Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Gospel declares God's love

Calvin's doctrine of the love of God expressed in the gospel

The recent questions about hyper-Calvinism and "optative language" have been slightly provoking. So I turn to Calvin.

Calvin always sheds light on these questions, and here is a small beam from the Institutes:

On the other hand, we have good ground for comprehending all the promises in Christ, since the Apostle comprehends the whole Gospel under the knowledge of Christ, and declares that all the promises of God are in him yea, and amen. The reason for this is obvious. Every promise which God makes is evidence of his good will. This is invariably true, and is not inconsistent with the fact, that the large benefits which the divine liberality is constantly bestowing on the wicked are preparing them for heavier judgment. As they neither think that these proceed from the hand of the Lord, nor acknowledge them as his, or if they do so acknowledge them, never regard them as proofs of his favor, they are in no respect more instructed thereby in his mercy than brute beasts, which, according to their condition, enjoy the same liberality, and yet never look beyond it. Still it is true, that by rejecting the promises generally offered to them, they subject themselves to severer punishment. For though it is only when the promises are received in faith that their efficacy is manifested, still their reality and power are never extinguished by our infidelity or ingratitude. Therefore, when the Lord by his promises invites us not only to enjoy the fruits of his kindness, but also to meditate upon them, he at the same time declares his love. Thus we are brought back to our statement, that every promise is a manifestation of the divine favor toward us. Now, without controversy, God loves no man out of Christ. He is the beloved Son, in whom the love of the Father dwells, and from whom it afterwards extends to us. Thus Paul says "In whom he has made us accepted in the Beloved," (Eph. 1:6). It is by his intervention, therefore, that love is diffused so as to reach us. Accordingly, in another passage, the Apostle calls Christ "our peace," (Eph. 2:14), and also represents him as the bond by which the Father is united to us in paternal affection (Rom. 8:3). It follows, that whenever any promise is made to us, we must turn our eyes toward Christ.

~Institutes 3.2.32, emphasis added.

But "God loves no man out of Christ"

But what about Calvin's statement that "God loves no man out of Christ?" (Which I "conveniently" left unbolded in the quote above.) I knew you would ask.

First we should note that Calvin has not "carefully qualified" his expressions of divine favor. He just proclaims -- rather flatly -- that the promises of the gospel are invariably an expression of his good will, favor, or love. (Ask a high Calvinist if he is willing to say that and you may have a clue whether you're dealing with a "high" or a "hyper.")

Second, Calvin does not believe that the expression of God's love is a denial of the fact that the proclamation of the gospel is the occasion of greater condemnation for some. Nor does he believe that the ultimate condemnation of some mitigates the expression of God's love for those sinners.

Third, Calvin's statement that God loves no man out of Christ is intended for us not to mistake God's overtures. He loves us, yes; but only in Christ. Would we have God's love and not have Christ? It cannot be so. The offer of Christ is an expression of God's love; but the refusal to embrace the gospel of Christ leaves us without any hope of God's love.

And if the gospel is to be preached to all...?

I end with this: if the gospel is to be preached to all, and if the gospel is invariably an expression of God's love, then is it not true that the preaching of the gospel is an expression of God's love to all? For Calvin, this is true, whatever the problems may be with "optative language" and "careful qualifications" thereof.

No comments: