March 6, 2016

A Second Critique of R. C. Sproul on the Love of God

It seems that the older Sproul gets, the more inclined he is to make injudicious statements, as if he is being bold in saying these things. His mentor, John Gestner, certainly had that problem. Mark Jones, in his friendly review of the recent Ligonier statement on Christology (and other posts here, here, and here), has seen some poor judgement in that area, but my focus here is on a recent, unwise statement by Sproul on God’s unconditional love.

At the 2016 National Ligonier Conference, Sproul addressed the topic of “The Transforming Power of the Gospel.” He talked briefly about what the gospel is not, in order to present what he thinks the gospel is. He first mentioned that the gospel is not “your personal testimony,” and then elaborated. He then stated the following (see minute 34:33–34:42):
And to say that God loves all people unconditionally is not the gospel; it’s not even true.
This is the statement I want to critique. It is not the only time Sproul has made such uncareful statements in my view (see my recently updated first criticism here). Not only does Sproul seem to be somewhat confused on the free offer of the gospel (see here), but he also seems to be confused on God’s so-called “unconditional love.” Consider his statement above. It has two claims in it:

1) “God loves all people unconditionally is not the gospel.”
2) “God loves all people unconditionally” is “not even true.”

The second claim is the main assertion that I want to critique, but let’s consider the first one as well in passing.

1) First, he said, “God loves all people unconditionally is not the gospel.” 

Has anyone, at any time, ever claimed that “God loves all people unconditionally is the gospel”? No. Of course not. No one has ever made that manifestly absurd claim. It’s a straw man and overreaction to what is actually being said or done by certain people. What we see in popular evangelistic meetings are preachers telling everyone present that God loves them unconditionally, in the context of also presenting the facts about Christ’s life, death, and resurrection (i.e. the gospel), with little or no mention that the unbelievers are abiding under God’s wrath (or hatred of abomination). The listeners, therefore, do not adequately feel that they are in any danger of perishing. It is usually not so much what is said that is the problem, but what is not said. There is an overemphasis on the love of God to the extent that other vitally important gospel-truths are omitted, such as the holiness of God, which Sproul has been so rightly zealous to underline in his teaching.

It is not that these people are claiming that “God loves you unconditionally is the gospel;” rather, the problem is that they are saying that while neglecting to also mention other important biblical truths about God’s nature, which shine forth in the cross of Christ. The cross of Christ not only lets everyone know that God loves them personally as His creatures (which we will explain later), it simultaneously lets them know how much God is passionately disgusted with them as sinners, or as His enemies. Unbelievers are presently recipients of benevolent love, but they are also under a curse. In effect, the Father, through Christ on the cross, says, “Yes, I love you benevolently, and therefore desire your eternal salvation according to my revealed will through your repentance and faith in my crucified Son; but I am also so disgusted with sin and sinners that this sort of violent sacrifice is necessary in order that you might escape my coming wrath. Unless you repent, and receive my Son as He is graciously offered in the gospel, you shall yourself suffer the excruciating and eternal punishment necessary for your sin.”

It is this latter teaching about God’s holy hatred for sin and sinners that is regularly omitted in evangelistic encounters. That’s the problem. No one is actually saying that “God loves all people unconditionally is the gospel.” The reason that theological balance is lacking today is because so few actually know about the complexity involved in the biblical teaching regarding the love of God (hence the need for D. A Carson’s book on “The Difficult Doctrine of the Love of God”), and so they therefore don’t have a good understanding about the complex teaching of the hatred of God either. The two doctrines (i.e. God’s holy love and holy hatred) are interrelated. Faithful expositions on the meaning of the cross of Christ in evangelistic encounters must therefore present both doctrines, though the emphasis may vary in certain contexts (as I mention in the bottom portion of my first critique). I think this is Sproul’s underlying concern as well, but he is not articulating it carefully. That’s his problem, as evidenced in the first claim.

2) Let’s consider his second claim: “God loves all people unconditionally...is not even true.”

There are different senses of the love of God according to the bible and historic Christian teaching. The early church fathers, the medieval schoolmen, the early Reformers, and especially the post-Reformation Reformed theologians all distinguished between God’s love of complacency and His love of benevolence, for example.

A) God’s Love of Complacency (from the Latin complacere, ‘to please’)

Typically, God’s love of complacency is presented as God’s love for all good things and beings (i.e. the righteous or saints). It is that pleasure or delight that God has for all that is good or virtuous. Inter-Trinitarian love is that highest delight and pleasure that each of the persons has for the others as perfect and holy. As Richard Muller says, “The amor Dei...is directed inwardly and intrinsically toward God himself as the summum bonum, or highest good, and, among the persons of the Trinity, toward one another.”

God also takes pleasure in His creatures insofar as they reflect the divine image, or participate in holiness. We might therefore call this sense of love God’s “love of moral complacency,” in the sense that God is pleased with all that is good and holy. Jesus is talking about this sense of love when He said, “he who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I will love him and manifest Myself to him” (John 14:21). Whoever loves Jesus and keeps his word “will be loved” by the Father (John 14:23). This is that sort of love that Jesus commands us to “abide in” (John 15:9). “If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love, just as I have kept My Father's commandments and abide in His love” (John 15:10). If you pursue godliness and righteousness, then the Lord loves you  in this sense (Prov. 15:9).

One can see that this sense of God’s love is “conditional,” in the sense that virtue in the creature is required in order for God to be pleased with you, or to take delight in you. Reformed theologians typically reserve this “conditional” sense of God’s love for His saints, or for believers only (which is how Mark Jones, of Ref21, is currently using the category). Does God love all people with a “love of moral complacency,” or with that special, exclusive love He has for the righteous? Of course not. God’s love of moral complacency is obviously conditional.

This is the sense of God’s love that is so neglected or not understood well today, and so theologians such as Mark Jones (on Reformation21, in his book on Antinomianism, and in the book A Puritan Theology) are seeking to remind the church about God’s conditional love of moral complacency. Whether or not God has a love of complacency for unsaved people insofar as they have virtue in them through God’s restraining grace is a debatable point. Some Puritans, such as William Gearing, seem to affirm a kind of general love of moral complacency, since even “profane men” still have “some reliques of God’s [moral] image in them,” such as the rich young ruler. Nevertheless, it is true that, classically speaking, God’s love of moral complacency is typically reserved for believers (or the “righteous” in this sense) alone, at least in terms of traditional Christian teaching.

Another subtle distinction arises among the schoolmen and later Reformed theologians. As Richard Muller notes, “The amor Dei universalis is frequently called by the scholastics complacentia, or general good-pleasure...” We might call this God’s “love of natural complacency,” or His love of all of His creation as such. It is what Jonathan Edwards seems to have in mind when he expounded on God’s “love of being” in The Nature of True Virtue and elsewhere. Very frequently cited among the theologians of the past is Wisdom 11:24 (RSV):
For thou lovest all things that exist, and hast loathing for none of the things which thou hast made, for thou wouldst not have made anything if thou hadst hated it. 
If God’s love of moral complacency is not well-understood today, then how much less is this rather technical sense of God’s love of natural complacency for all that He has made? Even Mark Jones does not seem to have this category in his thinking, even though he is becoming more and more refined in his understanding of God’s love of moral complacency. Jones seems to have been influenced by Samuel Rutherford’s categories (along with Thomas Goodwin and others) in his anti-antinomian writings. Rutherford does, however, seem to have this category of complacency in mind when he elaborated on “three sorts of love.” He includes the idea that God “loves all that he has made; so far as to give them a being, to conserve them in being so long as he pleaseth: he had a desire to have Sun, Moon, Stars, Earth, Heaven, Sea, Cloud, Air; he created them out of the womb of love, and out of goodness, and keeps them in being…” One can see that he, like so many others in his day, is alluding to Wisdom 11:24 (not as a canonical or authoritative book in that sense, but as making a true statement) in the context. Insofar as all of creation is something God has made, he loves it, and calls it “good” (Gen. 1:31), in the sense of it’s essence or being.

This specialized and mostly unheard of sense of God’s love of natural complacency (as I call it) in modern times is “unconditional.” The Puritan Thomas Larkham (in The Attributes of God Unfolded, and Applied. Second Part. [London, 1656], 158–159), and also John Gill (see his Body of Divinity, Book 1, chap. 12: “...yea, even the devils, as they are the creatures of God, are not hated by him, but as they are apostate spirits from him...”) went so far as to say that God even loves the fallen angels in the sense that they are His creatures. Modern Christians (including R. C. Sproul) seem to know nothing about this so-called “piece of [seeming] blasphemy,” as Larkham calls it, but it is still true. Does God love all people unconditionally with a complacent love? In a sense one could say so (i.e. in the sense that Larkham maintains), if one has a love of natural complacency in mind, but not unconditionally with a moral complacency, or in the sense of love God has for the righteous. But there is no need to make this argument to point out the problem with Sproul’s statement. The frequently used sense of God’s “unconditional love for all people” is almost always taught under the category of God’s love of benevolence, which we shall consider next.

B) God’s Love of Benevolence

One might say God’s love of benevolence is twofold: common and special.

God’s common love of benevolence is that gracious good-will that He has for all of fallen humanity (not fallen angels), which is seen in His beneficent or good acts of providential care wherein He seeks to bring men to repentance (Rom. 2:4). Richard Muller rightly notes that, “the amor Dei communis is understood to be benevolentia in the strict sense of goodwill toward human beings...” (underlining mine). Jesus has this sense of God’s universal love in mind in Matt. 5:43–45. The Father, as He says, shows himself to “love His enemies” insofar as He grants all living people the common bounties of providence (though not equally, as Van Til carefully qualifies it), even on the “unrighteous.” Clearly this sense of God’s love is unconditional. R. C. Sproul himself, in his book “Loved by God,” acknowledges that God has a love for all people in this sense. He, like all of the Reformed theologians in the past, associates God’s “common grace” with God’s universal, benevolent love.

Muller rightly noted that “the scholastics” subsumed “the grace (gratia), mercy (misericordia), long-suffering (long-animitas), patience (patientia), and clemency or mildness (clementia) of God under the amor Dei,” but one should add that these things are properly subsumed under the amor Dei communis, or amor Dei benevolentia. If common grace is a manifestation of God’s common or general love, then how can one not see that it is unconditional? On the very basis of this sense of God’s common love, Jesus commands us to love our enemies, even if they are hurling insults and abuse on us. Jesus in effect is saying, “despite their moral condition as your (i.e. the saints) enemies, wish them well. Pray for them. Bless them. Have goodwill toward them, even as the Father, despite their hostility to Him, so graciously bears goodwill to them while they live in this world.” God’s common love of benevolence is clearly unconditional, even though His love of moral complacency (as I have called it) in the usual sense is conditional

Moreover, one cannot use texts affirming God’s conditional love of moral complacency to negate God’s universal and unconditional love of benevolence, just as one cannot use God’s conditional hatred of abomination (odium abominationis) for the wicked to cancel out the biblical teaching regarding God’s love of goodwill. As the Puritan Thomas Manton so well observed, “...the hatred of abomination is opposite to the love of complacency, odium inimicitiƦ [i.e. a hatred of enmity or malice] to amor benevolentiƦ.” It is a mistake among the hyper-Calvinists to use “hatred of abomination” texts (such as Psa. 5:5) to negate God’s common “amor benevolentiƦ” (which is a false antithesis, since the opposite of benevolence is malevolence, or malice). The proper inference one can make from Psa. 5:5 is that, since God has a hatred of displacency or disgust for workers of iniquity, he therefore has no love of moral complacency for these people as sinners, not that He has no love of benevolence for them. They use also texts referring to God’s hatred of preterition (Rom. 9:13) along the same lines, or to negate amor Dei universalis or amor Dei communis. The only legitimate inference one can make from Rom. 9:13 is that God has no love of election (or a special sense of benevolent love) for Esau in contrast to those special blessings appointed to Jacob; one cannot conclude that God has no benevolent love at all for Esau, since the proper antithesis to a love of election is a hatred of preterition.

What the hyper-Calvinists don’t realize is that God simultaneously has an unconditional love of benevolence for all human beings in one sense, even though He abominates the human beings (including the unbelieving elect) who remain in their sins and under the sway of the wicked one (1 John 5:19). God hated Esau (both in terms of a pre-temporal preterition and a temporal abomination after he’s imputed with original sin, and especially when he’s in actual sin), yes, but He still blessed Esau, even as He also blessed Ishmael (Gen. 17:20), with great lands, many descendants, etc. As the Puritan Thomas Watson said regarding Pharoah, “Even the worst taste of God’s mercy; such as fight against God’s mercy taste of it; the wicked have some crumbs from mercy’s table. ‘The Lord is good to all.’ Sweet dewdrops are on the thistle as well as on the rose. The diocese where mercy visits is very large. Pharaoh’s head was crowned though his heart was hardened.”

We cannot use any texts referring to God’s hatred of abomination (i.e. the disgust God has for living, actual sinners) or His hatred of preterition (mere non-election before anyone has done acts of good or evil) to cancel out God’s unconditional, merciful love of benevolence for the whole human race. The people who make this mistake have no category for the biblical statement that God shall love some people “no more” (Hos. 9:15), just as they also have no category for an increasing or decreasing divine love of moral complacency. They have no category for the misery of the damned (i.e. the non-elect) being “aggravated by the remembrance, that God once loved us so as to give his Son to bring us to the happiness of his love, and tried all manner of means to persuade us to accept of his favor, which was obstinately refused,” as Jonathan Edwards excellently taught. This was unconditional mercy and a gracious or free sense of love that they (the non-elect) received in this world, but is eventually taken away.

Another sense of God’s love of benevolence is special, or for the elect alone. As Muller again notes, “the amor Dei proprius, or specialis, is directed toward the elect or believers only and is manifest in the gift of salvation.” We might call this a “love of election,” and it is a subset or special sense of God’s love of benevolence. It is also unconditional, in the sense that God has graciously elected some human beings (the elect) to be effectually granted a new heart unto repentance and faith, while others are unconditionally passed over (preterition) with respect to this free gift. Sometimes, as Muller notes, the “amor Dei specialis, is termed amicitia, i.e. friendship or sympathy toward believers,” but that is the idea of God’s conditional love of moral complacency, or that love he has for those in a condition of “friendship” since they are obedient “believers” of the gospel.

The picture of God’s love (at least as implicitly taught or implicitly categorized in the Reformed tradition) as we have presented it appears as follows:

THE LOVE OF GOD
Love of Complacency
Love of Benevolence
Natural (unconditional, or for all creation as such) Common or General (unconditional, and for all humanity)
Moral (conditional, i.e. for the virtuous or for saints) Special (unconditional, but limited to the elect)

Even though Sproul is emphatically not himself a hyper-Calvinist, his denial that God loves all people unconditionally logically entails a denial of God’s universal love of benevolence, which denial then constitutes a form of hyper-Calvinism (i.e. the modern kind seen mainly among the Protestant Reformed Church variety). The denial of God's unconditional love for all people is not in accord with the teaching of the original Reformers, or the later Reformed scholastic theologians. There are at least two senses in which we could say “God loves all people unconditionally” from the standpoint of biblical and historic Reformed theology: 1) in the sense of His love of natural complacency, and 2) in the sense of His common love of benevolence. Even if one rejects the first idea, it is abundantly clear from the bible, as well as from the historic Reformed tradition, that God’s common love of benevolence for all people is unconditional, and is therefore a true teaching.

The church needs to know about these things, and she needs to be more discerning, particularly when we have prominent leaders, such as Sproul, making nonsensical and injudicious statements. Not only is the recent Ligonier statement on Christology lacking in carefulness, but so are several statements that R. C. Sproul has said regarding the love of God. It disturbs me that no one at the conferences, so far as I can tell, seems to be correcting him in this matter. We hope that Sproul does not turn out to be as imbalanced as John Gerstner (one of Sproul’s mentors) was in his latter days. May God keep him from making further mistakes, and from the PRC form of hyper-Calvinism that Gerstner eventually came to embrace later in his life.

23 comments:

oceanblue said...

Hi, thanks for this great article! (I hope my email address would not be posted here for privacy reasons). I enjoyed reading this very much, and have some follow-up questions for you. I am feeling a bit confused by the two types under each category of 'love of complacency' and 'love of benevolence'.
1. Why is the 'natural' love of complacency 'unconditional'? And does it refer to God's love for all creation (including humanity) before sin?
2. When you say that the 'moral' love of complacency is 'conditional', does that mean that God has always had this type of love for the elect (from before the foundation of the world) because He has always known that they will someday love Christ as they have been predestined to do?
3. What is the difference between 'common or general' love of benevolence and 'natural' love of complacency? Is it that the former is for all humanity even after the fall but the latter is only for all creations before the fall?
4. Why is the 'special' love of benevolence 'unconditional'? I almost had the impression that it was the same as the 'moral' love of complacency but I see that in the chart, you have listed them as different.

Your clarification would be greatly appreciated!

Tony Byrne said...

You ask: "1. Why is the 'natural' love of complacency 'unconditional'? And does it refer to God's love for all creation (including humanity) before sin?"

Me now: The sense I mean by a "natural love of complacency" is simply God's delight or pleasure in His creation as such, since it is, ontologically, good, as stated by Genesis. It not only refers to creation's prelapsarian condition, but also creation's post-lapsarian condition, ontologically speaking. It is unconditional in the sense that personal agents (both human and angelic) do not have to do anything in order to have God's delight. They simply are God's creation, and so in terms of their essence, they are good.

You ask: "2. When you say that the 'moral' love of complacency is 'conditional', does that mean that God has always had this type of love for the elect (from before the foundation of the world) because He has always known that they will someday love Christ as they have been predestined to do?"

Me now: No. The pretemporal love that God has for the elect is a species of His love of benevolence. We might call it special benevolence, as He is well-wishing to them in a special sense, so as to appoint them to eternal life through the gift of faith. When the elect are born, they are fallen in Adam, and so participate in His guilt and corruption. Morally speaking, God loathes them as adult sinners as he does all workers of iniquity. It is only when they are renewed by the Spirit and walking in faith that God delights in them with the moral sense of a love of complacency. The Puritans usually reserve God's love of complacency for this sense, and so refer to believers alone as those who enjoy God's complacent love.

As far as the elect are considered, you might think of it this way:

When they are born, God has an electing love for them, which is special benevolence. So they are loved especially in that sense, unlike the rest of mankind. However, like the rest of mankind and like all of God's creation, they are loved by Him as His creation. Ontologically, God's creation is good, so He delights in it, and in them, and in all creation. But the elect when born and when in unbelief are also dead in trespasses and sin, and so are abominated by God on account of their sin, as all sinners are. Once the Holy Spirit regenerates them, and they are walking in the obedience of faith, God loves them with a moral complacency, since their wills are renewed and they are motivated by trust in God, albeit imperfectly. God's electing love results in their eventual regeneration, which then, after regeneration, results in God loving them as saints who please Him.

oceanblue said...

Thanks for the clarification, Tony. For Q2 about the 'moral' love of complacency, you said that it 'is a species of His love of benevolence. We might call it special benevolence'. -- This is connected to my Q4 because in your chart, the Moral Love of Complacency is said to be 'conditional' while the Special Love of Benevolence is said to be 'unconditional', how do we understand that? If they are the same, then shouldn't they be both 'conditional'?


P.S. 4. Why is the 'special' love of benevolence 'unconditional'? I almost had the impression that it was the same as the 'moral' love of complacency but I see that in the chart, you have listed them as different.

Tony Byrne said...

You ask: "3. What is the difference between 'common or general' love of benevolence and 'natural' love of complacency? Is it that the former is for all humanity even after the fall but the latter is only for all creations before the fall?"

Me now: God's benevolence refers to His well-wishing disposition toward what He has made. He has a propension toward the well-being of His creation and His creatures, which is more than simply a passive constitutional delight in it as His creation. God is pleased with the work of His own hands (natural or ontological complacency), but He is also well-disposed toward it (general benevolence). That's the subtle distinction (not a separation) between a natural love of complacency and a common or general love of benevolence.

First, God always loves His creation as such with a natural complacency. He delights, ontologically speaking, in the work of His own hands, but pre- and post-fall. So do not think of that sense of love as referring to one state and not the other. God is always, everlastingly, pleased with the work of His own hands, or His creation as such.

With respect to God's common or general benevolence, this is His love of disposition for all of humanity, even after the fall. Being well-diposed toward His creation, and toward humanity, He has also purposed to give humanity good things (a love of beneficence), and space for repentance and mercy (Rom. 2:4). He has willed to be merciful to all mankind in a general sense, but also has a special mercy preserved for His elect from all eternity, and so by the Spirit gives them special benefits out of His gracious purpose. The general sense of His beneficent love toward humanity (or what some theologians call "common grace") may be withdrawn after some time, so that God can say to people, "I will love them no more" (Hosea 9:15). This is crucial to understand since hyper-Calvinists have no category in their thoughts about God for God to love someone "no more." In my view, that is God's common grace and general benevolence coupled with beneficence (the giving of good things) being withdrawn from some of humanity at some point in time. The Spirit will not strive after some people at a certain point (Gen. 6:3).

Tony Byrne said...

You ask: "4. Why is the 'special' love of benevolence 'unconditional'? I almost had the impression that it was the same as the 'moral' love of complacency but I see that in the chart, you have listed them as different."

Me now: The special love of benevolence is the same as God's electing love. God has unconditionally purposed to give the elect the gift of faith apart from any consideration of any qualities in them. They do nothing to deserve this gift. They do not have to meet any conditions in order to the attainment of it. Electing love involves God's purpose to regenerate the elect through the effectual calling of the Spirit working through the preached message of the gospel. His purpose to give them faith is, in that sense, totally unconditional.

God's moral love of complacency, as I have called it, is only for saints or believers. The elect are not always in a state of faith. When they are unregenerate, they are abominated as sinners, even as the rest of fallen mankind (Eph. 2:3). Once the elect are quickened by the Spirit and walking in the obedience of faith, they are morally pleasing to God has saints, since they are sanctified by the Spirit and renewed in their minds and wills. That's the distinction I am getting at. The saints are meeting the condition of obedience by the power of the Spiriting working in them, and so they are praised by God and are pleasing to God thereby, but all as a result of His initial work of grace in them.

Tony Byrne said...

You said: "For Q2 about the 'moral' love of complacency, you said that it 'is a species of His love of benevolence. We might call it special benevolence'. -- This is connected to my Q4 because in your chart, the Moral Love of Complacency is said to be 'conditional' while the Special Love of Benevolence is said to be 'unconditional', how do we understand that? If they are the same, then shouldn't they be both 'conditional'?"

Me now: In the chart and in my analysis, I am associating God's "special love of benevolence" as simply His love of election, which means His purpose to grace the elect the gift of faith in order to put them in Christ, so that they may attain to the eschatological adoption as sons or full glorification. Special love of benevolence, simply considered as electing love, is unconditional in that sense. God will give the elect faith in Christ apart from any qualifications in them. But once they walk in the obedience of that God-wrought faith, they please Him, since they are now participating in His holiness, as renewed creatures being conformed unto the moral image of His son. They are not loved with what I have called God's "moral love of complacency" until they are walking obediently as motivated by faith. That is why I said it is "conditional." The former (electing love, simply considered) is not conditional, the latter (moral complacency) is conditional.

I hope that helps to clarify the categories. If you want, you may now ask any further clarifying questions.

Thanks,
Tony

Tony Byrne said...

Also, to investigate these things further, visit my page on the love of God (click), and scroll down to the bottom. You will see a number of historical points being made, with some of these categories listed there. Not everyone labels the categories the same as I do, but they still have the same concepts working in their system. See note #12 on the page. You will see the sense of what I have called "natural complacent love" in many Reformed theologians, wherein they say that God loves all of his creation as such, even fallen angels, ontologically speaking, as well as the damned. That category has been forgotten, especially among the very ignorant hyper-Calvinists who, in their blasphemy, deny any sense of God's love for any of the non-elect or reprobates.

Tony

oceanblue said...

Thanks, Tony! Very thoughtful and helpful explanation. Let me think about this and get back to you :)

Tony Byrne said...

You're welcome. If you'd like any historical sources for the concepts I put forward, let me know. They're already posted on my blog, so I would just have to get them for you and compile them here to substantiate my points. Again, the labels I have used are my own, but the concepts are very old, going back to Augustine, the medieval schoolmen, to the early Reformers, and many Puritans.

An ancient text that is often when theologians want to maintain God's love for the work of His own hands, or for creation as such, is in the Book of Wisdom:

KJA Wisdom 11:24 For thou lovest all the things that are, and abhorrest nothing which thou hast made: for never wouldest thou have made any thing, if thou hadst hated it.

Though that apocryphal work is not viewed as inspired, it is nevertheless cited often by the early church as stating a true point. "All things that are" refers to all of God's creation, or the very being of things, as good. Since it is the good work of His own hands, God cannot hate it, but must love or be pleased with it, as He does delight in everything that is good. This goodness of being as such is distinct from created personal agents (angelic and human) actually doing good things in obedience to God's will. When creatures obey, then God is pleased with their characters or actions, insofar as it conforms to God's preceptive will. So these categories explain the two senses of complacent love, though among the Puritans the "love of complacency" label is usually only associated with God's pleasure in obedient saints.

Not only is God pleased with everything that is good, both in terms of His creation as such and in the faith-motivated obedience of creatures, but He is disposed to wish well unto His creation. This is bene (good) volens (willing). God may choose to act on this well-wishing, dispositional love so as to give good things (beneficent love) to sinful creatures, or He may not. There is freedom in God to have mercy, or not to have mercy. Toward humanity, He has chosen to act mercifully, so as to give them room for repentance and reconciliation, for a space of time, whereas with fallen angels He has not. All mankind are receiving common gifts from above, that are good, in order that they may repent (Rom. 2:4). His kindness is meant to lead them to repentance. See what I have said about Romans 2:4 here (click), along with many exegetical sources.

Tony

Tony Byrne said...

I also mentioned the Holy Spirit "striving" with sinners in order to win them. On Genesis 6:3, the 1599 Geneva Bible says, "Because man could not be won by God's leniency and patience by which he tried to win him, he would no longer withhold his vengeance." Notice that it says "He [God] tried to win them." Who are "them"? They are those who perished in the flood, or those who eventually received "his vengeance," as the Genevan comment says. That's clearly the non-elect who perished in Noah's day. Matthew Henry said, "The blessed Spirit strives with sinners, by the convictions and admonitions of conscience, to turn them from sin to God." They who perished then, like all sinners, are loved by the Father in the general sense of receiving "good things from above" (James 1:17), such as the sun, rain, etc. (Matt. 5:45). When Matthew, speaking by the Holy Spirit, said that "he [God] makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust," that is beneficence, or good-giving love. These things may be eventually withdrawn after a time, if a sinner persists in rebellion. But that withdrawal of goods given (a love of beneficence) does not negate the fact that they were once loved, benevolently *and* beneficently, but not with electing love, or special benevolence, as I have called it. Only the elect are purposed to receive special gifts by God, according to His electing love, whereby He determines to have effectual mercy upon some and not upon others. So "He will have [special] mercy upon whom He will have mercy" (Rom. 9:18), while others He hardens.

If you want further explanations and sources, feel free to email me as well. On my profile page linked above, on the right-hand side of this blog, you will find my email address. That may be a better way to discuss these topics, and an easier way to read my responses.

Grace to you,
Tony

oceanblue said...

Hi Tony! I've read all of your comments carefully. They have helped me to understand your four labels better. I understand the concepts but it's the first time that I've seen it labeled into the four categories this way, so it's a bit confusing to me and I thought I would get some of your clarifications to avoid misunderstanding what you have written. As you've so kindly suggested, I'd also like to read more of the classic writings on this topic. Would you mind pointing me to those resources that you've mentioned? Thanks a lot!

Tony Byrne said...

Hi, Ocean.

I'll try to put a few quotes together to show you some of the categories in older theologians. For the time being, if you want to thoroughly and systematically look at the quotes I have on my blog, see The Love of God index. Or see The Historicity of the Reformed Doctrine of Electing and non-Electing Love. If you were to read all of those sources, you would have a thorough education on the subject that most people lack.

Tony Byrne said...

On the love of complacency idea, see if you can open this pdf file (click) on the topic. It is part of a paper I was working on to correct some Southern Baptists who are misrepresenting Reformed theology. It is not finished, but it will give you some quotes to consider, such as from William Perkins and Garry Williams.

Tony

Tony Byrne said...

Notice some of the categories in Richard Muller's dictionary that deals with early modern Reformed conceptions of God's love (click). First, he said:

"Considered as a divine attribute, the amor Dei can be defined as the propensity of the divine essence or nature for the good, both in the sense of God's inward, intrinsic, benevolentia, or willing of the good, and in the sense of God's external, extrinsic, beneficentia, or kindness, toward his creatures."

Muller distinguishes between God's love of benevolence and His beneficence. God's love of benevolence is the "inward, intrinsic" "propensity" which involves the "willing of the good," and His beneficence, which is seen in the "external" or "extrinsic" "kindness toward His creatures." So, the love of benevolence is that interior disposition in God whereby He is well-wishing, or good-willing toward creatures; then, when God freely acts upon that disposition so as to bestow good things upon a creature, it is termed beneficence.

To be continued...

Tony Byrne said...

Muller then said:

"The amor Dei universalis encompasses all things and is manifest in the creation itself, in the conservation and governance of the world; the amor Dei communis is directed toward all human beings, both elect and reprobate, and is manifest in all blessings, or benefits (beneficia) of God; and the amor Dei proprius, or specialis, is directed toward the elect or believers only and is manifest in the gift of salvation."

Here Muller distinguishes between a universal love of God, a common love of God, and a special love of God. His universal love "encompasses all things" or the entire "creation itself." God's "common love" is specifically His love "directed toward all human beings, both elect and reprobate," and is "manifest in all the blessings, or benefits (beneficia) that they receive. Then there is a special love that is "directed toward the elect" in the sense of "believers only," which is manifest in the gift of salvation."

To be continued...

Tony Byrne said...

With these things in mind, now look at how Muller further classifies things:

"The amor Dei universalis is frequently called by the scholastics complacentia, or general good-pleasure; the amor Dei communis is understood to be benevolentia in the strict sense of goodwill toward human beings; and amor Dei specialis, is termed amicitia, i.e. friendship or sympathy toward believers."

The universal love of God is called "complacency" by the scholastics. He's talking about the category that I have called God's natural love of complacency, or His delight in all of creation as such. And although Muller does not call the special love of God "complacency" also, that is what the Reformed usually have in mind when they think of God's friendship or amity with believers. You can see in Muller that there are implicitly two senses of complacency: 1) God's universal love for all of creation as such, and 2) His special love for believers. Notice also that he calls God's common love toward all humanity a "benevolent" love, or "goodwill toward human beings." But there is also another sense of benevolent love that is special, and is called a "love of election." This is what Muller had in mind in the first paragraph above when he said God's "special love" "is manifest in the gift of salvation." God loves His elect with a "special" benevolence, so as to give them salvation.

To be continued...

Tony Byrne said...

Muller's categories break down to this:

1) There are two senses of God's complacent love: A) one sense is a universal love and is "frequently called" by the scholastics "complacency." But there is also a second sense of complacency, or sense B), which is God's love of friendship toward believers.

2) There are two senses also of God's benevolent love: a) a common love toward all human beings, and b) a special love which gives salvation to the elect, or electing love.

What may be confusing is that "special love" can refer to either God's complacency or to His benevolence. When "special love" refers to God's complacency, it has in view God's delight or pleasure in obedient believers only. When "special love" refers to God's benevolence," it has in view God's special "good-will" to give salvation to all of the elect as such.

So as you can see, though Muller does not use the labels I have, the categories are still there, as taught by Protestant Scholastic Theologians, among others.

Tony

Henry said...

HEllo Tony,
I enjoyed the article but am left wondering if God's Beneficent love is the same for the saved and the unsaved or if it too, like Benevolent love is divided into Common and Special Beneficence?
It also made me contemplate that if this is divided then is there a qualitative difference in the life of the believer?

oceanblue said...

Thanks so much, Tony! That's a very rich resource and provides lots of good reading. I really appreciate your answering my questions with such details and pointing me to these helpful resources! Blessings in Christ!

Tony Byrne said...

You're welcome, Ocean. Feel free to ask any further questions, whenever you want.

Blessings,
Tony

Tony Byrne said...

Henry said:
"[I] am left wondering if God's Beneficent love is the same for the saved and the unsaved..."

Me now: God's beneficence is his actual bestowal of some benefits upon human beings. He does not equally bestow his bounties upon all, not even the sun and the rain which are mentioned in Matt. 5. Moreover, given the blessings involved with being "in Christ" are special and peculiar to believers only. You mention the "unsaved." They are of two sorts, in my view: 1) the not-yet saved elect, and 2) the rest who shall remain unsaved. Neither of these groups, when in unbelief, are recipients of God's special bounties which are in Christ, but the first group, when effectually called by the Spirit, shall be, eventually.

To be continued...

Tony Byrne said...

Henry said:
"...or if it too, like Benevolent love is divided into Common and Special Beneficence?"

Me now: Remember, "benevolent love" is God's intrinsic or internal well-wishing. It is His love of disposition, as even Sproul calls it in his book on the love of God. It is His propensity toward the good of His creatures. As van Mastricht said, "That propensity is called benevolent when considered intrinsically and beneficent when considered extrinsically. In itself generally considered, it is love; insofar as it is independent, free, and is not owed, it is grace; insofar as it considers the creature as miserable, it is mercy; insofar as it considers the offending sinner whom it endures, it is patience; insofar as it endures him a long time, it is longsuffering; insofar as it also does good to him, it is clemency and beneficence" (Petrus Van Mastrict, Theoretocal-Practical Theology, ed. J. R. Beeke, trans. T. M. Rester & M. T. Spangler [Grand Rapids, MI: Reformation Heritage Books, 2019], 2:349).

There is a general well-wishing in God for the good of all humanity, but there is a special well-wishing in His love of election. Consequently, there is also a general and special beneficence that corresponds to those distinctions.

To be continued...

Tony Byrne said...

Henry said:
"It also made me contemplate that if this is divided then is there a qualitative difference in the life of the believer?"

Me now: Remember, we're not talking about divisions and separations, but necessary scripture distinctions. God's love is one, as is His grace, but it manifests itself in different ways, depending on the will of God and the recipient, in various stages of life. What Berkhof says about grace also applies to God's love: "There are no two kinds of grace in God, but only one ... This one grace of God manifests itself, however, in different gifts and operations (L. Berkhof, Systematic Theology [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1969], 435).

As to the love and grace of God toward the believer, it is truly a special manifestation, resulting in different gifts and operations of the Spirit, to echo Berkhof. A true believer has been elected to receive the effectual call of the Spirit, and thereby to be given the gift of faith. The elect have both God's special benevolence and, in the effectual call, justification, and all that follows, His special beneficence. I am not sure I would call it a "qualitative difference." But it is surely a different manifestation of God's love which accords with His effectual purpose.

I hope that helps to clarify.

Grace to you,
Tony