“God loves you. He loves you. He loves you.” Since when?

I learn much about both Islam and the Bible from Pastor Joseph’s Aramaic Broadcasting Network and his support staff David Wood and Sam Shamoun. It’s also great fun. There’s one thing, though, that gets my Reformed (Calvinist) goat: when he tells Muslim callers that Jesus loves them, which reminds me of a church on a hill near my home where a big red stone (not stony) heart with the words below it, also in red, “Jesus loves you” festoons the green slope of the lawn visible to passing traffic.

In one of his videos (Pastor Joseph schools a confused muslim, minute 18.15 ff), he says “God loves you, he loves you so much…It (God’s love) is in Islam a little bit. In Christianity it is so much emphasised. God loves you, he loves you so much that he gave his most precious thing; what is the most precious thing he could give? His son…In the Bible it says God is love…”

The problem here is two-fold:

First, the overemphasis on love, which pervades the majority of Christian movements, at the expense of God’s holiness, manifested in his “wrath” against sinners.

Second, God wants to save everybody without exception if only they will let God do what he, through his Son, died to do. This is the Arminian view of salvation, the majority Christian view. (See definition of Arminianism).

I focus on the second problem.

The allusion in Pastor Joseph’s “he gave his most precious thing” is among the most well-known verses in the Bible; John 3:16 (NIV) “16 For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”

Who(so)ever” (NIV) has the deceptive connotation of “whoever decides to believe in him.” The Greek says (Young’s Literal Translation – YLT) “every one who is believing in him may not perish.”

Contrast verse 16 (NIV) with verse 18 (NIV) Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son” more correctly he who is believing in him is not judged, but he who is not believing hath been judged already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God” (YLT).

How to reconcile “God so loved the world” (verse 16) with “he who is not believing is judged already?” (YLT) This is where Arminianism splits and splutters. In Reformed theology (“Calvinist” if you like), it’s quite simple. “World” in verse 16 does not mean everyone in the world. There are several texts in the Bible that explain why it can’t mean everyone in the world. Verse 18 is one of them. I ask the Arminian: “Does Jesus love the unbelieving ones whom he is going to judge – send to hell, and whom he “knows from the beginning” (John 6:64) – from eternity?” Of course not; he hates them, as he hated all mankind before he chose to have mercy on some and save some as in Romans 9:

Romans 9

13 Just as it is written: “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.” 14 What then shall we say? Is God unjust? Not at all! 15 For he says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy,
 and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” 16 It does not, therefore, depend on human desire or effort, but on God’s mercy. 17 For Scripture says to Pharaoh: “I raised you up for this very purpose, that I might display my power in you and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.” 18 Therefore God has mercy on whom he wants to have mercy, and he hardens whom he wants to harden. 19 One of you will say to me: “Then why does God still blame us? For who is able to resist his will?” 20 But who are you, a human being, to talk back to God? “Shall what is formed say to the one who formed it, ‘Why did you make me like this?’”[h] 21 Does not the potter have the right to make out of the same lump of clay some pottery for special purposes and some for common use?”

No “hated Esau” definitely does not mean “loved Esau less.” I hate a lot of noise, that is, I love it less than quiet!

Christ saves those whom the Father draws:

John 6

44 No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day…64 But there are some of you who do not believe.” (For Jesus knew from the beginning who those were who did not believe, and who it was who would betray him.) 65 And he said, “This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father.”

I once asked the pastor of a Methodist Church I attended for two years why he never preached on sin, or mentioned the word. He replied “Those were the harsh old days.” People need buttering up. All you need is love.

Here are a few excerpts from Gerhardus Vos’s “The Scriptural Doctrine of the Love of God”.

1. “There can be little doubt that in this manner the one-sidedness and exclusiveness with which the love of God has been preached to the present generation is largely responsible for that universal weakening of the sense of sin, and the consequent decline of interest in the doctrines of atonement and justification, which even in 
orthodox and evangelical circles we all see and deplore. But this by no means reveals the full extent of the danger to which the tendency we are speaking of 
has exposed us….There is, however, still another  serious defect to be noticed in this modern exploitation of the love of God, touching not the distinction of love from the other attributes, but the internal distinction between the various kinds  and degrees of affection, which in the case of a relationship so infinitely varied as that of God to 
the world are subsumed under the comprehensive term of love. The old theology was exceedingly careful in marking off these kinds and degrees from one another, and in assigning to each the group  of objects upon which it operates.

2 Elective love

To Pharaoh God speaks of Israel as His firstborn, i.e.His dearly beloved son (Ex. 4:22). Immediately before the making of the Sinaitic covenant and the promulgation of the Decalogue,  all Jehovah’s gracious dealings with His people connected with the Exodus are summed up in the  beautiful words: “Ye have seen what I did unto the Egyptians, and how I bare you on eagle’s wings, and brought you unto myself. Now, therefore, if ye will obey my voice indeed, and keep my covenant, then ye shall be a peculiar treasure unto me above all people: for all the earth is mine: and ye shall be unto me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation” (Ex. 19:4-6). In the four classical statements, where  the Torah rises to the height of a description of the character of God, His benevolent attributes, such as lovingkindness (Chesed), mercy, grace, longsuffering, faithfulness, are strongly emphasized (Ex. 20:5, 6; 34:6, 7; Num. 14:8; Deut. 7:9, 10)… in thus bringing forward the thought of Jehovah’s  love for Israel, Deuteronomy throws special emphasis upon the elective character of this love. It is not so much the general fact that Jehovah now loves the people, but rather the special consideration that in the past at a definite moment He set His love upon them, to the exclusion of all other nations, upon which the book dwells.

3. Who are the children of God?

The extreme form of the modern theory, according to which all men as such, indiscriminately, are the children of God, certainly cannot claim our Lord’s authority in its favor. But even the less extreme form of this theory, according to which God is absolutely and equally the  Father of all mankind, whilst men may become partially and relatively His children by spiritual transformation after His image, is not in harmony with the facts. Not merely the sonship, also the fatherhood is given an exclusive reference to the disciples. Jesus always speaks of your Father, their Father, never of the Father absolutely, except where the altogether unique trinitarian relation between Himself and God is meant.

4. Love and wrath of God

So far as the actual manifestation of the love of God in human consciousness is concerned, a fundamental difference lies in this, that the enjoyment of the common love of God outside of the kingdom does not exempt man from being subject at the same time to the divine wrath on account of sin. Love and wrath here are not mutually exclusive. Within the circle of redemption, on the other hand, the enjoyment of the paternal love of God  means absolute forgiveness and deliverance from all wrath. Even this, however, is not sufficient clearly to mark the distinction between these two kinds of love, the wider and the narrower. For, previously to the  moment of believing, those who are appointed for salvation, no less than the others, are subject in their consciousness to the experience of the wrath of God. It would seem, therefore, that in his pre-Christian state the one who will later become a child of God is not differentiated from the one who never will, 

inasmuch as both are in an equal sense the objects of the general benevolence of God and of His wrath in their experience. Thus a representation would result as if the line of God’s general love ran singly up to the point of conversion, there to pass over into the line of His special love. The general love of God [without exception] would then be the only factor to be reckoned with outside of the  sphere of the kingdom; and a special love of God could be spoken of only with reference to those who have actually become His children.

5. Meaning of “all”

In the well-known passage of Romans (5:12-21), where a parallel is drawn between the first and second Adam and the spread of sin and  righteousness in the world through the transgression of the one and the obedience of the other, Paul speaks of the operation not merely of the former principle, but also of the latter as extending to all. But if this were to be interpreted in a distributive sense, as applying to every man individually, then plainly not the loving desire of God to save all, but the actual salvation of all would be affirmed, for the apostle  expressly declares that by the righteousness of the one the free gift has come upon all men unto justification of life. We are thus forced to assume that the “all” covers the totality of those who belong to the new human race  which springs from the second Adam. To find in the word “many” alternating with “all” in the context a reminder of the particularism of grace would be surely unwarranted, for this “many” is also used where the consequences of Adam’s sin are spoken of; but it would be equally unwarranted to conclude, as others have done, from the use of “all” that Paul advocated a doctrine of absolute universalism. Another instructive example of the manner in which the apostle’s wide outlook upon the cosmical reach of the grace of God influences his mode of expression is found in Romans 11:32, where, speaking of Jews and  Gentiles in their mutual relation to the gospel, he declares: “God has concluded them all in unbelief, that he might have mercy upon all.” On the same principle we must also interpret the statement in the first epistle to the Corinthians (15:22) that “as all die in Adam, so in Christ shall all be made alive.”

In the Pastoral Epistles, however, a more pronounced form of universalism seems to find expression. Here we read not only that Christ gave Himself a ransom for all (1 Tim. 2:6), but also that God quickens all things (or keeps alive all things (1 Tim 6:13), that God will have all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth (1 Tim. 2:4), that the living God is the Savior of all men especially of those that believe (1 Tim. 4:10), that in Christ the kindness of God our Savior toward men appeared (Titus 3:4). In the case of these passages the context clearly indicates that a reference of God’s saving grace or Christ’s saving work to all classes of men rather than to all men numerically considered, is  meant to be affirmed. When the apostle first exhorts that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks be made for all men, then specializes this as including kings and all that are in authority, and finally assigns as the ground for this duty the fact that God will have all men to be saved, it is not only allowed but demanded by the principles of sound exegesis to interpret the second “all men” in the same sense as the first. This also applies to the passage in Titus 2:11, 12, where in succession the classes of old men, old women, young women, young men, and servants are named and the manner of life appropriate to each described, whereupon the apostle adduces as the most forcible and comprehensive motive for obedience to this exhortation the fact that the grace of God which brings salvation has appeared to all men, teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lust, we should live soberly,  righteously, and godly in this present world.”

I return to the Muslims that Pastor Joseph longs convert by contrasting the scarcity of love in Allah with the overabundance of love in Yahweh. Here’s Vos at the end of his book”

It (the Bible) clearly teaches that the love of God, which it makes the center of His revealed character, belongs in its highest sense to believers only: “Behold, what manner of love the Father has bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God: therefore the world knoweth us not, because it knew him not” (3:1). If God were nothing but love, to the exclusion of all other modes of being, no difference would be possible between His attitude toward the world and His attitude toward His own…That there is something which on sound biblico-theological grounds may be so designated, our inquiry has shown. But even more clearly than this it has, we believe, brought out two other facts. In the first place, that that form of love which the Bible everywhere emphasizes and magnifies, so as to be truly called one great revelation of love, is not God’s general benevolence, but His special affection for His people. This distribution of emphasis ought to be preserved in every creedal statement which professes  to reflect biblical proportions of truth. And in the second place, we have had occasion to observe that the  Scriptures do not leave room for the opinion that at any point, either in the eternal decree or in its historical unfolding, God’s love for those intended to become His people has been undifferentiated from His love for wider groups of humanity. Every formula which would efface or even tend to obscure this fundamental distinction ought to be at the outset rejected as unbiblical. The divine love for the elect is different not only in degree but specifically from all the other forms of love, because it involves a purpose to save, of which all the other forms fall short.”

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