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Posts Tagged ‘John-Calvin

Worship is the foundation of righteousness

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The first foundation of righteousness undoubtedly is the worship of God. When it is subverted, all the other parts of righteousness, like a building rent asunder, and in ruins, are racked and scattered. What kind of righteousness do you call it, not to commit theft and rapine, if you, in the meantime, with impious sacrilege, rob God of his glory? or not to defile your body with fornication, if you profane his holy name with blasphemy? or not to take away the life of man, if you strive to cut off and destroy the remembrance of God? It is vain, therefore, to talk of righteousness apart from religion. Such righteousness has no more beauty than the trunk of a body deprived of its head. Nor is religion the principal part merely: it is the very soul by which the whole lives and breathes. Without the fear of God, men do not even observe justice and charity among themselves. We say, then, that the worship of God is the beginning and foundation of righteousness; and that wherever it is wanting, any degree of equity, or continence, or temperance, existing among men themselves, is empty and frivolous in the sight of God. We call it the source and soul of righteousness, in as much as men learn to live together temperately, and without injury, when they revere God as the judge of right and wrong. — Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, book 2, chapter 8, section 11

Written by Scott Moonen

June 16, 2013 at 9:19 am

Posted in Quotations, Worship

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Calvin and covenant, again

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I previously mentioned Peter Lillback’s book, The Binding of God, on Calvin’s understanding of and contribution to covenant theology. Calvin’s covenant theology was also the subject of Lillback’s Ph.D. thesis, as well as an article he wrote in 1982 showing how Calvin linked covenant theology and infant baptism. This article was previously available online only in scanned form with many OCR errors. I have corrected these and, with Lillback’s permission, the article is available here: “Calvin’s Covenantal Response to the Anabaptist View of Baptism”.

Whatever your view of infant baptism, this article is a helpful overview of Calvin’s covenant theology. Lillback spends time on continuity and discontinuity between the old and new covenants, including distinctions between law and gospel, letter and spirit, and general and special election. He also discusses covenant breaking, although he doesn’t directly address whether and in what sense God’s covenants are conditional and mutual, or the nature of covenant keeping; nor does he cover topics such as adoption and the Lord’s supper.

Written by Scott Moonen

July 25, 2010 at 7:46 pm

Covenant and Adoption

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J. I. Packer’s book Knowing God is best known for its chapter on adoption, “Sons of God.” The chapter is outstanding, both as a stirring picture of what a wonderful gift adoption is, but also in how he links our adoption to all of the blessings, privileges and responsibilities we have in Christ. Nothing else is quite as precious or as energizing as our adoption. On p. 201 Packer quotes an article he had written earlier:

You sum up the whole of New Testament teaching in a single phrase, if you speak of it as a revelation of the Fatherhood of the holy Creator. In the same way, you sum up the whole of New Testament religion if you describe it as the knowledge of God as one’s holy Father. If you want to judge how well a person understands Christianity, find out how much he makes of the thought of being God’s child, and having God as his Father. If this is not the thought that prompts and controls his worship and prayers and his whole outlook on life, it means that he does not understand Christianity very well at all. For everything that Christ taught, everything that makes the New Testament new, and better than the Old, everything that is distinctively Christian as opposed to merely Jewish, is summed up in the knowledge of the Fatherhood of God. “Father” is the Christian name for God.

Peter Lillback, in his book The Binding of God, assembles a picture of John Calvin’s understanding of God’s covenants with man. Throughout the book what I am most struck by is how often Calvin links covenant theology with the doctrine of adoption in order to either make careful and helpful distinctions, or else to illustrate how God’s covenanting with us ought to be a real engine for responsive affections and actions on our part. Probably half of my dog-ears are for adoption-related passages.

So, we see Calvin summarizing the covenant as an adoption (pp. 137-138):

For if God only demanded his due, we should still be required to cling to him and to confine ourselves to his commandments. Moreover, when it pleases him by his infinite goodness to enter into a common treaty, and when he mutually binds himself to us without having to do so, when he enumerates that treaty article by article, when he chooses to be our father and Savior, when he receives us as his flock and his inheritance, let us abide under his protection, filled with its eternal life for us. When all of these things are done, is it proper that our hearts become mollified even if they were at one time stone? When creatures see that the living God humbles himself to that extent, that he wills to enter into covenant that he might say: “Let us consider our situation. It is true that there is an infinite distance between you and me and that I should be able to command of you whatever seems good to me without having anything in common with you, for you are not worthy to approach me and have any dealings with whoever can command of you what he wills, with no further declarations to you except: ‘That is what I will and conceive.’ But behold, I set aside my right. I come here to present myself to you as your guide and savior. I want to govern you. You are like my little family. And if you are satisfied with my Word, I will be your King. Furthermore, do not think that the covenant which I made with your fathers was intended to take anything from you. For I have no need, nor am I indigent in anything. And what could you do for me anyway? But I procure your well-being and your salvation. Therefore on my part, I am prepared to enter into covenant, article by article, and to pledge myself to you.”

And again Calvin summarizes even the old covenant as a gracious act of adoption (p. 140):

The Psalmist addresses himself by name to his own countrymen, whom, as has been stated, God had bound to himself by a special adoption. It was a bond of union still more sacred, that by the mere good pleasure of God they were preferred to all other nations. . . . He expressly states both these truths, first, that before they were born children of Abraham, they were already heirs of the covenant, because they derived their origin from the holy fathers; and, secondly, that the fathers themselves had not acquired this prerogative by their own merit or worth, but had been freely chosen; for this is the reason why Jacob is called God’s chosen.

Lillback moves on to explore several facets of God’s covenants in Calvin’s understanding. We have already seen above that, perhaps unlike Packer, Calvin considers adoption to be a blessing common to both the old and new covenants. First, Lillback explores Calvin’s complex understanding of mutuality and conditionality. Calvin carefully balances an understanding of God’s sovereign working in our salvation with how we as God’s creatures see, understand, receive and respond to his working in time and history. Adoption is a perfect picture of this because it is an undeserved gift that God undertook wholly on his own initiative, but which makes us God’s children and wholly obligates us to him. Lillback quotes Calvin on p. 172:

[Hosea] says that they had acted perfidiously with God, for they had violated his covenant. We must bear in mind what I have said before of the mutual faith which God stipulates with us, when he binds himself to us. God then covenants with us on this condition, that he will be our Father and Husband; but he requires from us such obedience as a son ought to render to his father; he requires from us that chastity which a wife owes to her husband. The Prophet now charges the people with unfaithfulness, because they had despised the true God, and prostituted themselves to idols.

On p. 192 we see how Calvin both distinguishes and weaves together faith and works. The language of sonship and union with Christ serves as a subtle backdrop, underscoring that obedience does not somehow perversely purchase our freedom from slavery and adoption into God’s love (as if it were possible!), but that pleasing our Father is nevertheless a wonderful combination of duty and delight:

When, therefore, we say that the faithful are esteemed just even in their deeds, this is not stated as a cause of their salvation, and we must diligently notice that the cause of salvation is excluded from this doctrine; for, when we discuss the cause, we must look nowhere else but to the mercy of God, and there we must stop. But although works tend in no way to the cause of justification, yet, when the elect sons of God were justified freely by faith, at the same time their works are esteemed righteous by the same gratuitous liberality. Thus it still remains true, that faith without works justifies, although this needs prudence and a sound interpretation; for this proposition, that faith without works justifies is true and yet false, according to the different senses which it bears. The proposition, that faith without works justifies by itself, is false, because faith without works is void. But if the clause “without works” is joined with the word “justifies,” the proposition will be true, since faith cannot justify when it is without works, because it is dead, and a mere fiction. He who is born of God is just, as John says. (I John V. 18) Thus faith can be no more separated from works than the sun from his heat: yet faith justifies without works, because works form no reason for our justification; but faith alone reconciles us to God, and causes him to love us, not in ourselves, but in his only-begotten Son.

Thus good works are not only possible but acceptable to God because, in Lillback’s words, “in the covenant, God ceases to be a strict judge and becomes a father” (p. 196). Quoting Calvin on the same page:

Moreover, we do not deny that for believers uprightness, albeit partial and imperfect, is a step toward immortality. But what is its source except that the Lord does not examine for merits the works of those whom he has received into the covenant of grace but embraces them with fatherly affection?

But this is the peculiar blessing of the new covenant, that the Law is written on men’s hearts, and engraven on their inward parts; whilst that severe requirement is relaxed so that the vices under which believers still labour are no obstacle to their partial and imperfect obedience being pleasant to God.

It is therefore necessary, even when we strive our utmost to serve God, to confess that without his forgiveness whatever we bring deserves rejection rather than his favour. Hence the Prophet says, that when God is reconciled to us, there is no reason to fear that he will reject us, because we are not perfect; for though our works be sprinkled with many spots, they will be acceptable to him, and though we labour under many defects, we shall yet be approved by him. How so? Because he will spare us; for a father is indulgent to his children, and though he may see a blemish in the body of his son, he will not yet cast him out of his house; nay, though he may have a son lame, or squint-eyed, or singular for any other defect, he will yet pity him, and will not cease to love him: so also is the case with respect to God, who, when he adopts us as his children, will forgive our sins. And as a father is pleased with every small attention when he sees his son submissive, and does not require from him what he requires from a servant; so God acts; he repudiates not our obedience, however defective it may be.

This wonderful result is because of our union with Christ the firstborn Son. Quoting Calvin on p. 209:

Yet notwithstanding, the persons of believers being accepted through Christ, their good works are also accepted in him, not as though they were in this life wholly unblamable and unreprovable in God’s sight; but that he, looking upon them in his Son, is pleased to accept and reward that which is sincere, although accompanied with many weaknesses and imperfections.

Nevertheless, there are those who apostatize or break covenant. Calvin depicts this too using familial language: those who break covenant are rebellious children who are disowned, ones who “degenerate from legitimate children to bastards” (Calvin, p. 217). Yet as God’s children we have great assurance of our perseverance, and encouragement to persevere, because our Father who dwells in our midst has pledged himself to us (Calvin, pp. 270-271):

But the inspired writer, calling to remembrance the promises by which God had declared that he would make the Church the object of his special care, and particularly that remarkable article of the covenant, “I will dwell in the midst of you” (Exodus xxv. 8), and, trusting to that sacred and indissoluble bond, has no hesitation in representing all the godly languishing, though they were in a state of suffering and wretchedness, as partakers of this celestial glory in which God dwells. . . . What advantage would we derive from this eternity and immutability of God’s being, unless we had in our hearts the knowledge of him, which, produced by his gracious covenant, begets in us the confidence arising from a mutual relationship between him and us? The meaning then is, “We are like withered grass, we are decaying every moment, we are not far from death, yea rather, we are, as it were, already dwelling in the grave; but since thou, O God! hast made a covenant with us, by which thou hast promised to protect and defend thine own people, and hast brought thyself into a gracious relation to us, giving us the fullest assurance that thou wilt always dwell in the midst of us, instead of desponding, we must be of good courage; and although we may see only ground for despair if we depend upon ourselves, we ought nevertheless to lift up our minds to the heavenly throne, from which thou wilt at length stretch forth thy hand to help us.” . . . . As God continues unchangeably the same — “without variableness or shadow of turning” — nothing can hinder him from aiding us; and this he will do, because we have his word, by which he has laid himself under obligation to us, and because he has deposited with us his own memorial, which contains in it a sacred and indissoluble bond of fellowship.

In seeking to secure our perseverance, God uses both fatherly enticings and fatherly threatenings and discipline. Yet in the end, “the Christian’s life of covenant-keeping, although imperfect before God, is nevertheless a life of encouragement since God is pleased with His adopted children’s faithful efforts” (Lillback, p. 275).

There are some areas of covenant life where Lillback does not quote Calvin in reference to adoption, but where there is a clear link to adoption. One such area is that of “covenant prayer.” The nature of our prayer to God is precisely that of a child appealing to a loving father (Luke 11:1-13).

This is also the case for the sacraments, the covenant signs. Baptism is a pronouncement by God through his church of our adoption and justification. Consider that our baptism is a key beginning of our union with Christ (Romans 6) and Christ’s own baptism was a pronouncement of sonship and acceptance (Matthew 3). (Baptism is of course not the cause of our adoption and justification any more than a minister’s pronouncement of “man and wife” is the cause of a couple’s union.) Similarly, the covenant meal is a family meal. God provides food for us, his children, and we eat before him. This is true of both the Lord’s Supper and also Old Testament meals that priests and often worshippers enjoyed before God after offering sacrifice.

There are, of course, plenty of other ways we can think about God’s covenanting. Adoption showcases the work of God the Father, but we could equally explore the work of Christ or of the Spirit in our salvation. Or we could consider how our children relate to God, explore Calvin’s letter-Spirit distinction over against a Lutheran law-gospel distinction, or consider the many ways in which the old and new covenants are similar yet different.

An advantage of looking at adoption specifically is that it stands up well as a proxy for the kind of questions we want to ask about covenant and sacraments. In particular, it helps us to remember that God’s covenants are not merely legal, but also affective, personal and social. What does it mean to be in covenant with God through Christ and his Spirit? More than anything else, it means to be adopted, named and kept as his own child.

Written by Scott Moonen

February 27, 2010 at 2:40 pm

Nothing can hinder him from aiding us

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The fullest confidence is available to believers in their suffering because of God’s immutable covenant promise by which He has obliged Himself to believers.

But the inspired writer, calling to remembrance the promises by which God had declared that he would make the Church the object of his special care, and particularly that remarkable article of the covenant, “I will dwell in the midst of you” (Exodus xxv. 8), and, trusting to that sacred and indissoluble bond, has no hesitation in representing all the godly languishing, though they were in a state of suffering and wretchedness, as partakers of this celestial glory in which God dwells. . . . What advantage would we derive from this eternity and immutability of God’s being, unless we had in our hearts the knowledge of him, which, produced by his gracious covenant, begets in us the confidence arising from a mutual relationship between him and us? The meaning then is, “We are like withered grass, we are decaying every moment, we are not far from death, yea rather, we are, as it were, already dwelling in the grave; but since thou, O God! hast made a covenant with us, by which thou hast promised to protect and defend thine own people, and hast brought thyself into a gracious relation to us, giving us the fullest assurance that thou wilt always dwell in the midst of us, instead of desponding, we must be of good courage; and although we may see only ground for despair if we depend upon ourselves, we ought nevertheless to lift up our minds to the heavenly throne, from which thou wilt at length stretch forth thy hand to help us.” . . . . As God continues unchangeably the same — “without variableness or shadow of turning” — nothing can hinder him from aiding us; and this he will do, because we have his word, by which he has laid himself under obligation to us, and because he has deposited with us his own memorial, which contains in it a sacred and indissoluble bond of fellowship.

There is always hope, even in the adversities of life, because “the eyes of the Lord are over the righteous, to confirm His covenant towards them by watching for their safety.”

— Peter Lillback, quoting Calvin in The Binding of God, pp. 270-271.

Written by Scott Moonen

November 27, 2009 at 10:17 am

The Binding of God

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. . . the essence of Calvin’s conception of the covenant is the notion of the binding of God. This binding is God’s own act of joining Himself with His creatures. . . . The gracious self-binding of the infinite God whereby He condescends to enter into a mutual covenant with His fallen and unworthy yet sovereignly chosen people is eloquently portrayed by Calvin in his sermon on Deuternonomy 4:44-5:3.

For if God only demanded his due, we should still be required to cling to him and to confine ourselves to his commandments. Moreover, when it pleases him by his infinite goodness to enter into a common treaty, and when he mutually binds himself to us without having to do so, when he enumerates that treaty article by article, when he chooses to be our father and Savior, when he receives us as his flock and his inheritance, let us abide under his protection, filled with its eternal life for us. When all of these things are done, is it proper that our hearts become mollified even if they were at one time stone? When creatures see that the living God humbles himself to that extent, that he wills to enter into covenant that he might say: “Let us consider our situation. It is true that there is an infinite distance between you and me and that I should be able to command of you whatever seems good to me without having anything in common with you, for you are not worthy to approach me and have any dealings with whoever can command of you what he wills, with no further declarations to you except: ‘That is what I will and conceive.’ But behold, I set aside my right. I come here to present myself to you as your guide and savior. I want to govern you. You are like my little family. And if you are satisfied with my Word, I will be your King. Furthermore, do not think that the covenant which I made with your fathers was intended to take anything from you. For I have no need, nor am I indigent in anything. And what could you do for me anyway? But I procure your well-being and your salvation. Therefore on my part, I am prepared to enter into covenant, article by article, and to pledge myself to you.”

The covenant, therefore, highlights God’s grace.

— Peter Lillback, The Binding of God, pp. 137-138.

We are as the prodigal son.

Written by Scott Moonen

October 5, 2009 at 5:54 am

Love of God

with 4 comments

love-of-godCarson, D. A. The Difficult Doctrine of the Love of God. Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2000.

Carson presents a brief and beautiful affirmation both of God’s transcendent sovereignty, but also the genuineness of God’s love as an affection, both to the elect in particular but also to mankind in general.

Often we tend to force God into convenient little boxes and categories, forgetting that He is far above and beyond our understanding. We know that the doctrines of grace guard against universalism; Carson shows that we must also have a full understanding of God’s love, guarding against the hypercalvinist tendency to see the world exclusively through the lens of God’s decrees.

I recommend this book very highly.

Quotes

For my own purposes I’ve kept an outline and some quotes of this book:

Chapter 1, On Distorting the Love of God

Why the doctrine of the love of God must be judged difficult:

  1. Love is the least doubted of God’s attributes, but often understood in an un-Biblical light. Christians must understand and present it rightly.
  2. So many other attributes (justice, holiness, …) of God are disbelieved today. Christians must understand and rightly present how God’s love relates to his other attributes.
  3. Postmodernism emphasizes a sentimental, syncretistic God. This presents a particular challenge to those representing a Biblical understanding of God’s love.
  4. Within confessional Christianity, how do we understand God’s love relating to evil in the world? How do we understand God’s love relating to his justice?
  5. Christians tend to over-simplify God’s love compared to the Bible’s portrayal.

Five distinguishable ways the Bible speaks of the love of God (not exclusive):

  1. The peculiar love of the Father for the Son, and of the Son for the Father (p. 16).
  2. God’s providential love over all that he has made (p. 16).
  3. God’s salvific stance toward his fallen world (p. 17). Comments on sense of “world” in John 3:16.
  4. God’s particular, effective, selecting love toward his elect (p. 18).
  5. Finally, God’s love is sometimes said to be directed toward his own people in a provisional or conditional way — conditioned, that is, on obedience (p. 19). Comments on “remaining in God’s love”, and on texts expressing conditional aspects of God’s love.

Three preliminary observations

  1. If we absolutize any one of these ways of understanding God’s love, we will lose sight of vital aspects of God’s character (p. 21). “In short, we need all of what Scripture says on this subject, or the doctrinal and pastoral ramifications will prove disastrous.” (23)
    1. Intra-Trinitarian love -> lose redemption
    2. Providential love -> lose God’s personality
    3. Common grace love -> lose force and power of saving grace
    4. Salvific love -> lose common grace love
    5. Conditional love -> fall into merit legalism
  2. God’s love is unified, not compartmentalized. All of God’s attributes stand in relation to one another.
  3. Many evangelical cliches about God’s love are true in some sense, but not generally true. “It is pastorally important to know what passages and themes to apply to which people at any given time.” (24)

“Christian faithfulness entails our responsibility to grow in our grasp of what it means to confess that God is love.” (24)

Chapter 2, God is Love

Carson argues against the consideration of agape as a mere willed altruism.

He is concerned that we not argue from God’s impassibility to his lacking emotion. Quoting Charles Hodge:

Love of necessity involves feeling, and if there be no feeling in God, there can be no love. . . . We must adhere to the truth in its Scriptural form, or we lose it altogether. We must believe that God is love in the sense in which that word comes home to every human heart. The Scriptures do not mock us when they say, “Like as a father pitieth his children, so the Lord pitieth them that fear Him (Ps. 103:13).” (29)

Carson is concerned that we not pursue “methodologically flawed word studies”, but rather pay attention to context, and broad themese of redemptive history.

Chapter 3, God’s Love and God’s Sovereignty

  1. God’s love has an affective element.
    • 1 Cor 13 — it is possible to have incredible altruism and be without love. agape is not merely “willed commitment to the other’s good”.
    • Hosea 11 speaks in very emotionally intense terms about God’s love and devotion for Israel.
    • God is not relenting per se; the judgment+exile will still come. But it will end.
    • Emotional expressions common in prophets. God is jealous, abounding in lovingkindness.
    • God grieves, rejoices, has intense wrath, pities, and loves with an everlasting love.
    • Our love to be modeled after God’s (1 John 4:7-11).
    • God is in some sense impassable, “without … passions” (WCF). But this does not mean that God is without emotion. Rather, God is unchangeable, not given to mood swings, nor dependent on his creatures.
  2. God is sovereign and transcendent.
    1. God is utterly sovereign (omnipotent and omniscient, over people and things) and transcendent.
    2. God’s sovereignty extends to election — of the nation of Israel, of God’s people, and individuals.
      • Acts speaks unashamedly of those “appointed to eternal life”.
      • Election extends even to angels (1 Tim 5:21), so is not limited to salvation.
      • God’s electing love is immutable; he will lose none of those he has saved.
    3. Christians are not fatalists.
      • We do not sacrifice either God’s sovereignty or our responsibility — compatibilism.
      • Both are affirmed, so fatalism is denied. We do not understand how they reconcile.
      • Though man intends evil, God is always at work through men’s actions for his good purpose.
      • Compatibilism is necessary, otherwise 1) the cross is an accident, or 2) there is no responsibility for sin, and no need for atonement.
    4. God is immutable, unchangeable. Ps 102:27, Mal 3:6, Isa 46:8-11, Ps 33:11
      • “God’s immutability . . . engenders stability and elicits worship.” (54)
      • God “is unchanging in his being, purposes, and perfections. But this does not mean he cannot interact with his image-bearers in their time. . . . Even the most superficial reading of Scripture discloses God to be a personal Being who interacts with us. None of this is meant to be ruled out by immutability.” (55)
    5. God’s sovereignty is under attack both by process theologians and open theists.
      • What of God’s repenting and relenting? “God relents over a step he has already taken . . . what he has said he would do or even started doing, sometimes in response to the prayer of an intercessor.”
      • The key is not an internal change in God, but an external change in what God is doing.
      • Still a mystery here how our responsibility and actions relate to God’s sovereignty.
      • We can somewhat imagine God’s sovereignty by extrapolating authority and power, and by thinking of transcendence apophatically.
      • God’s being personal is hard to understand because he never grows in his knowledge of us.
      • But it is clearly taught in scripture, and most clearly revealed in the person of Jesus.
      • Neither God’s personhood nor his sovereign transcendence must be elevated to the exclusion of the other (open theism vs. hypercalvinism).
  3. God’s impassibility is a personal, loving, emotional impassibility.
    • What space is left for emotions in a sovereign, transcendent, all-knowing God?
    • God “knows the end from the beginning, cannot be surprised, and remains in charge of the whole thing anyway.”
    • Cannot deny God’s emotions. Much biblical evidence to the contrary, and this leaves us “[resting] in God’s sovereignty, but . . . no longer [rejoicing] in his love.” His love is not an anthropopathism. “Give me a break. Paul did not pray that his readers might be able to grasp the height and depth and length and breadth of an anthropopathism and know this anthropopathism that surpasses knowledge (Eph. 3:14-21).” (59)
    • Must not insist on impassable immanent Trinity but economic Trinity that is able to suffer.
    • Must not divorce God as he is in himself from God as he interacts with creation.
    • But impassibility is “trying to ward off the kind of sentimentalizing view of the love of God and of other emotions (‘passions’) in God that ultimately make him a souped-up human being but no more” (60). Not deny God’s sovereignty, power, authority, aseity, infinitude.
    • God’s love is real but exists in relation to his knowledge, power, will, justice, holiness.
    • So his emotion does not make him vulnerable to external contingency. But at the same time his will and power are never exercised independent of his love.
    • “God’s ‘passions’, unlike ours, do not flare up out of control. . ., are displayed in conjunction with the fullness of all his other perfections.” (60)
    • So God’s love is different from ours, but no less a real emotion.
    • Guards various truths. God doesn’t ‘fall in love’ with us, but sets his affections on us. He doesn’t predestine us capriciously, but in love.
    • God’s love is always exercised in concert with all his attributes; and it is dependent on his loving character, not our loveliness. This, then, is a model for Christian love.

Chapter 4, God’s Love and God’s Wrath

With a sentimental view of God’s love, people assume that God is bound to forgive sin.

  1. God’s love and wrath
    1. God is often represented in violent, judicious, angry, wrathful ways. Like love, wrath includes an emotional aspect, and this cannot be denied even for the sake of impassibility.
      • Wrath is a product of holiness and sin, not a first-class attribute of God.
      • To depersonalize God’s wrath is to diminish his holiness.
      • To distinguish economic-trinity wrath from immanent-trinity wrath is to limit God’s holiness to dealings with man.
    2. Reconciling God’s love and wrath
      • God hates the sin. It is true hate is not his only posture to the sinner, but God’s hatred and wrath do rest on both sin (Rom 1:18ff) and sinner (John 3:36).
      • Human experience separates love and wrath.
      • But “God’s wrath is not an implacable, blind rage. However emotional it may be, it is an entirely reasonable and willed response to offenses against his holiness. But his love . . . wells up amidst his perfections and is not generated by the loveliness of the loved. Thus there is nothing intrinsically impossible about wrath and love being directed toward the same individual or people at the same time. God in his perfections must be wrathful against his rebel image-bearers, for they have offended him; God in his perfections must be loving toward his rebel image-bearers, for he is that kind of God” (69).
    3. Misconceptions
      1. OT more about God’s wrath, NT more about his love. Perhaps main reason for this is that manifestation of God’s wrath in OT is more temporal, in NT more eternal. OT manifests both love and wrath in “experience and types”, and both become “clearer” and “ratcheted up” in NT. Both God’s love and wrath are perfectly manifested in the cross. “Do you wish to see God’s love? Look at the cross. Do you wish to see God’s wrath? Look at the cross” (70-71).
      2. Father full of wrath, Jesus mollifies him. Some truth to this; Hebrews’ picture of Jesus as constantly interceding high priest. 1 John 2:2 — Jesus as advocate.
      3. Yet God loved the world (Jn 3:16). “Here it is not that God is reluctant while his Son wins him over; rather, it is God himself who sends his son. Thus (to return to Hebrews), even if our great high priest intercedes for us and pleads his own blood on our behalf, we must never think of this as an independent action that the Father somehow did not know about or reluctantly approved” (72). Picture is complex. Father and son both full of wrath, and both loving us so much that they sent/came.
      4. Revelation speaks of the “wrath of the Lamb”; full Godhead “is both the subject and the object of propitiation” (72)
  2. The Love of God and the Intent of the Atonement
    • Limited atonement -> definite atonement. God’s intent for the cross was different for the elect than for the non-elect. Much scripture speaks of the specificity of Jesus’s saving work for his people. But Arminians cite texts indicating God’s love for the world, and it is stilted in many places to read “the world” in a limited fashion. This hearkens back to ch. 1 — neither of these understandings of God’s love (towards elect, non-elect) should be absolutized.
    • “Surely it is best not to introduce disjunctions where God himself has not introduced them. If one holds that the Atonement is sufficient for all and effective for the elect, then both sets of texts are accommodated” (76).
    • Has observed a gradual shift in categories of debate from Calvin forward that moves from conjunction to disjunction.
    • “God is a person. Surely it is unsurprising if the love that characterizes him as a person is manifest in a variety of ways toward other persons. But it is always love, for all that.” (77)
    • Unlimited effectiveness allows us to preach the gospel to all, extend invitation to all, assure all of God’s love.
    • Particular extent gives us pastoral assurance, since the ground of our salvation and our perseverance is not in ourselves.
  3. God loves the world in a compassionate way; we are to have this sort of love for the world. We are not to love the things of the world, nor desire to be like the world (1 John 2:15-17).
  4. Concluding thoughts
    1. God loves us as a parent, disciplines us as a parent. This means that we are responsible in some sense to “love him and keep his commandments”. While his saving love and ultimate disposition to us are unconditional, there is some conditional sense in his face toward us.
    2. “The love of God is not merely to be analyzed, understood, and adopted into holistic categories of integrated theological thought. It is to be received, to be absorbed, to be felt” (80-81). Eph 3:14-21
    3. God’s love is sufficiently powerful to save and transform anyone. Our love toward others should be full of hope in the power of grace.

Back to original 5 categories:

  1. God’s intra-Trinitarian love “ensures the plan of redemption” (82).
  2. God’s providential love cares for us and preserves us even when wrath would destroy us.
  3. God’s inviting love “compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again” (2 Cor 5:14-15)
  4. God’s elective love gently draws us to him, opens our eyes, and secures our salvation.
  5. God’s fatherly love sanctifies us and preserves us, helping us to grow in obedience and holiness.

Our response is to love God with all our being!

Written by Scott Moonen

February 1, 2005 at 5:23 am