April 7, 2016

Richard Clark Reed (1851–1925) on Calvinism and the Love of God

II. With reference to the unsaved, what is the doctrine of Calvinism? This question is the crucial test of the system. It smiles benignantly on the elect, but it is supposed to wear a very harsh and forbidding aspect when it turns its face towards the unsaved. If this be true, if it have no pity in its heart for the incorrigible sinners who destroy themselves, we are ready to say that it is not of God. Christ wept tears of compassion while looking on the sinners who had sinned away their day of grace. If Calvinism have not the spirit of Christ, it is none of his. It professes to find its chief supporter in Christ. It can only make good this profession by showing a love as broad and a sympathy as tender as his.

What can we say in its behalf? We can say that Calvinism puts no limit whatever on the love of God. It limits the number of saved, but it does not restrict the love of God to the saved. It limits the application of the benefits of redemption, but it does not ascribe the limitation to the want of love. It accepts John iii.16 in all its length and breadth: ‘God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth on him should not perish.’ Calvin is good authority with all Calvinists, and his comment on this text is as follows: ‘Christ brought life, because the heavenly Father loves the human race, and wishes that they should not perish. He employed the universal term whosoever, both to invite indiscriminately all to partake of life, and to cut off every excuse from unbelievers. Such, also, is the import of the term world. Though there is nothing in the world that is worthy of God’s favor, yet he shows himself to be reconciled to the whole world when he invites all men, without exception, to the faith of Christ.’

The Synod of Dort, called the ‘grim synod,’ because of the rigidity of its Calvinism, was careful not to bound the love of God by the decree of election. ‘As many as are called by the gospel are unfeignedly called; for God doth most earnestly and truly declare in his word what will be acceptable to him, namely, that all who are called should comply with the invitation. He, moreover, promises seriously eternal life and rest to as many as shall come to him and believe on him. It is not the fault of the gospel, nor of Christ offered therein, nor of God, who calls men by the gospel, and confers upon them various gifts, that those who are called by the ministry of the word refuse to come and be converted. The fault lies in themselves.’ This declaration represents the belief of all the great Calvinistic churches of the Reformation period, and it plainly implies that they held and taught that God’s love is world-wide and race-embracing. They do not modify nor dilute the broadest statements of the word of God touching his gracious readiness to receive all sinners, without exception, on the ground of their faith and penitence, to the arms of his forgiving love.
Richard Clark Reed, The Gospel As Taught By Calvin (Richmond, VA: The Presbyterian Committee of Publication, 1896), 112–115.


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