November 27, 2012

A Reply to Sproul and MacArthur on the Love of God

I just saw the following video posted on Sam Shamoun's Facebook wall:



My Response:

Contrary to what both Sproul and MacArthur say in this video, the problem is not with telling people that God loves them unconditionally. In fact, Sproul admits that God does love all men (unconditionally) with a love of benevolence, or a love of good-will in the rest of what he says (even as he does in this article on God's "Abundant Love"). Just because an audience may misunderstand the point, that doesn't make the proposition false that God loves all men unconditionally (as His creatures), or establish that we ought not to say so. For example, are we to avoid saying that Jesus was a man because some in the audience may think He was a mere man and not also a divine person? Of course not.

 The problem is when preachers merely say that God loves all unconditionally without also telling them of God's wrath against sinners, and that they stand condemned. This is what Sproul and MacArthur should have said, instead of conveying the idea (in their overreaction) that it is bad or wrong to tell all sinners that He loves them unconditionally. It is however true that, as Sproul says,God only has a love of complacency or a filial love for believers, or the obedient, so that is a kind of conditional love that is not for all. This does not negate the other truth that God, in another sense, has an unconditional love for all.

 All of the Reformers and Puritans taught that God loves all men with a love of benevolence. Some (example: John Davenant, an English delegate to the Synod of Dort) even say that it is "plain blasphemy" to deny it since it is manifestly taught in scripture and seen providence. What scripture plainly affirms is never wrong to teach, and Jesus plainly taught that the Father loves all men as His creatures, and thus shines His sun on them and gives them rain, etc. However, we want to teach the whole counsel of God as well so that we do not leave perishing sinners the wrong impression by that truth, with the result that they are not properly warned about God's anger against them as sinners.

Note the wisdom in the words of John Davenant:
 "The general love of God towards mankind is so clearly testified in Holy Scripture, and so demonstrated by the manifold effects of God’s goodness and mercy extended to every particular man in this world, that to doubt thereof were infidelity, and to deny it, plain blasphemy: yet for all this, if any man shall go about to magnify the common love of God extended promiscuously to all men, that thereby he obscured the special love and mercy of God prepared for all eternity, and bestowed in due time upon elect men, this may lead the ignorant and unlearned into a dangerous error: And therefore obliquely to oppose the eternal free and absolute decree of Predestination or Election under the color of disproving an absolute decree for any man’s Damnation, befits not any Divine who acknowledges the truth of that doctrine which the Scriptures have delivered, St. Augustine cleared, and the Church of England established in the xvii Article." ~ John Davenant, Animadversions Written By the Right Reverend Father in God, John, Lord Bishop of Sarisbury, upon a Treatise intitled “God’s love to Mankind,” (London: Printed for Iohn Partridge, 1641), 3.
Spurgeon was spot on when he said:
"Preach earnestly the love of God in Christ Jesus, and magnify the abounding mercy of the Lord; but always preach it in connection with His justice. Do not extol the single attribute of love in the method too generally followed, but regard love in the high theological sense, in which, like a golden circle, it holds within itself all the divine attributes: for God were not love if He were not just, and did not hate every unholy thing. Never exalt one attribute at the expense of another. Let boundless mercy be seen in calm consistency with stern justice and unlimited sovereignty. The true character of God is fitted to awe, impress, and humble the sinner: be careful not to misrepresent your Lord."
C. H. Spurgeon, "On Conversion as Our Aim," in Second Series of Lectures to My Students (Grand Rapids, Baker, 1978), 184.

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