November 15, 2019

John Stott on Ephesians 4:26–27 and Christian Anger

‘Be angry, but sin not’ is an echo of Psalm 4:4. It seems clear that this form of words is a Hebrew idiom which permits and then restricts anger, rather than actually commanding it. The equivalent English idiom would be ‘in your anger do not sin’ (NIV). Nevertheless, the verse recognizes that there is such a thing as Christian anger, and too few Christians either feel or express it. Indeed, when we fail to do so, we deny God, damage ourselves and encourage the spread of evil.

Scripture plainly teaches that there are two kinds of anger, righteous and unrighteous. In verse 31 ‘anger’ is one of a number of unpleasant things which we are to ‘put away’ from us. Evidently unrighteous anger is meant. But in 5:6 we are told of the anger of God which will fall on the disobedient, and we know that God’s anger is righteous. So was the anger of Jesus [Mark 3:5]. There must therefore be a good and true anger which God’s people can learn from him and from their Lord Jesus. I go further and say that there is a great need in the contemporary world for more Christian anger. We human beings compromise with sin in a way in which God never does. In the face of blatant evil, we should be indignant, not tolerant; angry, not apathetic. If God hates sin, His people should hate sin, too. If evil arouses His anger, it should arouse ours, too. ‘Hot indignation seizes me because of the wicked, who forsake thy law [Ps. 119:53].’ What other reaction can wickedness be expected to provoke in those who love God?

It is partiicularly noteworthy that the apostle introduces this reference to anger in a letter devoted to God’s new society of love, and in a paragraph concerned with harmonious relationships. He does so because true peace is not identical with appeasement. ‘In such a world as this,’ comments E. K. Simpson, ‘the truest peace-maker may have to assume the role of a peace-breaker as a sacred obligation’ [Commentary on the Epistles to the Ephesians and the Colossians. NICNT (Eerdmans, 1957), 108].
John R.W. Stott, The Message of Ephesians (Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 1979), 185–186.

Substitute the word “hate” for “anger” in the above quote and the same can be said about it.

June 10, 2019

Tom Nettles’s Summary of John Gill’s (1697–1771) View on the Love of God

The love of God, according to Gill, foundations all theology. God’s principal object of love is Himself. This is right and good, for He contains all excellence and perfection and worth. Second, God loves all that He has made, declares it very good and rejoices in His works. Because rational creatures are the particular objects of His care, love and delight, God supports, preserves and bestows the bounty of His providence upon all of His creatures.

To the elect, however, the Triune God bears a special love. Gill identifies this with the “great love” spoken of in Ephesians 2:4. The love of the Father is demonstrated toward the elect by His devising and effecting a plan whereby they might be reconciled to Him through Christ. The Father chose the elect in Christ from the beginning and, in Him, has bestowed upon them all other blessings. The Son’s love for the elect appears in His becoming a surety for their salvation by actually giving Himself as a sacrifice for them, laying down His life on their account, and shedding His blood for the remission of their sins. The special love the Spirit exhibits toward the elect appears in His convincing them of sin and righteousness, shedding abroad the love of God in their hearts, and implanting every grace in them.6
6. John Gill, Body of Divinity, 2 vols. (n.p. Tegg & Co., 1839; reprint ed., Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1978), 1:112–115.
Thomas J. Nettles, By His Grace and For His Glory: A Historical, Theological and Practical Study of the Doctrines of Grace in Baptist Life. Revised and Expanded 20th Anniversary Edition (Cape Coral, FL: Founders Press, 2006), 25.

Note: One should not think that Gill is altogether orthodox or within the boundaries of mainstream Reformed thought on the universal love of God. In classic Calvinistic and Puritan thought, God’s love for all men, including the non-elect, involves His benevolent desire for their ultimate well-being, and His beneficent love or kindness is given with a view to bringing men to evangelical repentance (Rom. 2:4). In Gill’s theology, however, God simply has a regard for the temporal/physical well-being of the non-elect, and a kind of passive delight in them as a part of His good creation as such (which is what Nettles outlines above). It is a “love” that is totally devoid of any willingness or desire on God’s part to bring them to evangelical repentance, though at times he may want to bring them to external, civil repentance, so as to get them to avoid some physical calamity. Nevertheless, at least Gill, unlike other hyper-Calvinists, acknowledges a sense of love in God for all men, and Nettles’s brief summary is basically correct, though it lacks nuance.

June 8, 2019

Peter van Mastricht (1630–1706) on Common Grace

What is common grace and what sort is it?
XVI. There is, second, common grace, by which he dispenses moral goods, particularly to men, but indiscriminately, to the elect and the reprobate. To this kind of grace belong the virtues of the intellect, such as ingenuity, wisdom, and prudence (Ex. 31.3), as well as the virtues of the will, the ethical virtues (Luke 18:11), of which kind are all the virtues of pagans and unbelievers. In this number should be reckoned those things that appear more closely to approach saving things, such as are mentioned in Hebrews 6:4–5, Isaiah 58:2, and 1 Corinthians 13:1. To this pertains external calling to participation in Christ through the proclamation of the Word (Ps. 147:19–20; Matt. 20:16, and also internal calling through some sort of illumination, and all those good things which are conspicuous in temporary believers (Matt. 13:20–21).
Petrus van Mastricht, Theoretical-Practical Theology. Volume 2: Faith in the Triune God, trans. T. M. Rester, ed. J. R. Beeke and M. T. Spangler (Grand Rapids, MI: Reformation Heritage Books, 2019), 354; 1.2.17 §XVI.

Wiki (WDE)

May 10, 2019

Reconciling Statements Made by J. Gresham Machen (1881–1937) on the Love of God

I recently saw this quote on social media1:
God, according to Jesus, was a loving Father; but He was a loving Father, not of the sinful world, but of those whom He Himself had brought into His Kingdom through the Son.2
Admittedly, at first glance, this reads badly. It appears as though Machen is denying that God the Father loves all men, and this is exactly how hyper-Calvinists (who deny the same) will want to read it. But this unqualified statement by Machen needs to be qualified by what he also said earlier in the same work:
God is indeed represented here [in Matthew 5:44–45] as caring for all men whether evil or good, but He is certainly not called the Father of all. Indeed, it might almost be said that the point of the passage depends on the fact that He is not the Father of all. He cares even for those who are not His children but His enemies; so His children, Jesus’ disciples, ought to imitate Him by loving even those who are not their brethren but their persecutors. The modern doctrine of the universal fatherhood of God is not to be found in the teaching of Jesus.3
Here we see that Machen affirmed, in accord with Matt. 5:44–45, that God indeed “cares” for all men, and that Jesus “loved” even those who were not His brethren, and therefore so should we. It should also be noted that Machen affirmed common grace in the same work, and also taught in another work that God wishes the salvation of all men according to Ezek. 33:11 and possibly 1 Tim. 2:4. So what is the explanation? Did Machen contradict himself on the issue of the love of God, even in the context of the same book?

My Explanation

I do not think it is reasonable to interpret Machen as contradicting himself on this point. In Christianity & Liberalism, as in several other works, Machen was countering the modernistic conception of the universal fatherhood of God. Mainstream Reformed theologians have acknowledged that there is a sense in which God is the father of all, in a creational sense (or God as creator), in accord with Isa. 64:8, Acts 17:28–29, and Luke 3:28, but they have also denied that God is the father of all by way of adoption (or God as redeemer4), obviously. It is in this latter sense, or the sense that “our Father” is being used in Matthew 5, that Machen denies that God is the father of all.

Notice in the original quote that Machen is contrasting the “sinful world” with those who have been brought into Christ’s Kingdom. He is not contrasting the non-elect with the elect as such, as hyper-Calvinists are prone to read things, but rather unbelievers (“the sinful world”) as over against believers (“those whom He Himself had brought into His Kingdom through the Son”). Even the unbelieving elect are not God’s children, yet, by way of adoption, and so they are also a part of “the sinful world” when still dead in their trespasses and sins. God is not even the “loving Father” of the unbelieving elect, in that adoptive sense.

I submit that the best reading of the Machen quote above should put the stress on the term “Father,” and that “loving Father” should be read in an adoptive sense, in contrast to the corrupt, universalizing modernistic sense. Machen should not be read as denying that God loved all men in any sense. He does love all, by way of “common grace,” in “caring” for all men, and in “wishing” the salvation of all men, as Machen elsewhere affirms. That is called God’s love of benevolence (amor benevolentiæ). Machen was rather denying that God was the Father of all in the sense that He is at peace with all men, with a love of friendship or amity (amor amicitiæ), or what is often called God’s love of complacency (amor complacentiæ5).

The quote is better read this way:
God, according to Jesus, was a loving Father; but He was a loving Father [by way of adoption], not of the sinful world, but of those [i.e. believers only] whom He Himself had brought into His Kingdom through the Son. (emphasis mine)
Machen should have been more careful in his terminology, or added some qualifying context to avoid confusion. But readers of Machen today should also be more careful if they are prone to read him as denying that God loves all men. That idea is not only against scripture and virtually the entire Reformed tradition, but it is also against the context of what Machen affirmed in the very same book.

1. I do not know if Matt Estes was using the Machen quote to deny (or to say that Machen denied) that there is any sense in which God loves the non-elect. As of today, he has not responded to the tweet comments I posted.
2. J. Gresham Machen, Christianity & Liberalism (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1990), 84.
3. Ibid., 60.
4. I am using “redeemer” in the sense of redemption applied. But in Machen’s own theology, it is right to limit the sense of the term “redemption” to the elect alone since Machen held to a strict view of the atonement. See “Constraining Love,” in God Transcendent (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1949; repr. Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1982). Also in “Constraining Love,” The Presbyterian Guardian 3.5 (December 12, 1936): 98–102.
5. Amor amicitiæ (love of friendship) is the sense in which God’s amor complacentiæ (love of complacency) is commonly used, though it may be distinguished from God’s simple love of complacency that He has for all of his creation as good (Wisdom of Solomon, 11:4). It is quite common for Reformed theologians to limit God’s love of complacency to God’s children who are in the obedience of faith. God’s love of complacency refers to God’s delight in that which is good. “In theological language the term ‘complacent’ is used more in line with its etymology than with its current usage. The Latin root [complӑcӗo, complacēntia, or complacēre] originally meant ‘to please greatly.’ In this sense, God’s love of complacency refers to His being pleased with His children.... Classical theologians saw this love of complacency as the delight God has for His creatures who manifest the light of His image” (R. C. Sproul, Loved by God [(Nashville, TN: Word Publishing, 2001], 143).

March 25, 2019

John Bartlet (c.1599–1680) on God’s General and Special Love

1. Take heed of concluding the special love, and favor of God to you, because of your prosperous condition in the World: for no man can know love, or hatred, by these outward things, Eccles. 9.1. The wicked have, usually, the most of them, Job 21. Psal. 73. Because it is their portion in this life, Psal. 17. end. And yet such is the deceit of Men’s hearts, as the most fetch the Evidence of God’s love to them from their prosperity in this World, from the abundance of these outward things, which they enjoy, as health, wealth, honor, birth, beauty, gifts, parts, knowledge, utterance, and the esteem they have in the World above others, and that amongst the wise, and the godly: whereas men may enjoy all these, and yet want the special love of God, (special, I say, not God’s general love) for you are to mark well, there is a double love of God, general and special; 1. General to all Men, of which you may read, Mark 10.21. Jesus beholding, loved him, (saith the Text, of the young Man.) 2. There is God’s special love to his Elect, of which you may read, 2 Thes. 2.16. John 13. Now God’s general and common love is manifested in bestowing on Men these outward temporal good things, as on the young Man, that came to Christ, to know what he must do to inherit Eternal Life; But for His special love, that is manifested in giving Spiritual blessings, as Christ, and his Spirit, and Grace, Faith, Repentance, Love, &c. His Fatherly Correction, and Chastisements, Heb. 12.6. And therefore take heed of concluding the special love of God, because of your prosperous condition, without an interest in Christ, and a work of grace.
John Bartlet, The Practical Christian: Or, A Summary View of the Chief Heads of Practical Divinity (London: Printed by T. M. for Thomas Parkhurst, 1670), 71–72.


March 23, 2019

Joseph Hacon’s (1603–1662) Response to the Double Payment Argument

Now because you think that you must maintain, some sins are forgiven absolutely, as of due debt, because otherwise universal Redemption, presupposeth two payments of the same debt, one from the Savior of the world, and another from the person impenitent or unbelieving, pag. 61. [“It is unjust to require two payments of the same debt.”] I desire your attention to what I shall now say. The work of the Son of God in behalf of lost mankind is set forth to us diversely; under the term and likeness of Reconciliation, or Atonement of parties that are at distance: of a Sacrifice offered to propitiate the Deity: of Adoption, whereby not only part for malefactors, but further, the state of sons and heirs is procured: of Redemption, whereby captives are ransomed by some price paid: of one that is punished in another’s stead, or for another’s fault, or that doth satisfy or discharge the debt, which some other owes. These particulars, with divers others, being of a different nature one from another, cannot all of them, perfectly agree to the work of man’s salvation, that Jesus Christ wrought. With men ordinarily, there is a numerical punishment, applied to a numerical or individual fault. But when Christ was smitten for our sins, the punishment was one, but of infinite value, applicable to the sins of all men, were there more than there are, or ever will be. In this similitude therefore, the respect of punishing the same fault twice, must be forborn: so must that also, touching a double payment of the same debt. But take the other similitudes; Reconciliation there may be, and Adoption there may be, which may come to nothing for want of the condition: and a general ransom may be many ways defective, as to some persons: and a Sacrifice may be offered, and the God not appeased; according as the Latins make a difference between Sacrificare and Litare: to your argument therefore I answer, when the payment or satisfaction is absolute, as to all effects, then there is no other satisfaction to be expected.

But when it is absolute as to some effect, and conditional, as to some other, then it is neither against reason, nor justice, nor custom, but that a payment, pardon or satisfaction may be twofold. The General ransom is absolute thus far, that God’s justice or wrath is appeasable. All sins are venial, and way made for pardon, the Covenant of works notwithstanding. But thus far it is conditional, that it shall not be actually beneficial for any to life eternal, but according to the tenor of the Covenant of Grace, namely, upon Repentance and Belief in the Son of God. I gave you the similitude of a general pardon granted from the King: to which you say not one word to the purpose, but most impertinently betake yourself to the point of Free-will, in the fourth Section of your former chapter. And as for the injustice you speak of, I answer, had we ourselves of our own, paid these our debts: or had our Surety and Redeemer paid them and satisfied for them so as that all men should by virtue of his sacrifice have been instantly discharged from all their sins, and admitted to possession of life, no condition whatsoever intervening: or had Almighty God made any such promise or agreement, with his son our Savior, to bestow faith and repentance upon all those, for whom he was to lay down his life: in any of these cases it had not been just to demand a second payment. But inasmuch as God himself did freely procure the ransom and satisfaction for our sins, it was free for him to annex thereto, what conditions it pleased him. There is therefore no wrong done to such persons as are punished for their sins, after the price of their ransom is accepted, because they did neither pay that ransom, nor perform the condition required.
Joseph Hacon, A Vindication of the Review. Or, the Exceptions formerly made against Mr. Horn’s Catechisme set free from his late allegations, and maintained not to be Mistakes (Cambridge: Printed by John Field, 1662), 141–143.

Hacon was a native of Topcroft, Norfolk, where he was born on the 17th of May, 1603. He was educated at Emmanuel College, Cambridge, and, after entering Holy Orders, was made Rector of Massingham in his 40th year. After a few years, he was made Registrar of the Parish. He was buried at Massingham Parva on the 18th September, 1662. See Ronald F. McLeod, Massingham Parva: Past and Present (London: Waterlow & Sons, 1882), 113–114.

March 20, 2019

Theophilus Polwheile (d.1689) on Christ’s Common Love and the Rich Young Ruler

Men may be honorable in respect of some good thing which they have, though contemptible in respect of some better thing which they want. Though men have nothing but gifts, yet they are amiable and honorable for their gift's sake. Christ loved the young man [the rich young ruler] for the excellency of his moral parts, Mar. 10:21. Now if Christ loves such, why should not we? Next unto those that have grace, come they that have gifts, though the men be bad, their gifts are good, and there is an honor due unto them. The Spirit of God will be acknowledged in gifts, as well as in grace, seeing He is the Author of both.
Theophilus Polwheile, Α᾿ΥΘΕ΄ΝΤΗΣ [Authentēs], Or A Treatise of Self-Denial (London: Printed for Thomas Johnson, 1658), 78–79. See John Collinges’s similar comments on the rich young ruler in the second quote here, which I recently added to the blog. See also Polwheile’s comments on Luke 14:26 on pages 222–223 where he says, “We are not to hate them [father, mother, wife, children, brother, or sister] absolutely, so as in no respect to bear any love to them, for we are commanded to love them, and to do good unto them, even the worst of them, as I have showed above.” This work, which cites many Reformed theologians and other Puritans, has a forward to the reader by Ralph Venning.
Christ doth not find his Works perfect before God, Revelation 3:2, therefore he is not well-pleased with him; therefore though he love him, as he did that young man [Polwheile means the "young man" in Matthew 19:21], it is but with a common love, not that love that he bears to a Saint, in whom is the beauty of self-denial, who follows him fully, as Caleb, Numbers 14:24, and fulfills all his will, as David did, Acts 13:22.
Ibid., 274.


February 25, 2019

Edward Elton (c.1569–1624) on God’s Special and Common Love

Now then to make use & profit of this, first this ground of truth serves to discover, that such persons as are out of Christ, they cannot possibly partake in God’s special love, nor in any token or fruit of that love of God. God may and does love them with his general and common love, as he loves all his creatures, as they be his creatures and workmanship of his hands, but undoubtedly he loves them not with his special love, and so long as they remain out of Christ, they cannot possibly partake in that love of God which he does communicate to his children, and what good thing so ever they enjoy, it is no token or fruit of God’s special love to them. Admit they have health, and wealth, and abundance of the good things of this life, yea admit they have grace in their souls, as the common gifts and graces of the Spirit they have wit, learning, and knowledge, and that of heavenly things, yea they have power to abstain from some gross sins, and such like, yet none of these things are tokens and fruits of God’s special love to  them.
Edward Elton, The Triumph of a True Christian Described: Or, An Explication of the Eight[h] Chapter of the Epistle of Saint Paul to the Romans (London: Printed by Richard Field for Robert Mylburne, 1623), 887. Elton also deals with the topic of God’s love for the elect prior to their conversion, even though in their unregenerate state they are children of wrath, even as the rest. See pp. 659–660.


Church of England clergyman, Bachelor in Divinity, and Preacher of God's Word at Saint Marie Magdalen Bermondsey near London. Elton was an eminent Puritan, and was installed (in the pastorate of Saint Marie Magdalens Bermondsey) in 1605. He was a strict Calvinist on the atonement, which is evident in several places in the above cited work. His other works include: An Exposition of the Epistle of St Paule to the Colossians (1615/1620/1637); An Exposition of the Ten Commandments of God (1623); A Plaine and Easie Exposition Upon the Lords Prayer in Questions and Answers (1624/1647); A Form of Catechising: Set Down by Questions and Answers (1629); The Complaint of a Sanctifyed Sinner Answered: Or, An Explanation of the Seventh Chapter of the Epistle of Saint Paul to the Romans (1653); The Great Mystery of Godliness Opened. Being an Exposition Upon the Whole Ninth Chapter of the Epistle of Saint Paul to the Romans (1653); Three Excellent and Pious Treatises; viz. 1. The Complaint of of a Sanctified Sinner. 2. The Triumph of a True Christian. 3. The Great Mystery of Godliness Opened (1653).