Nov 12, 2012

Definite Atonement XIII

"For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life."  (John 3: 16)

Does God love all men? Does God desire the salvation of all men?  The answer to these questions is yes.  But, this does not mean that he loves all men equally.  Even the advocates of universal atonement, except for the Universalists, are forced to admit this.  Certainly they agree that God loves the believer, or his own people, in a sense and degree in which he does not love the unbeliever.  In fact, salvation is characterized as being in the love of God.  Jude wrote - "Keep yourselves in the love of God, looking for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ unto eternal life."  (Jude 1: 21)  This is said to Christians, to those "in the love of God."  Those who are not Christians are outside of the love of God. 

John says of Jesus - "having loved his own which were in the world, he loved them unto the end."  (John 13: 1)  This is special love above the common love that God has towards all men.  It is not his general love for "the world," but for his own which are in or among the world.  And Paul wrote in Hebrews - "For whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth."  (Hebrews 12: 6)  Lest some should affirm that God loves and chastens all men, the same apostle says "if you are without chastisement, then are you bastards and not sons."  (vs. 8)  And, if one is without chastisement, then he is not only not a son, but not loved with that special love that God has only for his own.  The Apostle also wrote:

"Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it...let every one of you in particular so love his wife even as himself."  (Eph. 5: 25, 33)

Who can deny that the love that Christ has for "the church" is special and uncommon?  Above his common love for all? 

"For therefore we both labour and suffer reproach, because we trust in the living God, who is the Saviour of all men, specially of those that believe."  (I Tim. 4: 10)  

As God is the Savior of all men generally but of believers specially, so we may say the same of God as a lover of men.  He loves all men generally but loves the elect specially. 

Does God love all men redemptively?  Yes, if by this we mean that he is not unwilling to save any man who truly seeks him and calls upon him to save him from his sins.  But, the question is, do any sinners do this?  The record of Scripture is that there are "none."

"As it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one: There is none that understandeth, there is none that seeketh after God."  (Rom. 3: 10-11)

Thus, if only those who seek God are finally saved, then none will be saved.  So, in order to insure that at least some be saved, God will have to do something to guarantee that some do seek him and call upon him to save them.  God's general love will move him to save all who call upon his name, but his special love makes certain that some in fact will do so.

Yes, God so loved the world that he provided Jesus Christ as a Savior.  But, does this mean that he loved all equally, the believer (or elect) the same as the unbeliever?  John 3: 16 shows that God makes a distinction among the world that is loved.  He provided Christ so that the believer may have everlasting life, not that the unbeliever may escape eternal perishing. 

Further, one must ask in what sense God loves the world.  John said:

"Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him." (I John 2: 15)

Does God do that which he forbids us to do?  Does he love the world and then order us not to do so?  From these words it is clear that there is a sense in which God does not love the world.  Some push the idea of God loving the world to an extent that one wonders whether God has any hatred or anger towards the world.  But, clearly God does have wrath towards sinners.  The record of Scripture is that "God is angry with the wicked every day."  (Psa. 7: 11)  The Scriptures also say that "the wicked and him that loveth violence his soul hateth."  (Psa. 11: 5)

Further, the Scriptures teach that God loved Jacob and hated Esau, choosing the former and rejecting the latter, even before they were born, and that his attitude was not based upon anything that they did.  (Rom. 9: 11-13) 

Was Esau a part of the world of John 3: 16?  To affirm such involves absurd logical consequences.  Did God so love Esau that he sent Christ to die upon the cross for him?  Again, this would involve the absurdity that Christ died to provide salvation for those who he had not chosen to salvation and who were in Hell at the time Christ was sent into the world. 

Did Christ Save The World?

"For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved."  (John 3: 17)

"And we have seen and do testify that the Father sent the Son to be the Saviour of the world." (I John 4: 14)

"The next day John seeth Jesus coming unto him, and saith, Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world."  (John 1: 29)

"For the bread of God is he which cometh down from heaven, and giveth life unto the world...I am the living bread which came down from heaven: if any man eat of this bread, he shall live for ever: and the bread that I will give is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world."  (John 6: 33, 51)

These verses are prophetic.  They speak of what Christ would accomplish by his coming into the world and by his death upon the cross.  The question we must ask is - did he do it?  The advocate of universal indefinite atonement (excepting the Universalists) must answer no.  He did not save the world that he came to save.  He only saved a few that he came to save.  Thus, Christ failed.  There is no escaping this conclusion.  The message of Scripture is that Christ did not simply try to save the world, and failed, but that he actually has saved the world.  Christ's mission into the world was a complete success. 

Doubtless the salvation of the world does not equate with the salvation of every person in the world.  God saved the human race as a race but not by saving every person in the world.  By saving the elect, or believers, he has in fact saved the human race. 

How did God save the world in the time of Noah?  Was it not by saving the few?  The destruction of the vast majority of the human race did not prevent God from saving the world.  The Scriptures speak of "the world to come."  (Heb. 2: 5)  Thus, the kosmos that God loved and sent Christ to save is viewed as saved and existing throughout eternity.  It was God's intention that the world be saved by the salvation of the chosen people.  God loved the cosmos so much that he provided Christ to come and be its Savior and he succeeded in saving it. 

In the next posting we will look more in debth at how the Scriptures use the term "world," "whole world," "all," "all men," and "every man" and see if they are to be interpreted as the advocates of universal atonement insist.

D. A. Carson wrote:

"I argue, then, that both Arminians and Calvinists should rightly affirm that Christ died for all, in the sense that Christ’s death was sufficient for all and that Scripture portrays God as inviting, commanding, and desiring the salvation of all, out of love (in the third sense developed in the first chapter). Further, all Christians ought also to confess that, in a slightly different sense, Christ Jesus, in the intent of God, died effectively for the elect alone, in line with the way the Bible speaks of God’s special selecting love for the elect (in the fourth sense developed in the first chapter).

Pastorally, there are many important implications. I mention only two.
(1) This approach, I content, must surely come as a relief to young preachers in the Reformed tradition who hunger to preach the Gospel effectively but who do not know how far they can go in saying things such as “God loves you” to unbelievers. When I have preached or lectured in Reformed circles, I have often been asked the question, “Do you feel free to tell unbelievers that God loves them?” No doubt the question is put to me because I still do a fair bit of evangelism, and people want models. Historically, Reformed theology at its best has never been slow in evangelism. Ask George Whitefield, for instance, or virtually all the main lights in the Southern Baptist Convention until the end of the last century. From what I have already said, it is obvious that I have no hesitation in answering this question from young Reformed preachers affirmatively: Of course I tell the unconverted that God loves them.

Not for a moment am I suggesting that when one preaches evangelistically, one ought to retreat to passages of the third type (above), holding back on the fourth type until after a person is converted. There is something sleazy about that sort of approach. Certainly it is possible to preach evangelistically when dealing with a passage that explicitly teaches election. Spurgeon did this sort of thing regularly. But I am saying that, provided there is an honest commitment to preaching the whole counsel of God, preachers in the Reformed tradition should not hesitate for an instant to declare the love of God for a lost world, for lost individuals. The Bible’s ways of speaking about the love of God are comprehensive enough not only to permit this but to mandate it. [Footnote 4: Cf. somewhat similar reflections by Hywel R. Jones, “Is God Love?” in Banner of Truth Magazine 412 (January 1998), 10-16.]

(2) At the same time, to preserve the notion of particular redemption proves pastorally important for many reasons. If Christ died for all people with exactly the same intent, as measured on any axis, then it is surely impossible to avoid the conclusion that the ultimate distinguishing mark between those who are saved and those who are not is their own will. That is surely ground for boasting. This argument does not charge the Arminian with no understanding of grace. After all, the Arminian believes that the cross is the ground of the Christian’s acceptance before God; the choice to believe is not in any sense the ground. Still, this view of grace surely requires the conclusion that the ultimate distinction between the believer and the unbeliever lies, finally, in the human beings themselves. That entails an understanding of grace quite different, and in my view far more limited, than the view that traces the ultimate distinction back to the purposes of God, including his purposes in the cross. The pastoral implications are many and obvious."  (The Love of God and the Intent of the Atonement - D. A. Carson, The Difficult Doctrine of the Love of God.  Wheaton, Ill: Crossway Books, 2000), 73-79)  (see here)

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