I gotta have my orange juice.

Jesu, Juva

Posts Tagged ‘love of God

Common grace

with 3 comments


There is a danger when engaged in any argument, even a just one, that we become so entranced with the rightness of our position and the wrongness of others, that we lose sight of our own unique tendencies to error. I believe the doctrines of grace to be true — I am, as Piper puts it, as 7-point Calvinist. But when we approach God’s sovereignty in a purely systematic or argumentative fashion, we can be at risk of forgetting things such as God’s love and kindness, or failing to allow God’s sovereignty to produce the worship and adoration that he deserves.

Perhaps this is a problem only for me. But I see in me a tendency to understand God’s sovereignty in such a way that his personality, emotion, and love are diminished in my mind, and this is not good. This particularly shows up in how I think of unbelievers. I believe God is sovereign in both election and reprobation. But if God predestines the reprobate to disobedience and destruction, can we honestly say that he truly loves them? After all, 1 Peter 2:7-8 says that:

for those who do not believe, “The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone,” and “A stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense.” They stumble because they disobey the word, as they were destined to do.

Approaching Scripture with this kind of wooden philosophical presupposition can cause us to do damage to the text, to our understanding of God, and to our application of his word. With this in mind, I will briefly visit the topics of common grace, the love of God, and the cross; and touch on several related points in conclusion.

Common Grace

John Murray defines common grace as “every favour of whatever kind or degree, falling short of salvation, which this undeserving and sin-cursed world enjoys at the hand of God.” This is the sun and the rain that all the world enjoys in Matthew 5, which reads:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect. — Matthew 5:43-48

The text commands us to love unbelievers in the same way that God does. But if we hold to the doctrines of grace in a wooden way, as a hyper-Calvinist, then we will be inclined to say that this common grace is not a mark of God’s love, since he plans to punish unbelievers in the end.

In fact, there is a frequent hyper-Calvinist argument (see, for example, [1]) that common grace, rather than being a token of God’s love and compassion, is nothing more than an entrapment by which God hardens unbeliever’s hearts and gradually builds up an overwhelming judicial case against them. Now this is true in one sense — God’s kindness is often lost on the unbeliever, and often serves to harden hearts. And certainly an unbelieving response to God’s kindness is storing up future judgment. But can we say that God has no love for the unbeliever?

The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance. — 2 Peter 3:9

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. — John 3:16

And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world. — 1 John 4:14

Now it is true that not all the world is saved. But these and other verses speak powerfully of God’s heart, not just to mankind in general, but even to individual unbelievers specifically. It can be tempting to look at all the world through the lens of God’s eternal decrees, peering into questions whose answers are not given to us — who is saved and who is not? But then we will see God’s love only as it relates to salvation and destruction. We will be forced to interpret words like “world” in stilted ways, and we will miss an important aspect of God’s loving disposition toward the lost. God’s eternal decree of reprobation does not lessen his goodness, kindness, and love in giving gifts to unbelievers, individually, and to mankind in general. God is sovereign and God is holy, but he is also love; all of his attributes and perfections are in complete harmony.

Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. — 1 John 4:8

Mark Horne writes:

Did God love Adam and Eve? Were His good gifts to them a revelation of His love for them, or were they snares meant to hurt them?

The answer must be that, though God foreordains whatsoever comes to pass, and ultimately causes all things, God’s gifts and offers of future reward are all genuine expressions of a genuine love. It may be difficult to conceive of how this objective revelation in history is to be reconciled with God’s eternal decrees, yet it is perverse to use the decrees to deny that God’s gifts and promises are motivated by love. The fact is, just as without God’s love there is no ground for God’s jealousy, so without God’s good gifts there is no ground for holding ingrates accountable for how they abuse and pervert these gifts. It was Satan’s strategy, after all, to deny that God loved Adam and Eve. If our inferences from God’s decrees put us in Satan’s camp, we need to rethink our position.

The Love of God

D. A. Carson addresses God’s love in his book, The Difficult Doctrine of the Love of God. This book is an outstanding treatment of God’s love and I highly recommend it. It is a short and accessible read. Carson distinguishes 5 major aspects of God’s love. This is certainly not an exhaustive list:

  1. God’s intra-Trinitarian love, between the members of the Godhead.
  2. God’s providential love for all his creation.
  3. God’s compassionate love toward fallen mankind.
  4. God’s particular, elective, saving, transforming love toward his people.
  5. Finally, Carson speaks of a sort of conditional love God has for his people, being careful to distinguish this from saving love. While our salvation is secure, our disobedience nonetheless grieves God and brings his fatherly discipline.

Carson is concerned that we embrace the full counsel of God concerning God’s love. Neglecting any one of these aspects of God’s love, or emphasizing some at the expense of others, will lead us into various errors. His chief concerns for us as reformed believers are, first, that we do not deny the reality of God’s love as a genuine and personal emotion; and second, that we do not deny the reality of God’s compassion for the lost.

The Cross

Calvinists hold to limited atonement, also definite atonement or particular redemption — the idea that Jesus’s death accomplished salvation for specific, elect individuals. We hold to particular redemption for several reasons. First, the benefits of Jesus’s atonement are frequently described in definite terms, suggesting that Jesus’s death was in itself wholly sufficient to accomplish and secure forgiveness, propitiation, righteousness, redemption, salvation; therefore his death cannot have been effective for those who perish in the same way that it is savingly effective for believers. Second, Jesus is often described as having died specifically for his people or his church. While he is also described as having died for the whole world, it is clear from this that believers benefit from his death in a way that the whole world does not. Lastly, and of less importance, John Owen made a famous reductio ad absurdum argument for the doctrine of particular redemption.

But again, if this doctrine is understood woodenly, we can fall into error. While Jesus’s death secured the atonement only of the elect, it is not true that Jesus did not die for all men. Again, it is wrong in many cases to artificially read “world” to mean only those who are saved. Charles Hodge writes of Jesus’s death:

In answer to this question, it may be remarked in the first place that Augustinians do not deny that Christ died for all men. What they deny is that he died equally, and with the same design, for all men. He died for all, that He might arrest the immediate execution of the penalty of the law upon the whole of our apostate race; that He might secure for men the innumnerable blessings attending their state on earth, which, in one important sense, is a state of probation; and that He might lay the foundation for the offer of pardon and reconciliation with God, on condition of faith and repentance.

These are the universally admitted consequences of his satisfaction, and therefore they all come within its design. By this dispensation it is rendered manifest to every intelligent mind in heaven and upon earth, and to the finally impenitent themselves, that the perdition of those that perish is their own fault. They will not come to Christ that they may have life. They refuse to have Him to reign over them. He calls but they will not answer. He says, “Him that cometh to me, I will in no wise cast out.” Every human being who does come is saved.

This is what is meant when it is said, or implied in Scripture, that Christ gave Himself as a propitiation, not for our sins only, but for the sins of the whole world. He was a propitiation effectually for the sins of his people, and sufficiently for the sins of the whole world. Augustinians have no need to wrest the Scriptures. They are under no necessity of departing from their fundamental principle that it is the duty of the theologian to subordinate his theories to the Bible, and teach not what seems to him to be true or reasonable, but simply what the Bible teaches. — Charles Hodge, ”Systematic”, vol, 2, pp. 558-9.

So while Jesus’s death does not secure reconciliation for the unbeliever, it nonetheless has a gracious effect for the unbeliever. Jesus’s death will in fact secure the redemption of creation itself. And as an expression of God’s love and grace, our holy God is able to restrain the sin of unbelievers and temporally withhold his judgment. Even in the face of sin and rebellion, he is righteously able to pour out great gifts of common grace upon unbelievers and mankind. And most importantly, Jesus’s death secures the offer of salvation to all men. He is a sure and certain savior, and no one who comes to him will be cast out (John 6:37). While the hyper-Calvinist may deny that God’s offer of salvation to the lost is “well-meant”, it is clear from scripture that God lovingly invites and commands all men to believe and be saved.

We see this clearly in passages that describe the work of the cross in expansive terms. Jesus is described as one who takes away the sin of the world (John 1:29); one who brought salvation for all people (Titus 2:11); the propitiation for the sins of the whole world (1 John 2:2); the savior of the world (1 John 4:14); and as the savior of all people, especially those who believe (1 Timothy 4:10). Other scripture would forbid us from affirming universalism, so it is clear from this that unbelievers are beneficiaries of the cross in some sense short of true salvation.


So we see that the balance of Scripture requires us to affirm both the doctrines of grace, but also God’s genuine love toward the lost. Carson writes:

In recent years I have tried to read both primary and secondary sources on the doctrine of the Atonement from Calvin on. One of my most forceful impressions is that the categories of the debate gradually shift with time so as to force disjunction where a slightly different bit of question-framing would allow synthesis.

He is saying that we can come to understand the doctrines of grace in such a wooden way that God’s love for unbelievers is diminished in our minds. We ought to guard against this.

I have in mind three other concerns for us as reformed believers that I don’t have time to address at length, but I do want to mention them briefly.

The first has to do with God’s love for the lost. If God has such a loving disposition to unbelievers, as his people we are to have the same love for unbelievers! This ought to energize our evangelism and service to the lost. When we invite unbelievers to salvation, we do not invite them on the condition that they are elect. We invite them unconditionally. In Redemption Accomplished and Applied, John Murray writes that:

From whatever angle we may view [the offer of the gospel], it is full, free, and unrestricted. The appeals of the gospel cover the whole range of divine prerogative and of human interest. God entreats, he invites, he commands, he calls, he presents the overture of mercy and grace, and he does this to all without distinction or discrimination. . . .

When Christ is presented to lost men in the proclamation of the gospel, it is as Savior he is presented, as one who ever continues to be the embodiment of the salvation he has once for all accomplished. It is not the possibility of salvation that is offered to lost men but the Saviour himself and therefore salvation full and perfect. There is no imperfection in the salvation offered and there is no restriction to its overture — it is full, free, and unrestricted. And this is the warrant of faith. (107ff)

In his lectures on the Marrow controversy, Sinclair Ferguson makes the point that God does not offer salvation to sinners as some abstract and conditional transaction — we believe, and from a distance, God will deal with our sin and dispense to us the benefits of the gospel like some kind of mail-order pharmacy. Rather, Jesus himself is offered as a personal and loving savior to all men. The benefits of the gospel come only as we are united with him.

The second concern has to do with God’s immutability. God never changes, and systematic theologians describe him as impassible, or without passions. But this does not mean that God is without emotion, or that his love is impersonal and mechanical. Carson writes that God’s impassibility is best understood as “trying to avoid a picture of a God who is changeable, given over to mood swings, dependent on his creatures” (49). God is not fickle or temperamental. Carson labors to communicate that God’s impassibility does not diminish the reality and personality of his emotions, including his love. Carson talks of people who would make God’s love to be nothing more than an anthropopathism, a crude human picture of something that is not really true of God. Carson makes this memorable appeal: “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). God’s love is a real and perfect love!

The third concern is that we must progress from understanding and even experiencing God’s love to gratefulness and worship. How amazing it is that a holy God would love us! And how more amazing still as we discover more and more the greatness and depth of his love!


See also Monergism‘s collection of links on grace.

Written by Scott Moonen

March 3, 2006 at 5:33 pm

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.


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

Comfort and Joy

leave a comment »

Discussion questions on chapters 7-8 of Christ Our Mediator, by C. J. Mahaney.


Chapter 7, What God Understands. Because of Jesus’s suffering, there is comfort to be found at the cross for the suffering Christian. The cross puts the degree of our suffering in perspective; our suffering, though very real, is light and momentary by comparison, for Jesus has suffered God’s full wrath for our sin. And as a result of His own suffering, Jesus understands our suffering intimately. But more than that, because He suffered for our sake, He brings real comfort to us in our own suffering: He intercedes for us before the Father, and He gives us the Holy Spirit.

Chapter 8, Assurance and Joy. Because of what Jesus has accomplished for us, there is joy to be found at the cross in the midst of our suffering as Christians. He suffered God’s wrath for our sake, to rescue us from that wrath and bring us mercy. All of our suffering is eclipsed by the staggering greatness of this gift, even moreso because we are entirely undeserving of God’s kindness. The cross assures us of God’s unfailing and personal love for us. The cross should be for us an unending source of “joy inexpressible and full of glory”.


  1. CJ quoted Spurgeon as writing that “we little know what we owe to our Savior’s prayers,” that not until heaven will we see the the full and amazing extent of Jesus’s intercession for us before the Father. Yet looking back even now, can you identify some specific ways in which it is clear that God has shown mercy and compassion to you in the midst of suffering? The goal here is both to build faith and also encourage thankfulness and praise.
  2. CJ describes a doctor dying of AIDS and writes that “Jesus was with [him and his wife]. That was all either of them needed to know. Because that is always enough. . . . He is always present. . . and that is sufficient.” What does it mean to say that Jesus is sufficient? ”We do not need anything other than Him, and we do not need anything more than Him.” How have you found this to be true in your life? How is Jesus present and sufficient for you here and now?
  3. Often we allow ourselves to be ruled by subjective feelings and appearances; we might feel that God has abandoned us, that He does not care or understand, or that a situation is insurmountable. When we are overwhelmed by feelings or appearances, the only counsel that the world has to offer is to convince ourselves we’re okay on the one hand, or on the other to grimly bear pain in our own strength. But for the Christian there are objective realities that bring genuine comfort and even joy in the midst of suffering. When we are tempted by subjective appearances to despair, what objective truths must we flee to as our anchor and hope? The gospel, the cross, the amazing and undeserved mercy God has shown us in our sin, God’s declaration of His eternal love, God’s faithfulness. . . When we are captivated by subjective appearances, why is it not only good, but right, to flee to the cross? By giving ourselves to subjectivity we are not merely misguided or short-sighted, but are living in unbelief.
  4. Read Habakkuk 3:17-19. In the midst of his trials, where was Habakkuk’s focus? In the God of his salvation. Why was this the right attitude for Habakkuk — and us — to have? God has proven His love (we can see this even more clearly than Habakkuk, since we look back on the cross); God’s kindness and salvation far outweigh our suffering; and we do not know better than God in His sovereignty, wisdom, and love. Does this attitude come naturally for Habakkuk, or us? Habakkuk struggled for three chapters, complaining to God, and only in the end came to realize what was most important. Likewise, in our suffering, we must exercise faith to have this outlook.
  5. CJ quotes Thomas Watson as writing that “your sufferings are not so great as your sins: put these two in the balance, and see which weighs heaviest.” When we consider the full weight of our sin, how does that put our suffering in perspective? First, we deserve far worse suffering. Second, God has been amazingly merciful to us. How should this provoke us to respond to suffering? With humility, gratefulness for mercy, joy.
  6. Read Galatians 2:20. CJ counsels us to flee to the cross as our only hope and the source of true joy. What encouragement can we draw from this verse in particular? Jesus is the source of our life; Jesus loves us personally; Jesus gave Himself for us personally. Why is Jesus’ personal love and sacrifice for us so amazing? First, God’s particular and personal love gives us great comfort and assurance: we haven’t stumbled upon His grace accidentally, but rather He set His love on us, individually. Second, the fact that He loved us beforehand, even knowing our sins, is humbling and amazing.
  7. God actually commands us to serve Him with joy (Ps. 100:2; Deut. 28:47-48). Obviously joy is not the fruit of a wooden obedience; CJ reminds us that our joy is found by seeing our savior and the cross with eyes of faith, exhorting us to “let the cross always be the treasure of your heart, your best and highest thought. . . and your passionate preoccupation.” What are some practical ways you have found helpful to keep the cross your “passionate preoccupation”? Study the gospels and epistles; study books on the cross; make the cross a regular subject of meditation, prayer, and song; . . .
  8. What are some of the many ways that considering the cross produces real joy? Name some specific ways the cross has brought comfort and joy to you in the past, or how it can bring comfort and joy to a present situation you are experiencing. This would be a good bridge to a time of spontaneous thanksgiving and praise in closing.
  9. Possible ways to close the meeting:
    • End with a time of prayer or praise to allow for spontaneous expressions of gratitude and joy in the cross.
    • Pray for those who are experiencing suffering, hardship, or trials.
    • Pray for those who desire greater assurance. While a lack of assurance is usually a sign of looking for it in the wrong place (emotions or self-righteousness rather than Christ), God does give us assurance in His word and by His Holy Spirit.

Written by Scott Moonen

November 24, 2004 at 11:11 am


leave a comment »

Discussion questions on Hosea. This material owes much to Phil Sasser, Mark Dever, and John Piper.


  1. Hosea and Gomer as a type for God and Israel. Israel’s odious sin, God’s judgment, and God’s loving restoration.
  2. God’s restraining love shown in pleading for Israel’s repentance, and prophesying and bringing judgment.
  3. God’s redeeming love shown in his promise to buy Israel back for himself.
  4. God’s restoring love shown in his promise to bring healing to Israel.

Our sin

  1. Phil talked about how the imagery of adultery reminds us how shocking sin is. Does this come as a surprise? Do you easily forget how personally our sins are taken by God?
  2. Phil. 3:13-14 cautions us to “[forget] what lies behind”. When we contemplate our sin we should not let ourselves become burdened by condemnation; Romans 8:1 comforts the Christian that there is no condemnation thanks to Jesus’s sacrifice.

    At the same time, Eph. 2:11-13 calls us to “remember that [we] were separate from Christ” so that we may rejoice at having been brought near. And Paul recalls that he is “the worst of sinners” for the purpose of exulting in the grace and mercy he found in Christ (1 Tim. 1:12-17); he is moved by this consideration to proclaim that “to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory for ever and ever. Amen.”

  3. What good can we gain from considering our sin?
    • A right notion of our humble position before God, “evangelical humiliation.”
    • A right notion of our position relative to others (we have no advantage or merit, and cause only for compassion and not pride).
    • A better understanding of the greatness of God’s love and mercy to us.
  4. What should a right understanding of the weight of our sin provoke in us?
    • Humility.
    • Contrition and repentance.
      • Dever reminds us that Christians must be always confessing sin and repenting of it. Not that God’s mercy is unsure — but our hearts are wandering and need continuous examining.
      • Phil reminds us to bring words of repentance, as in Hos. 14:2-3. Do you urgently confess to God your need for his mercy?
    • Gratitude and joy.
  5. Are there any practical ways that you find helpful in cultivating a heart of humility and contrition before God?

God’s mercy and holy love

  1. God’s holy displeasure with sin is on display in Hosea, but so is his great redeeming love. What great hope and comfort can we take from Hosea?
    • God’s love is jealous and holy; he desires to restrain his people from sin.
    • We stand in the shadow of the cross; we have received this great promised redemption.
    • What of the “healing” promised in 14:4? Sanctification; God has delivered us from bondage to sin! Phil reminded us that sin is no longer our master.
    • We have no hope apart from God. But he is a sure hope.
  2. What should an understanding of God’s great mercy and love provoke in us?
    • Phil reminded us that our love and devotion toward God must be pure and not mixed or half-hearted.
    • The great price at which we were bought (1 Peter 1:17-19) should inspire much gratefulness and affection.
    • We ought to be provoked to a similar self-giving love (1 John 4:10).


Possibly close with a quotation from Charles Simeon biography, on humility and enjoyment of God’s glory and love. Simeon says:

With this sweet hope of ultimate acceptance with God, I have always enjoyed much cheerfulness before men; but I have at the same time laboured incessantly to cultivate the deepest humiliation before God. . . . There are but two objects that I have ever desired for these forty years to behold; the one is my own vileness; and the other is, the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ: and I have always thought that they should be viewed together; just as Aaron confessed all the sins of all Israel whilst he put them on the head of the scapegoat. The disease did not keep him from applying to the remedy, nor did the remedy keep him from feeling the disease. By this I seek to be, not only humbled and thankful, but humbled in thankfulness, before my God and Saviour continually.

Piper writes:

the remarkable thing about humiliation and adoration in the heart of Charles Simeon is that they were inseparable. Simeon was utterly unlike most of us today who think that we should get rid once and for all of feelings of vileness and unworthiness as soon as we can. For him, adoration only grew in the freshly plowed soil of humiliation for sin. So he actually labored to know his true sinfulness and his remaining corruption as a Christian.

For the Christian, contemplation of our sin brings not condemnation but tearful joy at the greatness of the mercy shown to us, and the awesome greatness of the holy giver of mercy!

Written by Scott Moonen

June 8, 2004 at 7:33 pm