John Calvin and the execution of Servetus

John Calvin – we Jews know what we’re talking about – is the greatest theologian since Augustine. Much drivel has been written about Calvinism. Most people, including most Christians, have an abysmal knowledge or understanding of the profound biblical principle that God so loved the world, not Mars, that he elects to save only those on whom he has mercy.

Then there’s Servetus. Calvin, you murderer, you. Why did you chop off his head, or was it burn? If you want to understand the Servetus episode (who does?) you could benefit – if you put on, as Calvin would say about understanding scripture, the right specs – from these excerpts from the “Memoirs of the life and writings of John Calvin; compiled from the narrative of Theodore Beza, and other authentic documents. Accompanied with biographical sketches of the Reformation” by Mackenzie, John, of Huntingdon, 1809.

The history of Servetus, so often referred to, and so little understood, merits the minute attention of all who are sufficiently impartial to weigh the opposing interests and circumstances which mark this tragical transaction. The blemishes, real or pretended, of the reformer, having been maliciously employed to discredit the reformation itself, heit becomes of no small importance to elucidate this point of history, and to clear Calvin from the injurious imputations which have been falsely thrown upon him.
It has been confidently pretended, and boldly asserted, that Calvin had, through life, nourished an implacable hatred against Servetus, and that the Genevese theologian had employed all his efforts to satiate it in the blood of the unhappy Spaniard; that he denounced him to the magistrates of Vienna, and occasioned him to be arrested on the day after his arrival at Geneva. Things advanced with an air of confidence are readily believed, and it is scarcely suspected that they may be false. Bolzec, however, the mortal enemy of Calvin, who wrote the life of that illustrious man merely to blast his memory, and who was cotemporary with the facts which he relates; and Maimbourg, equally known by his partialities and his falsehoods, have never dared to advance those things which modern historians have not been ashamed to risk.

The principal accusations exhibited against Servetus were, First, his having asserted in his Ptolémée, that the Bible celebrated improperly the fertility of the land of Canaan, whilst it was unfruitful and barren. Secondly, his having called one God in three persons a Cerberus, a three-headed monster. LANE CRAIG. Thirdly, his having taught that God was all, and that all was God. Servetus did not deny the truth of the principal accusations, but
whilst in prison called the Trinity a Cerberus, a three-headed monster; he also grossly insulted Calvin, and was so fearful that death would be the punishment of heresy at Geneva, as well as at other places, that he presented a petition on the 22d of August, in which he defended the cause of ignorance, and urged the necessity of toleration: the procureur-general replied to him in about eight days, and no doubt did it very ill. Servetus was condemned upon extracts from his books, De Trinitatis Erroribus, and In Ptolemeum Commentarius; from the edition of the Bible which he had published in 1552; from his book Restitutio Christianismi; and from a letter which he had written to Abel Paupin, a minster of Geneva.*

* A copy of the sentence pronounced against Servetus will not be uninteresting to the reader. “We Syndics, judges of all criminal causes in this city, having witnessed the process made and instituted against you, on the part of our lieutenant in the aforesaid causes, instituted against you, Michel de Villeneuve, in the kingdom of Arragon, in Spain, in which your voluntary confessions in our hands, made and often reiterated, and the books before us produced, plainly shew that you, Servetus, have published false and heretical doctrines; and also despising all remonstrances and corrections, have, with a perverse inclination, sown and divulged them in a book published against God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit; in sum against all the true foundations of the Christian Religion, and have thereby tried to introduce trouble and schism into the Church of God, by which many souls may have been ruined and lost, things horrible, frightful, scandalous, and infectious, and have not been ashamed to set yourself in array against the Divine Majesty and the Holy Trinity; but rather have obstinately employed yourself in infecting the world with your heresies and stinking heretical poison; a case and crime of heresy grievous and detestable, and deserving of corporal punishment. For these and other just reasons moving us, and being desirous to purge the Church of God from such infection, and to cut off from it so rotten a member, having had good participation of counsel with our citizens, and having invoked the name of God that we may make a right judgment, sitting upon the tribunal of our predecessors, having God and the Holy Scriptures before our eyes, saying in the name of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, by that definitive sentence, which we here give by this writing, you, Michael Servetus, are condemned to be bound and led to Champel, and there fastened to a stake and burned alive with your book written with your hand, and printed, until your body shall be reduced to ashes, and your days thus finished as an example to others who might commit the same things; and we command you our lieutenant to put this our sentence into execution. Read by the seigneur syndic D’Arlord.”

It must be confessed, that the intolerant spirit of the age dictated the sentence of Servetus at Geneva; but, it is not equally evident that Calvin was the author of that atrocity, and that he laboured with ardour to accomplish it.

On the 27th of October, Servetus was condemned to be executed. It Hzhappened same day.

The civil and ecclesiastical jurisprudence of the tribunals with respect to heresy, was undoubtedly grossly inconsistent with the spirit of Christianity, and the principles of equity. But if we could transport ourselves into that age, and contemplate the circumstances in which Calvin was placed, divesting our minds of prejudice, we should no doubt perceive that the sentence was that of the civil judges, and that they strictly followed the ordinary course of the law; that Calvin followed the judgment of all the ecclesiastics of his time, and complied with the sanguinary laws of every country in Europe against heretics.
It cannot, however, be denied, that in this instance Calvin acted contrary to the benignant spirit of the gospel. It is better to drop a tear over the inconsistency of human nature, and to bewail those infirmities which cannot be justified. He declares that he acted conscientiously, and publicly justified the act. Cranmer acted the same part towards the poor Anabaptists in the reign of Edward VI. This doctrine they had learnt at Rome, and it is certain, that, with a very few exceptions, it was at this time the opinion of all parties.* The apostles John and James would have called down fire from heaven; Calvin and Cranmer kindled it on earth. This, however, is the only fault alledged against Calvin; but, “Let him that is without sin cast the first stone.”
“It ought, however,” says a sensible writer, “to be acknowledged, that, persecution for religious principles was not at that time peculiar to any party of Christians, but common to all, whenever they were invested with civil power. It was a detestable error; but it was the error of the age. They looked upon heresy in the same light as we look upon those crimes
which are inimical to the peace of civil society; and, accordingly, proceed to punish heretics by the sword of the civil magistrate. If Socinians did not persecute their adversaries so much as Trinitarians, it was because they were not equally invested with the power of doing so.

It was the opinion that erroneous religious principles are punishable by the civil magistrate, that did the mischief, whether at Geneva, in Transylvania, or in Britain; and to this, rather than to Trinitarianism or to Unitarianism, it ought to be imputed.*


Free will in salvation: a hot limp sermon

Joel Beeke in his lecture on Calvin’s preaching said:

“Powerful preaching, says Calvin has a two-fold effect. You never leave a church building the way come. Either the sermon will melt you down or touch you, move you, impact you, save you, or it will condemn you, harden you, make you colder or more distant, the savor of life to life or death to death. If it doesn’t issue in salvation it makes the ungodly more ungodly.”

What if the sermon is a weak one, a limp one, a frustrating one. Here is a preacher’s explanation of “not the will of man” in John 1:13.

John 1:11-13
He came unto his own, and his own received him not. 12 But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name: 13 Which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.

One word has been changed, which, does not change the sense. It’s not difficult to guess the word. The “will of the flesh” means your father’s willy, and the “will of man” also means your Father’s willy.

It left this Calvinist both limp and hot – under the collar

All is grace: Now that I’m born again, I can and want to believe and repent. What a logical logos I serve!

What is the relationship between repentance and faith. Charles Stanley writes:

“When Peter preached the truth about Jesus Christ in Acts chapter two, he left thousands of listeners wondering what they should do next. 

The apostle’s response in verse 38 is simple. He says, “Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins.” As a result, 3,000 people were added to their numbers that day.

Is this the message of most churches today? Does it seem strange that Peter said “repent” instead of “believe”? Actually, Scripture often uses these concepts together. Repentance and faith are two sides of the same coin. Both are essential for salvation and each is dependent upon the other.

But, in terms of salvation, you can’t separate faith and repentance. To be saved, you must place faith in Christ for the forgiveness of sins. That decision requires a change of mind, or repentance, about your way of life. Both happen at the same time.

Yet, many people mistakenly believe they must repent before they can make a faith decision for Jesus. Repentance doesn’t mean we must completely change our ways and “clean ourselves up” so we can then receive Christ as Lord. There should actually be no delay or separation between repentance and faith.

If you’re holding off on a decision for Christ until you think you’re “ready” or “worthy,” then you’re waiting in vain. Jesus is ready to receive you right now. Only as a child of God will you find the power – His power – to truly become the person He created you to be.” Excerpted from “A Right View of Repentance.”  

Stanley has shown that repentance and faith occur simultaneously – chronologically together. What, though, is the logical sequence of repentance and faith? I examine that question.

 I heard this in a recent Arminian sermon:

There are three stages in the life of someone who really wants to experience coming to Jesus. Repent, next step believe the gospel. That’s what Jesus says repent and believe the Gospel.”

Jesus is not talking about which comes first (logically or chronologically) but that those are the two things you need to do. The order of the words (syntax) which Jesus uses is “repent and (plus) believe” it does not follow that he means “repent, then believe.” Jesus can’t mean that for this reason:

The preacher’s “the first step” can only mean that he thinks “repent” logically must come before “believe.” But how can you repent unless you first believe? Believe what? That you are sinner who is under the wrath of God and need to repent. The biblical (logical) sequence is believe → repent. Believe and repent occur at the same time. When Jesus said repent and believe instead of the logical sequence believe and repent, he did not mean believe then repent, because as I explained above that wold be cockeyed. Think of mommy saying to Jimmy in the bathroom, “wash your face and brush your teeth.” When Jimmy comes out of the bathroom, Mommy is not going to ask “Did you do what I said in the order in which I said it.” Unless she’s Nanny McPhee.

If we add grace and regeneration (born again) to the logical order of how we become a Christian, the Calvinist’s logical order is (effectual) grace –> regeneration (born again) –> belief –> repentance. They all occur simultaneously. The Arminian order is (prevenient) grace –> repent –> believe –> born again. Some Arminians may disagree with the preacher and agree with the Calvinist that believe comes logically before repent. When it comes to regeneration, however, the reason why the Arminian places regeneration (being raised from spiritual death) at the end of the process is because it is he who decides (with his “free will”) whether he wants to accept God’s offer to be born again. But surely, a person who goes through the first three stages (accepts God’s grace → believes → repents) cannot be spiritually dead, because unless God first regenerates him (raises him from spiritual death, from hatred of or indifference to God), he won’t be able or want to believe and repent. “Oh you Calvinists with your logic!” Yes. What a logical logos we serve. “In the beginning was the logos.” (John 1:1). And in the end.

John 1

The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world. 10 He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. 11 He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. 12 Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— 13 children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.


Charles Spurgeon writes:

“Surely the cross is that wonder-working rod which can bring water out of a rock. If you
understand the full meaning of the divine sacrifice of Jesus, you must repent of ever
having been opposed to One who is so full of love. It is written, “They shall look upon him
whom they have pierced, and they shall mourn for him, as one mourneth for his only son,
and shall be in bitterness for him, as one that is in bitterness for his firstborn.” Repentance
will not make you see Christ; but to see Christ will give you repentance. You may not make
a Christ out of your repentance, but you must look for repentance to Christ. The Holy
Ghost, by turning us to Christ, turns us from sin. Look away, then, from the effect to the
cause, from your own repenting to the Lord Jesus, who is exalted on high to give

(All is grace, Spurgeon Archive)

Why do most Christians call grace (that saves) amazing? They can’t see that it is they who are


When Calvinism is contrasted with Arminianism, what first comes to mind is God’s role and man’s role in coming to faith. The Calvinist says that man plays no cooperative or contributive role in coming to faith, while the Arminian says that man cooperates with God in that man turns his heart to God, that is, exercises his will to come to faith. In Calvinism, God first regenerates the sinner and then gives the sinner the gift of faith, while in Arminianism, regeneration follows the sinner’s acceptance of God’s offer of salvation. Faith, for the Arminian is something the believer does, not something God gives, as Calvinism understands it.

The good news of the Bible, writes Steve Lawson, is that God saves sinners, God the Father chose His elect, gave them to the Son, commissioned the Son to redeem them, and sends the Spirit to regenerate them, God the Son laid down His life for the sheep, securing their salvation, God the Spirit gives repentance, faith, and eternal life to these chosen ones. Salvation is a great Work of the triune God’s amazing grace.” (The Gospel Focus of Charles Spurgeon (Long Line of Godly Men Profiles).

Calvinism and Arminianism both agree with all the points in the above paragraph, so what is the difference?

Arminians maintain that the “elect” are sinners that God selected on the basis of God foreseeing from eternity that they would decide to choose to permit God to raise them from (spiritual) death. They love singing the song “Amazing grace (that saved a wretch like me).”

Would it make sense to tell the Arminian that the ultimate reason why people are not saved is because there is something bad in them (in their wills) that causes them to reject the Gospel, and so deserve damnation? Of course it would make sense; it’s clear as day. What about people who are saved? What is the final clincher in God’s decision to save them. For the Arminian – there is no escaping it – the clincher is their decision, something in them, something good in them.

Most Arminians will vehemently deny that the reason why God saved them was because there was something good in them (a good will). In sum, those who say no to Christ deserve to go to hell, and those who say yes to Christ deserve to go to heaven. Rare is the Arminian who says he deserves to go to heaven. He knows deep down in his confused or stubborn soul that there would be nothing amazing about grace if the reason why he was ultimately saved (the final step in his salvation/justification/ reconciliation with God/regeneration) was something he did, not what grace did. I know of one Arminian who. I suggest, tried to wriggle out of the logical conclusion by stating that although he deserved to be saved/justified/made right(eous), this righteousness does not come from himself but from the imputed righteousness of Christ. He was probably thinking of 2 Corinthians 5:21: “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” The question, however, still remains: why did this person deserve that God impute Christ’s righteousness to him?

If only Arminians could understand or accept 1. the different contexts of “all” and “world” in the New Testament, 2. there is no contradiction between human responsibility and God’s decrees, and 3. God chooses the means as well as the ends of salvation.

Here is and example of each of the three:

  1. All” and “world.”


2 Peter 3:9

The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is long-suffering toward us, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.

“Any” and “all” refer to any, all of “us” (believers). If God wills someone not to perish, he won’t perish. Yet many do perish.

“Remember the former things of old: for I am God, and there is none else; I am God, and there is none like me, Declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times the things that are not yet done, saying, My counsel shall stand, and I will do all my pleasure.” (Isaiah 46:9-10).

Romans 9

13 As it is written, Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated. 14 What shall we say then? Is there unrighteousness with God? God forbid. 15 For he says to Moses, I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion. 16 So then it is not of him that wills, nor of him that runs, but of God that shows mercy.

(See The Apostle Peter takes a leaf off Mr Bean: My bodee is my toooooool).


Here is the NIV translation of John 3:16  “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 has been judged already, because he hathnot 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 above.

(See God loves you, he loves you, he loves you. “Since when?).

  1. There is no contradiction between human responsibility and God’s decrees.

Acts 2:23

“This man was handed over to you by God’s deliberate plan and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross.”

God foreknows because he decreed it. If he didn’t decree it then he was up in heaven saying – from eternity: “Look what those meany Romans AND Jews are going to do to my Son. Oh, well, I am not, as Clive Staples Lewis says, a God of risks for nothing”

Calvinists have no problem with this verse because they love divinely inspired scripture to bits. Of course, it is difficult to wrap this verse round your head. Don’t you know that you and I are and always will remain blockheads when it comes to understanding all the counsel of God. “The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may follow all the words of this law” (Deuteronomy 29:29) – and all (without exception) the words of scripture.

  1. God chooses the means as well as the ends.

One of the silliest – we’re all blockheads, some more than others – utterances popular with many Arminian preachers is that if salvation is 100% of the Lord – God has mercy on whom he wants to have mercy – then there is no point to evangelising. God choose the ends as well as the means.

The ends

38 For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me.  39 And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day…44 “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws them, and I will raise them up at the last day.

The means

Romans 10

13 For, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” 14 How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? 15 And how can anyone preach unless they are sent? As it is written: “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!”

Logical Arminians say that you can lose your salvation: if you choose to follow Christ, then it follows, as in the blogosphere, that they can choose to unfollow Christ. You might as well be Mohammed whose followers, every time mention his name, has to say “Peace be upon him,” that is, “I pray that he is no in hell.” Or a Jew, who is never sure whether he has done enough to merit salvation. A bad death.

This evening, when I thought about it seriously, the tears came to my eyes. I imagined myself on that sick bed [of someone he knew] and I wondered how it would go with me if I were to be judged in this very moment. I should deserve to go to hell, but I hope I shall not be sent there. In any case I am sure I ought to be sent to purgatory. Yet the mere thought of purgatory makes me shudder. What then will become of me? Oh poor me, how wretched I am!” (See here).

When R. Yochanan ben Zakkai fell ill, his disciples came in to pay a call on him. When he saw them, he began to cry. His disciples said to him, “Light of Israel! Pillar at the right hand! Mighty hammer! On what account are you crying?” He said to them, “If I were going to be brought before a mortal king, who is here today and tomorrow gone to the grave, who, should he be angry with me, will not be angry forever; and if he should imprison me, will not imprison me forever, and if he should put me to death, whose sentence of death is not for eternity, and whom I can appease with the right words or bribe with money, even so, I should weep. “But now that I am being brought before the King of kings of kings [ben Zakkai says “kings” three times], the Holy One, blessed be He, who endures forever and ever, who, should he be angry with me, will be angry forever, and if he should imprison me, will imprison me forever, and if he should put me to death, whose sentence of death is for eternity, and whom I cannot appease with the right words or bribe with money, “1and not only so, but before me are two paths, one to the Garden of Eden and the other to Gehenna, and I do not know by which path I shall be brought, and should I not weep?” (See Ben Zakkai: Judaism, humilty and the good death).

To repeat Steve Lawson at the beginning of this article, this is what the Bible teaches:

God the Father chose His elect, gave them to the Son, commissioned the Son to redeem them, and sends the Spirit to regenerate them, God the Son laid down His life for the sheep, securing their salvation, God the Spirit gives repentance, faith, and eternal life to these chosen ones. Salvation is a great Work of the triune God’s amazing grace.”

The logical progression is: election (predestined to salvation; those the father gives to the Son from eternity, and for who Jesus prays in John 17) – regeneratIon (born again) – faith – repentance – eternal life. Regeneration, faith and repentance occur at the same time.

Amazing grace…that saved a wretch like me.”  Indeed. Christ’s deed – alone

On snobbish felines and the will to believe in Christ

On Snobbish Felines and the Freedom of the Human Will

Our local veterinary clinic — where our dog, for reasons I’d rather not relate, is not welcome — has a letter board on their grounds which typically displays humorous messages about animals. The message on display earlier this week caught my attention as I was driving to work. It read: “If cats could talk, they wouldn’t.” I must confess, this made me smirk — which is generally as close as I come to laughing. I’m no despiser of cats in principle, but they do strike me as the kind of creatures that, were they suddenly endowed with the ability to speak in human language, wouldn’t condescend to actually say anything to anyone. The sign made me wonder, in fact, if cats might not actually have the ability to speak, and simply don’t because they can’t be bothered communicating their thoughts to human beings, creatures so clearly inferior to them in every conceivable way. Can we really be sure they cannot speak if, regardless, they will not speak?
– See more at:

Yes, Christ came to save the lost. But which ones?

I was telling a fellow Christian of my visit to an elderly man, a frequent church-goer, whom we both knew, who had collapsed twice in the last month, and was recovering at home. He was doing well and walking about. I spoke to him about such things as this world was not our home, and about judgment. My fellow Christian said to me he’s a simple person and wouldn’t understand. My fellow Christian does not understand who Christ came to seek. Yes, we know it was the “lost” but then everyone is lost, and Christ only came to seek those whom his Father gave him before the world began, and those whom the Father enabled to believe. Not so?

John 6

37 All those the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never drive away. 38 For I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of him who sent me. 39 And this is the will of him who sent me, that I shall lose none of all those he has given me, but raise them up at the last day. 40 For my Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day.”… 65 He went on to say, “This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless the Father has enabled them.”

Who were the ones given to the Son? They were the fools, the weak, the lowly, the despised, the nothings of this world. Unless you felt like this before you believed, and continue to feel so, it is certain that you’re not one of the lost Christ came to seek and died to save.

1 Corinthians 1

26 Brothers and sisters, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. 27 But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. 28 God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, 29 so that no one may boast before him. 30 It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. 31 Therefore, as it is written: “Let the one who boasts boast in the Lord.”

“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.”