We noted in our last post in this series here http://www.growingchristianresources.com/2023/10/post-21-doctrine-of-god-p1-attribute-of.html that God's love is that perfection which involves the Self-giving of Himself in and through the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. God's love, like all the other attributes, is His nature, His being, in action. His love has no beginning and no end. We took time last post to develop the thought that God's love properly begins within the life of the Trinity.
Further, we noted how this attribute provides access to introducing us to the Doctrine of the Trinity. Even though I do not intend to say much more on the Trinity until future posts in this series, we nonetheless mustn't ever divorce our theology about God's nature and attributes (what God is) from who He is as the Trinity.
In today's post I want us to cover the remaining expressions of God's love which He reveals in His creation. In addition to the love shared between the Trinity, there are at least four additional expressions of His love.
Theologian D.A. Carson wrote a book entitled "The Difficult Doctrine of the Love of God". As I said in the last post, God's love is an attribute we think we know much about. Yet, whenever we study the Bible, we find God's love is far richer than we realize. Carson lists five ways the Bible talks about God's love in his book.
1. The peculiar love of the Father for the Son, and the Son for the Father (page 16). We noted this in the last post.
2. God's providential care over all which He has made (page 16).
3. God's salvific stance toward's His fallen world (page 17).
4. God's particular, effective, saving love toward His elect (page 18).
5. God's love is directed toward His people in a provisional or conditional way (page 19).
For the sake of this post, I'll retool the four remaining headings of Carson as follows,
1. God's beneficient love, or His loving activity toward creation in general.
2. God's benevolent love, or His loving general will toward human beings.
3. God's electing love, that is, the love He expresses more particularly towards sinners He redeems in saving faith.
4. God's conditioned love, or that love God shows towards His people in their obedience to Him.
As we work our way through these expressions, I'll provide Scripture and short exposition for each.
1. God's beneficient love, or His loving intention toward creation in general.
This first expression of God's love deals with what theologians call "God's beneficent love", that is, His loving activity towards all He has made.
The term "beneficient" derives from the Latin terms "bene" meaning "good" and "facare" meaning "to make, manufacture, to create from nothing". This first term appropriately describes the relationship God intended all along to have with His creation. God's beneficent love is seen in the goodness He expressed toward the creation. Some seven times we see God declaring "it is good" in each completed phase of the creation in Genesis 1.
J.P. Boice in his "Abstract of Theology" comments on how this general love of God toward His creation is a spill-over from the love He expresses as Trinity,
"Were God but one person, in this way only could such love be exercised. But in the Trinity of the Godhead, there is found, in the love of the separate persons towards each other, another mode in which this love of complacency may in this highest sense be exercised. Such love is also felt by God for his purposes. As he perceives them to be just, wise and gracious, he approves and regards them with complacent love. But this love extends itself also to the creations, which result from this purpose."
2. God's benevolent love, or His loving will toward rational creatures, particularly human beings in general.
This second term speaks of God's good ("bene") will ("volens") toward rational creatures, mainly all human beings. Scriptures such as Genesis 1:26-28 and Genesis 9:1-5 speak of man being made in "God's image". God's personal investment and declaration over Adam and Eve in His creation of them tells us that God had general, good, loving intentions toward them.
In Job 38 and Psalm 104, we find God sharing with the angels He made the joy of creating our world, an experience that prompted the angels to sing forth in joy from the moment they were made. Such benevolent love, also called by an older term, "love of complacency", refers to God's "bent" in the direction of wanting the very best for all He made. J.P. Boice explains,
"This love of complacency, however, as it is exercised in its highest degree towards himself, so also is it exhibited, in the nearest approach to that, towards those beings who are most like himself, having been made in his nature and likeness. An innocent angel, or an innocent man is therefore by nature a joy to God, as is the child to the father who sees in it a peculiar likeness to himself."
Even after the fall of our first parents, resulting in the intrusion of sin into our world an all humanity (Romans 5:12-21), God's benevolent will never changed. Paul writes in Romans 8:20-21,
"For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it, in hope 21 that the creation itself also will be set free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God."
God's benevolent love includes His love toward all people of all nations. We read in Ezekiel 18:33 that God does not rejoice over the death of the wicked. Jesus had "a love" for the young man who inquired about what he must do to be saved (Mark 10:21). This general sort of love did not lead to the man expressing saving faith. Nevertheless, one cannot say Jesus did not have a general sort of love toward people.
3. God's electing love, that is, the love He expresses more particular towards sinners He redeems in saving faith.
This third expression of God's love deals with the type of love God has towards those sinners whom He chose to love from before the beginning of time for the sake of the Son (John 10:29; 2 Timothy 1:9; Titus 1:2). Such love arose from within God Himself, without beginning. Such love was without prompting from whatever He knew these particular sinners would choose or not choose ahead of time (see Ephesians 1:4-5). God, being God, chose upon whom He desired to show mercy (Romans 9:14-15).
Such truth as God's electing love in salvation has occupied every Baptist confession of faith since the Reformation and every major church father in centuries leading up to the Reformation. The Baptist Faith and Message 2000, in its fifth article, is but the latest example,
"Election is the gracious purpose of God, according to which He regenerates, justifies, sanctifies, and glorifies sinners. It is consistent with the free agency of man, and comprehends all the means in connection with the end. It is the glorious display of God’s sovereign goodness, and is infinitely wise, holy, and unchangeable. It excludes boasting and promotes humility."
God's electing love is found in roughly one-hundred places in the Bible. If we didn't have Sovereign election, we wouldn't have redemptive history. For instance, God's electing purpose of grace was responsible for choosing Israel from all other nations to be His people (Deuteronomy 7:7-9; Amos 3:1-7). His electing purpose included the Son going to be incarnated as the man Jesus Christ, who alone is the way, the truth, and the life (Isaiah 42:7 and John 14:6). His electing purpose of grace explains the "why" of human salvation.
We know the "what part", that is, "what must I do to be saved?" Answer, "believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you shall be saved" (Acts 16:31). Then there is what I call "the who part". In whom must I believe in order to be saved? "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you shall be saved" (Acts 16:31, Romans 10:9).
We all understand the "what" and the "whom" of saving faith. But now, why does anyone believe? This "why" part is explained by the mystery of God's elective purpose of grace. The old hymn "I know in whom I have believed", based off 2 Timothy 1:12 and found in both Baptist and United Methodist Hymnals, expresses it this way in its second stanza,
"I know not how this saving faith to me he did impart, nor how believing in his word, wrought peace within my heart."
The old hymn has it right. I cannot comprehend how God's elective purpose of grace in election and the necessity for belief and repentance fit together. I know not "how" they fit, only "that they fit". This mystery is paralleled in not comprehending how the Divine will and human will of the incarnate Son of God operate within His person. They do not mix. They do not contradict. They do not morph into each other. They each, in the language of the old Chalcedonian Creed of 451 A.D., "retain their own particular properties".
Just as we cannot deny the two wills resident in the two natures of our Savior, each with its will in no conflict in the same person - the Savior, so it is in the Bible's portrayal of God's electing love in choosing sinners and their necessity to respond to His call in the choosing of Him.
The mystery of God's Sovereign will and the human will in the Person of our Savior explains why Biblical plan of salvation has this similar mystery. God's electing love ought to be cause for praise and humility, causing us to go to all people with God's command to all men to believe, repent, and be saved.
4. God's conditioned love, or that love God shows towards His people in their obedience to Him.
So we've looked at God's eternal love within the Trinity, His benevolent love, beneficent love, and electing love. This final expression of God's love has to do with how God shows His love to the Christian in their obedience. When I give in stewardship, I am told God will supply my needs (Philippians 4:19). When I yield to God's will in obedience, I am told He will guide me in every step (Proverbs 3:5-6; 16:9). The believer's obedience is not the cause of God's love. Rather, God's love is what prompts the believer to obey Him (1 John 4:18).
As we noted in the last post, theologian Wayne Grudem defined God's love as, "God's love means He eternally gives of Himself to others". As we have spent time meditating on this attribute, the above definition applies, whether speaking eternally of God's love within the persons of the Trinity and His intention to show electing love, or to His generalized love expressed in time in creation and to all people. God's love is rooted in the kind of God He is - the God who loves. May these reflections cause us to praise this wonderful God!