July 10, 2009

Iain H. Murray on God's Universal Love and Willingness to Save all Men

...there is a general proclamation of the love of God which comes to men in the preaching of the cross.
Iain H. Murray, "The Cross: The Pulpit of God's Love," Banner of Truth 494 (November 2004): 8.
What but that same love can explain such words as, 'You will not come unto me that you might have life' (John 5:40)? Or the tears that accompanied, 'O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them which are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not!' (Luke 13:34; Matt. 23:37)? "Love towards all mankind in general', John Owen wrote, 'is enforced upon us by the example of Christ's own love and goodness, which are extended unto all.'19 And Owen encouraged his hearers to dwell on 'the love of Christ in his invitations of sinners to come unto him that they may be saved'.20

Some have sought to escape from the force of Christ's example by referring it to his human nature and not to his divine! But, as R. L. Dabney21 comments: 'It would impress the common Christian mind with a most painful feeling to be thus seemingly taught that holy humanity is more generous and tender than God.'

Christ's example, that reveals the very character of God, remains the permanent standard for the church. The same love of which he spoke to Nicodemus, and which he showed to the multitude, lies in his command that 'repentance and remission of sins should be preached in his name among all nations, beginning at Jerusalem' (Luke 24:47). And the apostles understood it when they preached indiscriminately to the Jerusalem sinners, who had rejected the Son of God, the astonishing news that God has sent Jesus 'to bless you, in turning every one of you from his iniquities' (Acts 3:26).22

Universal gospel preaching is proof of the reality of universal divine love. It is the same love of which we read in Ezekiel 33:11: "'As I live,' saith the LORD God, 'I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked; but that the wicked turn from his way and live; turn ye from your evil ways; for why will ye die?'" When the Pharisees complained of Christ, 'This man receives sinners, and eats with them', Jesus responded by speaking of the character of God: he is like the father of the prodigal son who 'saw him and had compassion, and ran and fell on his neck and kissed him' (Luke 15:20). Christ's unwillingness that men should be lost is the same as the Father's. He desires that all men everywhere should turn and live. As John Murray has written:
There is a love of God which goes forth to lost men and is manifested in the manifold blessings which all men without distinction enjoy, a love in which non-elect persons are embraced, and a love which comes to its highest expression in the entreaties, overtures and demands of gospel proclamation.23
19. Works, vol. 15 (London: Banner of Truth, 1966), p. 70. The italics are in Owen.
20. Ibid, vol. 1, p. 422.
21. Discussions: Evangelical and Theological (reprinted, London: Banner of Truth, 1967), p. 308.
22. For the way in which the gospel message is individualized in apostolic testimony see also Acts 2:38; 3:19; Colossians 1:28; 1 Timothy 2:4; 2 Peter 3:9.
23. Collected Writings, vol. 1, p. 68.
Ibid., 8–9.
If there is no love except special love for the elect, then no one has any right to apprehend any love in God for him before he has evidence of his election, which is to say, before he is converted. And that would mean that preachers must not speak of the love of Christ indefinitely to all their unconverted hearers. But that would be to subvert gospel preaching. It would no longer be 'good news' for all; and no longer an appeal 'not to refuse the offered love of God'.

The nature of conversion is an issue involved here. Are men brought into the kingdom of God by an action of God that by-passes the human mind and will, or are those faculties involved in the change from death to life? Does Christ draw men to himself irrespective of their thoughts and their consent? The scriptural answer has to be that conversion includes hearing and understanding; the Holy Spirit uses truth to convince of sin; that is the first work. But conviction of sin only speaks of God's holiness; it tells the sinner nothing of God's willingness to pardon; it does nothing to remove the suspicion—common to fallen man—that God is against him and unconcerned for his happiness. For that another message is needed. It is only the disclosure of love which can persuade the sinner of God's readiness and willingness to pardon, and thus the necessity that love be made known to all indefinitely in the free offer of the gospel. Love is the great attraction. Love stands foremost in the gospel appeal. 'It is not the over-heavy load of sin', says John Bunyan, 'but the discovery of mercy . . . that makes a man come to Jesus Christ . . . Behold how the promises, invitations, calls, and encouragements, like lilies, lie round about thee! Take heed that thou dost not tread them underfoot, sinner. With promises, did I say? Yea, he hath mixed all those with his own name, his Son's name; also, with the names of mercy, goodness, compassion, love, pity, grace, forgiveness, pardon, and what not, that he might encourage the coming sinner'.11

On the same point, John Owen wrote, 'Christ draws none to himself whether they will or no; but he casts on their minds, hearts, and wills the cords of his grace and love, working in them powerfully, working on them kindly, to cause them to choose him . . . Drawing grace is manifested in, and drawing love proceeds from, the suffering of Christ on the cross.'12

This love is to be proclaimed in the gospel not to men as elect but to men as sinners.13 That is why any message that would not include love to individuals until there is evidence of election turns the gospel upside down. It withholds the very truth most conducive to brings souls to rest in Christ. Without question, history teaches us that the evangelists most used of God have all been men for whom love has been the main theme.14 Our sin must be discovered, says Richard Sibbes, 'to drive us out of ourselves', but then 'there must be a great deal of persuasion to still the accusing conscience of a sinner, to set it down, make it quiet, and persuade it of God's love'.15

Persuading men of God's love is the great calling of the Christian ministry. It is part of preaching 'to root out all the secret reserves of unbelief concerning God's unwillingness to give mercy, grace and pardon to sinners'.16 It cannot be done without conviction in the preacher that this love is a wonderful reality, and that it is to be pressed on all his hearers.

Yet, it may be asked, if this love is not necessarily saving, should the distinction between 'general' and 'special' not be made clear to people when the gospel is being presented? The answer has to be no, for Scripture itself makes no such distinction in the presentation of the gospel to the lost. And the reason why it does not do so is plain: it is not a doctrine either of special love or of general love that is to be offered to sinners; it is rather Christ himself
. More than that, it is not ultimately preachers who offer Christ to others; but Christ—divine love incarnate—speaks in the gospel and offers himself fully and freely to the most undeserving, if they will but receive him. 'Christ offers himself in mercy to the worst soul'17, even, as Whitefield used to say, to 'the devil's castaways'.
11. Bunyan, Works, vol. 1, p. 286, 298. 'Men must see something in Jesus Christ, else they will not come to him' (p. 295). A fine example of preaching that pleads with men can be seen in the closing pages of Bunyan's Come and Welcome to Jesus Christ, from which these quotes are taken.
12. Works, vol. 9, p. 592.
13. See ibid, vol. 6, p. 523. Owen is including both the universal and the particular when he says that the freeness of God's mercy does not interfere with the efficacy. 'Though he [God] proclaim pardon in the blood of Christ indefinitely, according to the fullness and excellency of it, yet he giveth out his quickening grace to enable men to receive it; for he hath mercy on whom he will have mercy. but this lies in the thing itself; the way is opened and prepared, and it is not because men cannot enter, but because they will not, that they do not enter.' p. 529.
14. Evidence for this statement is vast. I give some of it in my book, Pentecost Today? (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1998), pp. 90–9.
15. Complete Works of Richard Sibbes, vol. 2 (repr., Edinburgh: Banner of Truth 2000), pp. 186, 84.
16. Owen, Works, vol. 6, p. 504.
17. Sibbes, vol. 2, p. 187. 'It is our office, thus to lay open and offer the riches of Christ.'
Iain H. Murray, "The Cross: The Pulpit of God's Love—Part 2," Banner of Truth 495 (December 2004): 16–17.

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