. The analogy of human love relations will clarify this. God requires us to love all our fellow men as ourselves, that is, according to the same standard and with the same love. In that sense we must love all men alike. All these love relationships, however, are not alike. They differ, for instance, in that some love is close and personal, other is casual and impersonal, and some is even extended but spurned.
There are differences within God's love as exercised in relation to man. These differences, however, must be understood precisely. First of all, they are not to be understood as qualitative or essential. This point I have made before. Some writers and preachers distinguish between divine benevolence and love, between common and special grace, or between non-redemptive and redemptive love in such a way as to distinguish between two dispositions in God which are intrinsically different from one another. What they seem to mean is that God has two loves or two graces (I use the terms love and grace as synonymous in this discussion) which differ from one another so radically that the one is directed to all men while the other is directed only to the elect.
On this point I have stated my position in the previous issue of the Reformed Journal (Feb. 1963): "The difference between common and special grace, between common love and special love, is not in the respective quality or essence of these, but in the effect produced. As Berkhof has said, 'There are no two kinds of grace in God, only but one' (Systematic Theology, p. 435). Some of the effects of the one grace of God are common, while other effects are special. Some of the effects of the one love of God reach all men alike, while other effects get through only to the elect."
Where does the idea of two loves in God come from? From the Bible? The evidence is lacking. The single word agape and its cognates are used of love mutually between the Father and the Son, between God and man, between blood relatives, between believers, between neighbors, and of love for the world and for enemies. Even the word philia (brotherly love ordinarily) is used for the love of the Father to the Son, of the Father to believers, of Christ to His disciples, of believers to Christ, and of believers to believers. It is difficult to see any line of distinction in Biblical usage or teaching which will support the idea of two essentially different loves in God's relationship to man. Neither has there been any such idea expressed in the traditional delineation of the divine attributes in Reformed dogmatics. This idea, it seems to me, drives a wedge into the very nature of God and sacrifices Biblical realism to logical structure.
Where does the idea of two loves in God come from? DeJong himself suggests the answer when he bases his argument squarely on the doctrine of election. He asks, "Doesn't the term 'elect,' in whatever way it is used, always mean that those do distinguished are 'called out,' 'separated,' brought into a special relationship of friendship with God different from the rest?" Most certainly, I would say. But does this imply a qualitative or essential difference in love? Hardly. A difference in relationship does not imply a difference in essence.
DeJong goes on to say, referring to Malachi 1:2-3, "If . . . we must interpret this passage to mean 'I loved Esau just as much and in the same way as I loved Jacob,' are we not flatly contradicting it?" I would agree. this does not, however, prove the point of two loves. Because I say that there is no essential distinction within the love of God to man, I am not compelled also to say that God loves all men "just as much and in the same way." In regard to the latter -- "in the same way" -- this article should make it amply clear that I hold no such view. And in regard to the former -- "just as much" -- there is a sense in which we may indeed say that God loves some men more and others less. Such a quantitative distinction, however, is one which I have not used so far and do not find it necessary to use now. Moreover, before such a quantitative distinction can be used in the present discussion it requires careful analysis. "Just as much and in the same way" is not a legitimate interpretation of my position regarding God's love to all men.
Those who have disputed my view that God's love for sinners is one have not offered convincing Biblical evidence that it is two. The notion of two loves in God, as clearly intimated by DeJong, is really an inference from the doctrine of election. Election of course stands; the inference of two loves, Scripturally neither explicit nor verifiable, cannot stand.
The three points on common grace enunciated by the Christian Reformed Church (Synod of 1924) have left us a heritage of ambiguity regarding the nature of divine grace. Although the three points do not teach it, they permit the view that the general offer of the gospel belongs to common grace, for they use the general offer of the gospel as an evidence for "a certain favour or grace of God which He shows to His creatures in general." If one holds that the general offer of the gospel is an expression of common grace, and if one also holds that common grace is generically different from special grace, then the general offer of the gospel is rooted in and expressive of non-redemptive divine love. Can non-redemptive love offer redemption? Is this not a sheer anomaly? Is it not, moreover, destructive of the very character of the gospel offer as sincere and well-meant to all men?
It is instructive, I think, to cite at this point Rev. Herman Hoeksema's criticism of my views as "rank Arminianism." His criticism is understandable, and I do not take it ill of him, for he is only being consistent and frank. His definition of what is Reformed involves a similar judgment regarding any view which affirms a love or grace of God which is universal. Perhaps what accounts for the word "rank" in his estimate of my view is that I unambiguously consider the universal love of God in regard to man to be redemptive in character. But both of us agree that God's love is not two but one, although he limits this one love of God to the elect while I ascribe it to all men. Hoeksema and I also agree that the proclamation of the gospel is rooted in this one love of God, although he would not agree that this proclamation brings an offer of salvation, either to the elect or to all men. Then, too, Hoeksema and I agree that those who ground the proclamation of the gospel to all men in a non-redemptive common grace are in a position which is Biblically and logically untenable.
It appears that Hoeksema and I also hold equally unambiguously views regarding John 3:16. The same, unfortunately, cannot be said for everyone who has commented on this crucial passage in the present discussion. Hoeksema holds that John 3:16 means "God so loved the elect." I hold that it means "God so loved all men." It is only right that those who differ from my view (or Hoeksema's) should declare unequivocally whether they understand "world" in John 3:16 to embrace all men or only some men. Once this basic question is cleared, discussion can proceed. As long as it is evaded, discussion will be confused and inconclusive.
Recently I received a letter from a brother in Iowa who said, "I agree with you on John 3:16. You will know that it is only rarely that we hear sermons on that verse." What he says is only too true. "We preach with great confidence on texts which speak of election, preservation, God's love for His people, and similar themes. Why don't we preach more frequently and more positively on texts such as John 1:29 and 3:16, II Corinthians 5:19, I Timothy 2:4-6, Titus 2:11, Hebrews 2:9, II Peter 2:1 and 3:9, and I John 2:2 and 4:14? Such texts are rarely used in Christian Reformed pulpits. Is it because they raise too many sticky theological problems for ministers who are caught in the dilemma of two loves in God?
Let each one then who wishes to take a clear-cut position on the love of God and missions answer unequivocally whether he understands the love of God as taught in John 3:16 to embrace all men or not. If he answers yes, I believe that he is essentially in agreement with the position I have taken. If he answers no, I believe that he is essentially identified either with the position of Rev. H. Hoeksema, or with the position of those who hold to two loves in God (redemptive and non-redemptive). Once this basic question concerning John 3:16 is resolved, all other factors in the present discussion fall into place, even though much work remains to be done in the explication of these factors and their application to missions.
It is with this criterion that I analyze the letter of Rev. P. DeJong and the letters of others who cite texts such as he cites. The decisive question is, What one is one's over-all understanding of Biblical teaching on the love of God to men? If one finds that the Bible here teaches two loves in God, he will interpret one set of passages in line with the one love and an other set of passages in line with the other "love." Apparently this is what DeJong does. On the other hand, if he finds that the Bible here teaches one love in God, he will be guided accordingly in dealing with various individual passages.
Let us now consider in a general way the teaching of the texts cited by DeJong. True enough, the Old Testament speaks often of God's love for Israel as a special relationship not shared by other nations. Likewise the New Testament speaks of God's love for the church in terms of shepherd and sheep, husband and wife, etc. In using these passages, however, DeJong has not proved his point. A special relationship is quite different than an essentially different love. As I have said before, "God's love is love . . . . Where in Biblical language or concept is there a qualitative difference within love as agape?"
Let us look for a moment at analogies in human love. Not only may we do this -- we must do it. Such analogies are what the Bible uses to teach us about God's love. Consider a Christian who loves his blood brother dearly. He loves a close friend even more intimately. He also loves his next-door neighbor and is helpful to him in little ways. And he loves an insolent unbeliever at the factory and through witness and prayer seeks his salvation. Are these four loves different? Of course. But do they differ in their intrinsic quality as love? It would seem not.
Consider a father who loves his own children and provides for them. He also loves unknown children abroad and sends them food packages. The two relationships are quite different, but is the one love of a different essence than the other? A man loves a woman, but she does not respond to his love. He loves and wins another woman, and they are married. Does love in the first instance differ from love in the second? Indeed it does in relation and result, but it does not differ in that inner quality which makes love, love. To think in such ways about the love of God is Biblically correct and theologically helpful.
It seems that the burden of proof should rest on those who claim that there are two loves in God. The common-sense reading of Scripture discovers only one love for sinners. The exegesis of key passages reveals, again, one love. The life of God's Son on earth exhibits still but one love. And Christian love, in which the love of God is at work whether it be to husband or wife, to father or mother, to son or daughter, to brother or sister, to friend or enemy, to brother or neighbor -- Christian love is a love which does not seem to permit differentiation into loves of different essence. Those who maintain that the grace of God is inherently double rather than single should produce Biblical evidence rather than offer logical deductions from a priori ideas about election or about common and special grace.
I trust that the reader will see in the foregoing my answer to what DeJong and others have said pertaining to Biblical passages which teach God's love to His own. DeJong's attempt to recast sections from Romans 8 as a reductio ad absurdum is really beside the point. My position quite obviously does not make necessary any such substitution of all men for believers in these verses.
A word should be said about Jesus' prayer in John 17. Some correspondents have cited verse 9, where Jesus says, "I pray for them; I pray not for the world, but for them whom thou hast given me; for they are thine," to prove that Christ loved only the elect and not the world. But does it? Whom did Jesus designate by the words "those whom thou hast given me"? The elect? This is forced exegesis. The entire context, beginning with verse 4, makes it clear that those to whom Jesus referred in verse 9 are those who had come to believe in Him at that time, the actual persons whom the Father had given to Jesus in His earthly ministry up to that point, the ones of whom He said in verse 9. that they had received and believed His words. This interpretation is also supported by verse 20, where Jesus says, "Neither for these only do I pray, but for them also that believe on me through their word." Evidently right within the same prayer Jesus prayed not only for the limited number who were in view in verse 8, but also for the many who later would come through their word to share their faith.
What, then, did Jesus mean when He said, "I pray not for the world?" In the light of the foregoing, the explanation seems obvious. Surely Jesus did not mean that He did not love the world and under no circumstances would pray for it. We must observe that it was a certain prayer, with specific petitions, which He offered for those whom the Father had given Him, and which He declared He did not offer for the world. What were these specific petitions which He prayed? Chiefly that those who had come to believe in Him would be faithful, joyful, kept from the evil one, sanctified in the truth, and unified with those who would later come to believe through them. Would there have been any point in Jesus praying these things for the unconverted world? Certainly not. That He did not do so proves nothing about His disposition to the world, not even at that moment. He was simply praying in terms of the unique relationship which existed between Himself and His disciples, a relationship which the world did not share. Neither, therefore, could the world share in Jesus' prayer for the development and fruition of this particular relationship. However, in verses 21 and 23, part of the same prayer, Jesus did indeed pray for the world, He prayed the very thing which was alone appropriate to the world. He prayed that the world might believe -- the same world about which John 3:16 teaches us that God loved it with a redemptive love, nothing less than the world of all men. To use the high-priestly prayer of Christ in John 17 as an argument for limitation in divine redemptive love is, it seems to me, clearly to misuse it.
One more aspect of God's redemptive love for all men should be noted, namely, its sovereignty. An obvious question arises: If God loves all men with a redemptive love, how is it that not all men are saved? In the conclusion of my last article I touched on this, saying, "Let us carry out Our mission to all men according to the plain Biblical givens, leaving the unexplainable where it belongs -- in the infinite mystery of the heart of Him who is Him self love." On the side of divine sovereignty, then, there is mystery. On the side of human responsibility, however, there is no mystery at all. The answer is plainly a matter of unbelief. Significantly, in Paul's celebrated discourse on grace and election in Romans 9-11, he comes to two conclusions regarding the fact that so many in Israel were not saved: God's redeeming love is mysterious (e.g., 11:25, 33-35) and the unsaved are guilty of unbelief (e.g., 11:20-23, 30-32).
Biblical analogies in human love will help us here too. On the one hand, human love is accepted or rejected by the one to whom it is offered. This represents the side of man's responsibility, his acceptance or rejection of the gospel. On the other hand, there is a sense in which human love is overwhelming and irresistible, transcending decision by the one on whom it is lavished. The love of a father for his child and of a husband for his wife, primary Biblical symbols of the love of God, are expressive of this. They represent the side of divine sovereignty -- a love which sweeps away all resistance and claims reciprocal response.
John Calvin, pre-eminently a Biblical theologian, consistently assigns the sovereignty of divine love to the inner mystery of the being of God. Clear and concise, for instance, is the following from his treatise A Defense of the Secret Providence of God (in Calvin's Calvinism, edited and translated by Henry Cole, p. 275): "But why is it that God doth not turn or convert all men to himself, equally and alike, is a question the reply to which lies hidden in himself."
It should also be noted that Calvin does not distinguish between two essentially different loves in God. Rather, he speaks Biblically, merely using the one generic concept of love. In the same treatise just cited he says, "Proofs of the love of God towards the whole human race exist innumerable, all of which demonstrate the ingratitude of those who perish. This fact, however, forms no reason whatsoever why God should not confine His especial or peculiar love to a few, whom He has, in infinite condescension, been pleased to choose out of the rest" (p . 268). Does Calvin here speak of two loves? No, neither here nor anywhere else in his writings on divine love, as far as I have been able to determine.
Another strong evidence for this may be found in what Calvin says in his comment ary on Mark 10:21 and Matthew 19:22 regarding the rich young ruler. Concerning the fact that this young man "went away sorrowful" Calvin says, "Whether or not . . . the young man afterwards repented, we know not, but it may he conjectured with probability that his covetousness kept him back from making any proficiency." In other words, here was one whom Calvin conjectured to be an unbeliever. But commenting on the fact that "Jesus looking upon him loved him," Calvin says, "As to the present passage, it may be enough to state briefly that God embraces in fatherly love none but his children, whom he has regenerated with the spirit of adoption, and that it is in consequence of this love that they are accepted at his tribunal. In this sense, to be loved by God, and to be justified in his sight, are synonymous terms. But God is sometimes said to love those whom he does not approve or justify . . . . Thus the question is answered, How was it possible that Christ should love a man who was proud and a hypocrite, while nothing is more hateful to God than these two vices? For it is not inconsistent that the good seed, which God has implanted in some natures, shall be loved by Him, and yet that He should reject their persons and their works on account of corruption."
Over the years I have often inquired into the writings of John Calvin pertaining to the love of God. In pursuing the present discussion I have intensified this investigation. My considered conviction is that the views which I have presented are in general agreement with his.
Perhaps it should be noted that the major contention of this article is by no means unusual or untried in the history of the Christian Reformed Church. In the wake of the Synod of 1924, the late Rev. H. J. Kuiper preached three sermons to his congregation in the Broadway Church of Grand Rapids, each of them in connection with one of Synod's "Three Points." These sermons, with the addition of footnotes by the author, were published early in 1925 in a booklet entitled The Three Points of Common Grace. From a footnote on page 14 of this publication I quote the following statement of Rev. H. J. Kuiper: "Remember also that the distinction between saving grace and common grace does not imply that there is a twofold grace in God. God is one; all His attributes are one; His grace is one. But there are fruits of this grace which are bestowed only upon the elect, while others are not confined to the elect alone. Hence the distinction between 'saving grace' and 'common grace.' The one grace of God is shown to the elect in an essentially different manner and in a far greater measure than to the reprobate.
1. The entire April issue has already been committed to a series of articles on literature and therefore Prof. Dekker's next article will not appear until the May-June issue, at the earliest. --C.P.B.
2. In this future article I hope to bring into consideration the valuable study of Dr. A. C. DeJong entitled The Well-Meant Gospel Offer: The Views of H. Hoeksema and K. Schilder. Here Dr. DeJong deals helpfully with the question of attitude and disposition in the preaching of the gospel to all men.
3. For instance Rev. C. Holtrop there asks about my statement that "Israel was admonished to love all men precisely because God loved all men indiscriminately." His question is how my word "indiscriminately" can be reconciled with certain Biblical passages (Romans 9:13, II Timothy 2:19, and Matthew 7:23) which reveal differing attitudes of God to different persons. I recognize that my use of the word "indiscriminately" needs qualification. In what I wrote I mean to say that God's love as revealed in the Old Testament was for all men without discrimination, rather than only for Israel. On the other hand, I certainly recognize that there is a sense in which we must discriminate between the different ways in which people experience this one love of God. This point, I trust, the present article will make clear.
4. Incidentally, the Editor of The Banner, Rev. J. Vander Ploeg, has suggested that my view is not in harmony with the following statement of the Christian Reformed Church (Synod of 1959) to certain Protestant Reformed Churches: "The doctrine of irresistible grace would indeed be jeopardized if we held that the grace shown to the elect is the same as that shown to creatures in general. We would then be guilty of the error of the Arminians who teach that all men enjoy the same grace." What this statement means by "the same grace" is not clear. The same in essence or the same in relationship and result? The reference to the Arminians suggests that it is the latter, for the Arminian position is that grace gets through to all men in the same way and thus enables all men to be saved if only they will be saved. In that sense I do not hold at all "that the grace shown to the elect is the same as that shown to creatures in general."
5. See Mr. Jack Arens's letter in the January Reformed Journal and Rev. P. DeJong's in this issue.
6. Allow me to insert here merely a word regarding the contention of Mr. Kart's letter (January, 1963) that I have used the argument regarding the availability of salvation which Pighius used against Calvin. I trust that it has become amply clear in this article that I have not used the argument of Pighius in any sense but rather have identified myself with the argument used by Calvin in his defense against Pighius.
Harold Dekker, "God's Love to Sinners -- One or Two?," in The Reformed Journal 13 (March 1963), 12-16.