June 19, 2017

B. B. Warfield (1851–1921) on the Westminster Confession, the Love of God, and the Universal Sincere Offer of Salvation in Christ

The Confession Based on the Love of God.

2. It is frequently objected again that the Confession makes too little relatively of the love of God and too much relatively of His sovereignty, and thus reverses the emphasis of the Bible. The framers of the Confession are not responsible, however, for this separation of God’s love and sovereignty; to them His sovereignty seemed a loving sovereignty, and His love a sovereign love, and in founding the whole fabric of their Confession on the idea of God’s undeserved favor to lost sinners, they understood themselves to be glorifying His love to sinners. It is perfectly true that they seldom make use of the term “love”; but this is due to the exactness of their phraseology, by which they prefer to speak of God’s “goodness” and “grace”—by the one of which terms they designate His general love and by the other His special love for His people. When this is understood, so far as they from neglecting to emphasize the love of God, that it is rather within the truth to say that there is no other one subject so repeatedly and emphatically and lovingly dwelt upon. The “goodness” of God is one of His essential attributes (II., i.) and is infinite (V., iv.); nay, all “goodness” is in and of Him (II., ii.). It was in order to manifest His “goodness” that He created the world (IV., i.); and hence it is manifested by the light of nature (I., i.)—even that He is good and doeth good to all (XXI., i.); as also by the course of providence (I., i.; V., iv.), which is so administered as to redound to the praise of His “goodness” (IV., i.). Even His dealings with sin manifest His goodness (V., iv.). Especially does His treatment of the elect, however, flow from His free unchangeable love (XVII., ii.; III., v.; V., v.); His love follows them at every step, and every separate blessing bestowed upon them is a “grace”: effectual calling (X., ii.), faith (XIV., i.), justification (XI., iv.), pardon (XV., iii.), adoption (XII., i.), each is reckoned among the saving graces (XIII., i.; XVI., iii.; XVII., i.; IX., iv.). All His acts to His children are those of a gracious God (V., v.), all things being made to work together for their good (V., vii.), even His correctings being gracious (V., v.) and all to the praise of His glorious grace (III., v.). There is certainly no lack of emphasis on God’s love here; though no doubt it is His sovereign love that is emphasized. Nor is it at all true that in glorifying God’s infinite love for His children, the Confession minimizes or fails to give due recognition to His unspeakable love for all His reasonable creatures. He is the God of love: “Most loving, gracious, merciful, long-suffering, abundant in goodness and truth, forgiving iniquity, transgression and sin, the rewarder of them that diligently seek him” (II., i.). Moved by this love He has voluntarily condescended to covenant with men as men, with a view to their fruition of Him as their blessedness and reward (VII., i.); and when men had spurned this offered favor, He was pleased to make a second covenant, “wherein he freely offered unto sinners life and salvation by Jesus Christ, requiring of them faith him him, that they may be saved (VII., iii.)—an assertion of the universal sincere offer of salvation in Christ which is not taken away, but rather established, by the immediately subsequent assertion that God has further taken care that it shall not in all cases remain without fruition. To overlook these and similar passages in the effort to represent the Confession as disregarding the proportion of faith is most seriously to misrepresent its teaching. As a matter of fact the Confession builds its whole fabric on God’s love, and emphasizes His general love quite as strongly as the Scriptures themselves; although like the Scriptures, it does not substitute a general benevolence for the whole round of Divine attributes, or deny His sovereignty or His justice in proclaiming His love.
B. B. Warfield, On the Revision of the Confession of Faith (New York: Anson D. F. Randolph & Company, 1890), 25–27. Commenting on this writing by Warfield, Bennett said, “...there is a genuine love of God for all and a desire for all to be saved. Warfield clearly teaches this in the quotation above, and Charles Hodge says it in his sermon on John 3:16 in Princeton Sermons.” See Christopher Bennett, “For God So Loved the World,” Foundations 38 (Spring 1997): 3–4.

Later on, Warfield references a criticism of Robert Smith Candlish about the Confession:
Dr. Candlish, in supporting his overture in the Free Church Presbytery of Glasgow, supplies a good example of how they are presented. “The Confession,” he is reported as saying, “did not express, in their scriptural proportions, some aspects of the Gospel, and these were such vital and precious truths as the love of God to the world, His free offer of salvation to all men, and the responsibility of every one who heard this gracious call for accepting or refusing it. It was not meant that these truths were not contained in the Confession. He strongly contended that they were in it, but they were not so prominent in it proportionately to the statement of other truths—those of the sovereignty and almighty power of God’s grace—as they were in the Bible” [The Glasgow Herald 37 (Tuesday, February 12, 1889), p. 10].


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