God's Distinguishing Love
by Mitch Cervinka


Does God love all men without exception, or does He love His elect only? In this treatise, we seek to demonstrate that God has a special, unique love for His elect that He does not have for others.

First, we will consider the logical implications of saying that God loves all men. Second, we will consider the Scriptural testimony that God loves only His elect. Third, we will examine some of the texts often cited to prove that God loves all men. Last of all, we will consider the practical value of the doctrine.

The primary thought to keep in mind is that the mighty works that God has performed to save men are always motivated by His surpassing love: God will save each and every person He loves.

If God did love all men…

Is it logically consistent to believe in God's sovereign grace, and also to believe that God loves all men? What if our Sovereign God really did love all men—what would that imply?

When we consider that God can and will save whomever He pleases, then, if God truly loves all men without exception, how could anyone be sent to hell? When you combine God's sovereignty with universal love, you must logically arrive at Universalism! Universalism is the belief that all men will ultimately be saved.

Historic Calvinism avoids this conclusion by teaching that God does not savingly love the non-elect. Arminianism avoids the conclusion by teaching that God is not sovereign in salvation[1]. To be consistent, you cannot have both God's sovereignty and also universal love without concluding that hell will be empty.

Okay… there is another way out. That is to assume that God's love is not very loving. Perhaps we could say that He sort-of "loves" all men, but not enough to save them from their sins. Of course, if that is true, then you had better not point to the sacrifice of Christ as the demonstration of His love. After all, if God loved men enough to send Christ to the Cross for them, then He surely loves them enough to do everything necessary for their salvation. Indeed, that is precisely what Romans 8:32 teaches us (concerning God's elect!):

Romans 8:32 – He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him over for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things?
So here are the alternatives…
Calvinism .. God loves His elect only, and His sovereignty guarantees their salvation.
Arminianism ..  God loves all men, but because He is not sovereign, many will be lost.
Universalism ..  God loves all men and will sovereignly save everyone.
Superficialism .. God loves all men, but not enough to use His sovereign power to save them.
Irrationalism .. God has a deep, sincere love for all men, and is sovereignly able to save all men, and it's a paradox why all men will not be saved.

For me, the evidence is very clear: Calvinism is the plain teaching of Scripture. For that matter, the doctrine of distinguishing love is also firmly rooted in Scripture, as we shall now see.

Scriptural Proofs of Distinguishing Love.

We are all familiar with the various "proof texts" for universal love. We will examine some of them shortly. First, however, let us note that Scripture often says that God does not love all men without exception.

1. The Bible plainly says that God hates certain people…

Psalm 5:5 – The boastful shall not stand before Your eyes; You hate all who do iniquity.

Psalm 11:5 – The LORD tests the righteous and the wicked, And the one who loves violence His soul hates.

Malachi 1:2-3 – "I have loved you," says the LORD. But you say, "How have You loved us?" "Was not Esau Jacob's brother?" declares the LORD. "Yet I have loved Jacob; but I have hated Esau, and I have made his mountains a desolation and appointed his inheritance for the jackals of the wilderness."

Romans 9:13 – Just as it is written, "Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated."

We have heard it said that "God loves the sinner, but hates his sin," and, kept in the context of His love for His elect people, this is certainly a true and trustworthy statement.  However, the verses just cited demonstrate that there are some sinners of whom it may be said that: "God hates both the sinner and his sin!"  Read these passages carefully—not one of them says merely that God hates sin.  Rather, each one says that God hates the sinner! This should be enough to establish the fact that there are some sinners, at least, whom God does not love.

In fact, He is said to "hate" them.  Psalm 11:5 is perhaps strongest of all, affirming that His soul hates those who love violence.  Thus, it is not merely the appearance of hatred that is here described, but a hatred that penetrates to the very depths of God's soul.[2]

Do you object that "hate" only means "loves less"? Even if we grant that explanation in these verses, we still see that God does not love all men equally. May we not at least conclude that He loves some enough to save them from their sins, and others He does not love enough to save?

But does such an objection fit the facts? Is it really true that God loves the non-elect in some lesser, but positive way? Do not forget that the non-elect will spend eternity in torment! God will not reluctantly send men to hell. On the contrary, Scripture declares that God is angry with them, and that they are an abomination to Him, and that they richly deserve eternal hell. (So do we, for that matter, apart from Christ).

Deuteronomy 25:16 – "For everyone who does these things, everyone who acts unjustly is an abomination to the LORD your God.

Psalm 2:4-6 – He who sits in the heavens laughs, The Lord scoffs at them. Then He will speak to them in His anger And terrify them in His fury, saying, "But as for Me, I have installed My King Upon Zion, My holy mountain."

Psalm 76:7 – You, even You, are to be feared; And who may stand in Your presence when once You are angry?

Matthew 25:30Throw out the worthless slave into the outer darkness; in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

Matthew 25:41Then He will also say to those on His left, 'Depart from Me, accursed ones, into the eternal fire which has been prepared for the devil and  his angels;

Hebrews 12:29 – for our God is a consuming fire.

Revelation 14:9-11 – Then another angel, a third one, followed them, saying with a loud voice, "If anyone worships the beast and his image, and receives a mark on his forehead or on his hand, he also will drink of the wine of the wrath of God, which is mixed in full strength in the cup of His anger; and he will be tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb. "And the smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever; they have no rest day and night, those who worship the beast and his image, and whoever receives the mark of his name."

2. In contrast, Scripture declares that God's elect are the special objects of God's love. It was because of His distinguishing love for them that He predestined them to be His own sons…
Ephesians 1:4-5 – In love He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will,
It was because of His distinguishing love for them that He redeemed them by the blood of His dearly-beloved Son…
Ephesians 5:25 – Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her,
It was because of His distinguishing love for them that He regenerated them by the Holy Spirit…
Ephesians 2:4-5 – But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved),
If God loved all men in this way, would He not have predestined them to adoption, and given Christ for them, and made them alive together with Christ? If God truly loves an individual, would He permit that individual to be tormented for all eternity?

3. Scripture says that nothing can separate God's people from His love…

Romans 8:38-39 – For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
This passage is meant to comfort and assure us of God's continued faithfulness to us, and of our ultimate salvation. But it says something very significant about God's love… namely, that God's love is not fickle. His love is a deep, genuine, abiding love. If He has set His love upon an individual, His love will never fade or grow cold. It is unthinkable that God could be so unfaithful as to abandon someone He loves. The love that sinful people exhibit is often as changeable as the weather, but such a "love" is not worthy of our glorious God.

If God today loves the non-elect, He must forever love them… even once they are burning in hell (if such a thing were possible). But if God loves the reprobate who are burning in hell, then what comfort or assurance does Romans 8:38-39 give us? This passage is sheer nonsense unless it is understood that God saves everyone He loves.

4. God's elect are uniquely referred to as "beloved of God"…

Romans 1:7 – to all who are beloved of God in Rome, called as saints: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

Colossians 3:12 – So, as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience;

1 Thessalonians 1:4 – knowing, brethren beloved by God, His choice of you;

2 Thessalonians 2:13 – But we should always give thanks to God for you, brethren beloved by the Lord, because God has chosen you from the beginning for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and faith in the truth.

Make no mistake… the word "beloved" is simply the adjective form of the Greek word agape, "love". God loves His elect, and this is the very reason why He chose us, redeemed us and regenerated us.

So then, why does He love the ones He loves? It was His sovereign good pleasure, in eternity past, to set His love upon these certain ones, and, out of this sovereign, distinguishing love for them, He does everything necessary to secure and ensure their eternal salvation.  We can go no higher than this—God's choice of whom He would love is not based upon any distinguishing qualities He foresaw in us, but upon the exercise of His own sovereign free-will.  We were no different from other sinners—it is God who, in time, made us to differ by regenerating our souls when we were dead in sins.

Common Objections to God's Distinguishing Love.

John 3:16
Those who vainly suppose that God loves all men without exception have precious little Biblical support for their position.  If you search for the words "world" and "love" in the Bible, you will find that there is only one passage in all of holy scripture where God is explicitly said to love the worldnamely, John 3:16.  Most of us who grew up exposed to a "Christian" witness have had the Arminian understanding of John 3:16 drummed into us from early childhood.  Cherished, longstanding errors die hard when you have been propagandized with them all your life.

Even so, I find it remarkable that anyone who professes to believe in Particular Redemption would appeal to John 3:16 in support of the idea that God loves all men alike—whether elect or reprobate...

John 3:16 – For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.
The problem here is that John 3:16 says not only that "God loved the world"—but also that He gave His Son to die for the people He loved.  It should be obvious that, if "world" in John 3:16 means "all men without exception," then John 3:16 teaches a Universal Redemption.

However, this "universal" interpretation of John 3:16 is based solely upon the assumption that "world" (Greek: kosmos) means "all men without exception." Scripture abounds with examples that kosmos does not necessarily mean "all men without exception" (see, for example, Romans 1:8; John 12:19; John 17:9; 1 John 2:15; etc.).

It is not valid to take the first part of the verse out of the context of the remainder of the passage. John 3:16 does not say "God so loved the worldperiod!" Rather, it says that, because of His love for "the world," He gave His Son to accomplish a stated purpose—to save believers.

The verse becomes nonsense if we understand "world" to include those who will never believe in Christ. It would then say, concerning the non-elect: "God so loved those who will never believe that He gave His only-begotten Son, so that those who do believe will not perish but have eternal life." Those whom God loves in John 3:16 must be the same ones who benefit from the death of Christ, or else there is no consistency of thought or sensibility to the passage. John 3:16 cannot include anyone who will never trust in Christ, for the death of Christ provides no stated benefit for such people.

The proper way to understand John 3:16 is to recognize that the word "world" is not intended to identify the specific people whom God loved.  Rather, its purpose is to denote the geographic and ethnic extent of God's love—that it extends beyond the borders of Israel, to men of all nations, languages and races.  Or, possibly it speaks of God's condescension—that He looks down from heaven with pity and compassion upon those sons of men whom He has chosen for Himself.

However, to identify the specific ones in the world whom God loved, we must read the entire sentence, to see the design of God's love—that it brings eternal salvation to "whosoever believes in Him".  It is these alone—these who genuinely believe in God's only-begotten Son, Jesus Christ—who are the objects and beneficiaries of God's redeeming love.

For further study, see my article An Exposition of John 3:16.

Matthew 5:43-48
A more convincing argument is made from Matthew 5:43-48, which commands us to love our enemies and thereby follow God's example:

Matthew 5:43-48 – "You have heard that it was said, 'YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR and hate your enemy.' "But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. "For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? "If you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? "Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect."
However, it is very striking that the display of God's love in this passage is not that greatest display of love—the sacrifice of His dear Son at Calvary.  Nor is it even a desire for the salvation of all men.  Rather, it is sunshine and rain. We should remember that these are only temporal blessings, and that the non-elect will someday be cast into hell fire, never again to enjoy the sunshine and rain that God presently gives them.

This passage also affirms that tax collectors show love to those who love them. (The Greek verb is agapao. Those who mistakenly suppose that agape always refers to God's love or to Christian love should take special note of this.)

These facts taken together suggest that it is not deep, abiding, heartfelt love that is meant, but rather kind actions. Our deeds toward our enemies are to be loving in the sense that they meet genuine needs and are perceived as acts of good-will and kindness. We may hate what men do to us or our families, and we may hate their blasphemies, but God patiently bears with them, showing them kindness, and so should we.

The emphasis in such passages is not the way we feel toward others, but the way we act toward them.  Remember the second greatest commandment...

Matthew 22:39 – "The second is like it, 'YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.'
What kind of "love" did God intend when He gave this commandment?  Obviously, he didn't mean that you are to hand your wife and children, or even your checkbook, over to your neighbor, although the "as yourself" might seem to suggest such a thing.  There are bounds to what is intended here, and a little research into the scriptures will uncover the true meaning.

First, we should note that the two "greatest commandments" did not originate with Jesus' earthly ministry, but were originally stated in the Old Testament books of Deuteronomy (6:5) and Leviticus—

Leviticus 19:18 – You shall not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge against the sons of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself; I am the LORD.
Leviticus 19:34 – The stranger who resides with you shall be to you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt; I am the LORD your God.
Verse 18 contrasts "loving your neighbor as yourself" with "taking vengeance" or "bearing a grudge" against him.  Verse 34 equates "loving a foreigner as yourself" with "treating him as a native Israelite".  In both cases, the emphasis is upon how you treat another person, rather than upon any feeling of love for the person.  Both verses have to do with treating the person with kindness and respect—showing them the manner of kindness and respect you would wish to be shown if you were in their situation—loving them "as yourself".

This should remind us of the "golden rule" taught by our Lord—

Luke 6:31 (NIV) – Do to others as you would have them do to you.

Luke 6:31 (NAS95) – Treat others the same way you want them to treat you.

In fact, I would maintain that this is precisely what our Lord meant when He said "You shall love your neighbor as yourself."  My concern (love) for others is to conform to my concern (love) for myself.

If I do not want others bearing vindictive grudges against me, then I should be careful not to bear grudges against them (Lev. 19:18).  If, as a stranger in a foreign country, I would wish to be welcomed as a native, then I should welcome strangers in my own country with hospitality, good-will and helpfulness (Lev. 19:34).  If, having been attacked by robbers and left along the roadside to die, I would want someone to stop and help me, then  I should be quick to offer help to someone with a similar need (Luke 10:29-37).  The principle here does not deal so much with emotions, as with actions.

Likewise, James tells us that we are transgressing this "royal law" whenever we show special preference to the rich and are less gracious toward the poor (James 2:2-9).  In all such passages, the issue behind "loving your neighbor as yourself" is how you act toward themdo you treat them with kindness and respect?

This agrees with Paul's teaching that we should do good to all people, but especially to other believers…

Galatians 6:10 – So then, while we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, and especially to those who are of the household of the faith.
But, even in the practice of this benevolent love of "doing good" to others, we are to have a different kind of love for believers than we have for unbelievers—we are to "do good ... especially" to our brothers in Christ.  Indeed, our love for believers is to be patterned after our Lord's sacrificial love for us…
John 13:34 – "A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another.
Was it heartfelt love for God's enemies that prompted David to pray "I hate those who hate You"?
Psalm 139:21 – Do I not hate those who hate You, O LORD? And do I not loathe those who rise up against You?
Is it heartfelt love for their enemies which prompts the martyrs to cry out to God to avenge their blood?
Revelation 6:10 – … "How long, O Lord, holy and true, will You refrain from judging and avenging our blood on those who dwell on the earth?"
Romans 12:19-20 provides an illuminating commentary on Matthew 5:43-48…
Romans 12:19-20 – Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, "VENGEANCE IS MINE, I WILL REPAY," says the Lord. "BUT IF YOUR ENEMY IS HUNGRY, FEED HIM, AND IF HE IS THIRSTY, GIVE HIM A DRINK; FOR IN SO DOING YOU WILL HEAP BURNING COALS ON HIS HEAD."
Paul does not teach us against desiring vengeance. Rather, he cautions us against taking action to obtain vengeance. It is God's place to take vengeance upon our enemies on the day of judgment. In the meantime, we are to do good to our enemies, knowing that this will increase their accountability before God, and thereby increase the punishment they will receive—in effect, "heaping burning coals on their head". It is an act of faith to exercise restraint and to show kindness to our enemies, believing that God will deal with them more harshly as a result.

Yet, we are to forgive our enemies, as God has forgiven us (Matthew 6:12; Ephesians 4:32; Colossians 3:13). Remember that both our Lord and Stephen exemplified this when they prayed for the forgiveness of their murderers (Luke 23:34; Acts 7:60). A true saint should never lament the salvation of his greatest enemy (e.g. don't follow Jonah's example: Jonah 2:10-3:1). Look what a precious gift the church received when Christ reached down and saved her persecutor, Saul of Tarsus!

But how can a true Christian desire God's judgment upon an enemy if we are to forgive our enemies? The answer, I believe, lies in the following considerations:

In either case, we are to show kindness to our enemies. This is the import of the statement "Love your enemies," for this agrees with the sense in which God loves His enemies—He displays goodness to them for a season, but (in the case of the reprobate) that season will one day come to a fearful end!

1 John 4:8, 16
How often have we heard it argued that, because "God is love", it therefore follows that He necessarily loves all men.

1 John 4:8 – Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.

1 John 4:16 – And so we know and rely on the love God has for us.  God is love.  Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him.

Over the years, this brief statement of the excellency of God has been used to justify all manner of errors.  "God is love" and so some would conclude that anyone who exhibits love must therefore have God living within him.  "God is love" and so some argue that "God" is simply the property or emotion called "love", and not a personal God at all.  Others would argue that, because "God is love", He could never have ordained the evil in the world, and would surely never send anyone to hell.

This shows that we cannot simply take the bare phrase "God is love" and try to draw direct implications from it.  We first need to ask "In what sense may it be said that 'God is love'?"  To answer this question, we must (1) keep the statement in its original context, and (2) turn to other Scriptures that speak of the loving character of God.  To build a doctrine on the bare statement "God is love" is a sure recipe for disaster!

The statement "God is love" appears in a context where Christians are exhorted to show love for one another...

1 John 4:10-11This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.  Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another:
Note carefully that the love described here is a selective, distinguishing love.  It is the love that God showed when He "sent His Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins."  This is one of those "one another" passages, and it says we are to mimic God's love for us by loving those whom He loves.  The passage clearly emphasizes the depth and sincerity of God's love (He sent His Son to be our atoning sacrifice), but denies any universal extent to it, applying it instead to His own people only.  This agrees with the other passages we have examined.

Other passages that speak of God's love for men.
There are, of course, other passages that speak of the love of God toward men.  However, they are always in the context of God's love for His elect people, as demonstrated by Christ's death for them, or by the Holy Spirit's regeneration of them.  It is clear that all such passages teach that God's love is directed particularly and exclusively toward His elect peoplethose for whom Christ died and those whom He sovereignly regenerates.  Such passages therefore refute the idea that God loves all men, whether elect or not...

Romans 5:8But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.

Ephesians 2:4But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ...

Ephesians 5:2...walk in love, just as Christ also loved you and gave Himself up for us, ...

Titus 3:4-5But when the kindness of God our Savior and His love for mankind appeared, He saved us ... by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit,

... etc.

Passages that do not mention God's love, but are thought to imply that God loves all men.
Having exhausted all the Scripture passages which speak explicitly of God's love for men, we now turn to some passages that are sometimes imagined to imply that God loves all men...

1 Timothy 2:3-4
This passage is often lifted from its context to teach that God desires the salvation of all men...

1 Timothy 2:3-4 ... God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.
However, when it is viewed in context, we see several reasons why "all men" should not be understood to mean "all men without exception".

For one thing, the context is speaking of classes of men.  Verses 1 & 2 direct us to offer up prayers for "all men", and mentions a specific class of men for whom we are to pray: "for kings and all who are in authority".  Similarly, in verse 7, the apostle refers to himself as "a teacher of the Gentiles"reminding us that God has elect people in every nation of the globe.  It is in this context of various classes of menrulers and Gentilesthat we find the statement that "God will have all men to be saved".  When we consider that the Greek word pas (here translated "all") often means "all kinds of" rather than "every individual", we find that there is no justification to suppose that 1 Timothy 2:4 is speaking of all men without exception.  God will have all kinds of men to be saved, but certainly not every individual man.

Moreover, in the verses immediately following verse 4, the apostle goes on to describe the manner in which God desires the salvation of all men...

1 Timothy 2:5-6For there is one God, and one mediator also between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave Himself as a ransom for all, the testimony given at the proper time.
After asserting that "God will have all men to be saved", the apostle continues, explaining that there is "one mediator also between God and men", and that this Mediator, Christ Jesus, "gave Himself as a ransom for all".  If "all men" in verse 4 refers to all men without exception, then that is clearly the "all" referred to in verse 6, where Christ is said to be a ransom for all.  In short, you cannot divorce verse 6 from verse 4.  You cannot teach from verse 4 that God wants all men without exception to be saved, without concluding from verse 6 that Christ is a ransom for all men without exception.

The true meaning of the passage must be consistent with the Biblical doctrines (1) that God has mercy on whom He desires to have mercy (see Romans 9:15), and (2) that Christ died exclusively for His sheepHis church (see John 10:11; Acts 20:28 and Ephesians 5:25).  To say that "all men" here means "all individual men without exception" violates both the immediate context as well as the teaching of other Scripture passages.  To say that "all men" here means "men of all ranks and nations" fits both the scriptural context and the meaning of the word "all", maintains consistency with other Bible passages, and gives the correct sense of the passageGod intends to save men of every nation and position, and so the "one mediator", Christ Jesus, gave Himself as a ransom for men of every nation and position of mankind.

1 Timothy 2:4 does not, therefore, give any support to the idea that God loves all men.  Quite the contrary—it teaches us that God's desire for the salvation of men is selective—directed toward His elect people in every stratum of society, and in every nation of the world—each one for whom Christ Jesus gave Himself up as a ransom.

For further study, see my article An Exposition of 1 Timothy 2:3-4.

2 Peter 3:9
A very similar passage is found in Peter's second epistle...

2 Peter 3:9The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance.
Again, this passage is commonly lifted from its context, and often quoted only in part, to try to prove that God loves every individual humannot wishing that anyone in the entire world should perish, but wishing instead that all of them should come to repentance.

It should be noted that such a teaching flies in the face of the various passages (see also Acts 5:31 and 11:18) which plainly declare that God grants repentance to whomever He is pleased to give it...

2 Timothy 2:25with gentleness correcting those who are in opposition, if perhaps God may grant them repentance leading to the knowledge of the truth,
The Arminian fully intends to overturn the force of 2 Timothy 2:25 by citing 2 Peter 3:9 against it.  We would hardly expect him to act otherwise.  What is appalling, however, is that Calvinists who fully believe 2 Timothy 2:25 will sometimes argue for the Arminian's understanding of 2 Peter 3:9!  Of course, they then must do some convoluted explaining to avoid the charge of inconsistency.

I believe that both the Arminian and the inconsistent Calvinist misunderstand 2 Peter 3:9 for two reasons.  First, because they do not keep the passage in its scriptural context.  Second, because they have a deep-seated prejudice—expecting to find in scripture some justification for the idea that God loves all men and desires their salvation.  In some cases, the inconsistent Calvinist simply doesn't know how to answer the Arminian's interpretation of 2 Peter 3:9, and so capitulates to it, supposing that he can still defend his Calvinism by appealing to the idea that God has various kinds of love, and various kinds of willing.

However, we need to recognize that, when Peter uses "any" and "all" in 2 Peter 3:9, he does not use these terms in a vacuum, nor in the context of universal humanity.  He explicitly says that "God is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish but for all to come to repentance."  The "any" and "all" here have explicit reference to the recipients of Peter's epistle, and not to all mankind generally.

This is underscored by the immediate context of the verse, where Peter addresses his readers as "beloved" (vss. 1 and 8), and draws a contrast between his readers ("you") and certain scoffers who would come in the last days ("they", "their") in verses 3-8.  In verse 1, he reminds them that this is the second epistle he wrote to them, and in verse 2, he exhorts them to "remember the words ... spoken by your apostles"...

2 Peter 3:1-9This is now, beloved, the second letter I am writing to you in which I am stirring up your sincere mind by way of reminder, that you should remember the words spoken beforehand by the holy prophets and the commandment of the Lord and Savior spoken by your apostles.  Know this first of all, that in the last days mockers will come with their mocking, following after their own lusts, and saying, "Where is the promise of His coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all continues just as it was from the beginning of creation."  For when they maintain this, it escapes their notice that by the word of God the heavens existed long ago and the earth was formed out of water and by water, through which the world at that time was destroyed, being flooded with water.  But by His word the present heavens and earth are being reserved for fire, kept for the day of judgment and destruction of ungodly men.  But do not let this one fact escape your notice, beloved, that with the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years like one day.  The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance.
 In the opening verse (1:1) of the epistle, Peter addresses his recipients as "those who have received a faith of the same kind as ours", and in 1:10, he exhorts them to "be all the more diligent to make certain about His calling and choosing you".  Thus, there is every reason to believe that the "you" he is addressing are God's called and chosen people, who have received faith from Himand not all mankind in general.

The common response to this explanation is that the "you" cannot be speaking of people who have already come to faith and repentance, for Peter says that God is patient with them, wishing for them to come to repentance.  God doesn't need to be patient with people who have already trusted and repented, so it must be speaking of someone else.  But such a response fails to grasp the Biblical fact that God, from all eternity, has chosen a people for Himself.  Some of them have already come to Christ in faith and repentance, but others have not yet come to Christ.  God is patient with His elect people, postponing judgment until all have been brought to faith in Christ.

When Peter addresses his readers as "you" in 2 Peter 3:9, he views them as part of a larger body of peoplenamely, the elect whom God has chosen from eternity past.  Those who first read the epistle had already come to Christ.  But Christ also has sheep who had not yet come to Christ.  God is patiently restraining the day of judgment until the last sheep is brought under the regenerating, sanctifying care of the Holy Spirit.

For further study, see my article An Exposition of 2 Peter 3:9.

Matthew 23:37
Yet another passage that is commonly cited as proof that God loves all men is Matthew 23:37...

Matthew 23:37Jerusalem, Jerusalem, who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, the way a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were unwilling.
Here, it is argued that God has a love even for the non-elect, since our Lord wished to gather these people with the tender love that a hen has for her chicks, but that they refused to be gathered, thereby demonstrating themselves to be people whom He had not chosen to be saved.  It cannot be argued that they later believed in Him, for history records that the Jewish people, by and large, rejected their Messiah.

This view fails to take into consideration that there are two groups under discussion here:  (1) Jerusalem, who kills the prophets and who was "unwilling";  and (2) The children of Jerusalemthose whom our Lord wished to gather.  Those whom Christ wished to gather are not the same people who were "unwilling".

The term "Jerusalem" refers to the leadership of Israelthose who killed the prophets and stoned those sent to her.  The children of Jerusalem speaks of the Jewish people generally.  The Jewish leadership stubbornly opposed God's prophetic witness to the peopleHis outward efforts to turn the people from their sin and back to Himself.

The expressed desire to "gather" the people refers to God's outward testimony of the prophets, and not to the inward, effectual, regenerating work of the Holy Spirit.  There is definitely a kind persistence and tenderness in the way that God outwardly calls all menboth elect and reprobateto Himself.  In some feeble sense, one might even call this "love".  However, it falls so far short of the kind of effectual, sacrificial, eternal love that God displays toward His elect that it would seem more appropriate to reserve the term "love" to refer to God's sovereign love, and to use such words as "goodness", "kindness" or "benevolence" to refer to God's kindness in calling the lost unto Christ.

For further study, see my article An Exposition of Matthew 23:37.

Romans 9:3 and Exodus 32:32
These two passages express, not God's love, but the sacrificial love that Paul and Moses had for the Jewish people.

Romans 9:3For I could wish that I myself were accursed, separated from Christ for the sake of my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh,

Exodus 32:32"But now, if You will, forgive their sinand if not, please blot me out from Your book which You have written!"

It is argued, however, that it was quite proper for Paul and Moses to love their kinsmen in this way, and that they were simply imitating God's love.  Moreover, because human expressions of love are tarnished by human weakness and sin (so the argument goes), we would have to conclude that God loves them in an even greater and more perfect way than Paul and Moses did.

I would agree that these passages indicate that Moses and Paul had a great love for their Jewish brothers.  I would also agree that it was appropriate for Paul and Moses to have such a love for their kinsmen.  Does this mean, then, that God loved these people and wanted them to be saved?

We can answer this question in a couple of different ways...

On one hand, notice that this love was directed specifically toward the Jewish people, and not toward all men generally.  Even Paul, the "apostle to the Gentiles", was not expressing a love for all mankind, but for his Jewish kinsmen alone.  God has promised that He will someday "... remove ungodliness from Jacob ..." (Romans 11:26).  This would seem to be a clear affirmation that God does intend, at some future day, to grant spiritual salvation to all (or at least, to a major portion) of the Jewish people who are living at that time.  If Moses and Paul were concerned for the Jewish people as a people, then their concern for the Jews was in full harmony with God's declared purpose to preserve a remnant, and to someday save the nation in a great and marvelous way.

On the other hand, if Moses and Paul were expressing a concern for the individual Jews who were living in their own day, then we see a conflict between their love and God's purpose.  God did not purpose to save all the Jews living in their day, for, if He had purposed it, He would have brought it about.  Does the love that Paul and Moses had imply that God loves non-elect people?  Or, if He does not love non-elect people, does this mean that it was wrong for Moses and Paul to love them and wish for them to be saved?

The correct answer to both questions is "No."  No, God does not love the non-elect in a saving way (we have already examined abundant scriptural evidence of this).  No, it was not wrong for Moses and Paul to love these people and to wish them to be savedin fact, it was very appropriate for these inspired men of God to love the lost in this way.

There is a crucial difference between the way that God loves men and the way that we love them.  God knows who His elect are, but we do not.  God purposely leaves us in ignorance on this matter so that we will be just as compassionate and zealous in giving the gospel to the non-elect as we are in giving it to the elect.  He wants His gospel to be proclaimed to the non-elect with the same fervor, urgency and compassion that we use toward the elect.  So far as we know, any given unbeliever may be one of God's elect.

If we could distinguish elect unbelievers from non-elect unbelievers, we would no doubt treat them differently.  In our zeal to see men come to Christ, we would spend most or all of our evangelistic efforts on the elect, and would pass the others by.  Who would want to waste his time on a "lost cause"?  But this might give the non-elect an excuse for their unbelief.  God wants to make it abundantly plain, on the day of judgment, that it is not enough that the gospel is proclaimed to a man with great loving fervor and urgency.  Unless God regenerates the soul, unregenerate men will never come to Christ in genuine faithregardless of the diligent efforts and gifted abilities of the evangelist.

God's purpose for the non-elect, therefore, is to demonstrate that the non-elect man has no love for God.  No matter how attractively the gospel is packagedno matter how lovingly or passionately it is presented to himnone of this changes the fact that the unregenerate heart is enmity against God.  It is undoubtedly an expression of kindness on God's part to send the gospel to the non-elect.  But in the end, it only serves to magnify and prove just how wicked fallen man is, and how fully he deserves the judgment of God.  In the final analysis, the love shown by God's people toward the non-elect will serve only to justify His great wrath against them.

God knows which unbelievers are His own elect people, but we do not.  We must treat all unbelievers alike.  But this does not mean that God views all unbelievers the same way.  Though He showers both elect and non-elect alike with many temporal kindnessesgiving them rain and sunshine, food and homes, families and jobs, peace and prosperity, as well as a sincere, loving, compassionate witness of the Gospel—even so, His purpose for this is far different toward the one than toward the other.

We err greatly when we do not maintain a heavenly, eternal viewpoint of the purposes of God.  God shows many of the same kindnesses to the non-elect that He shows to His elect.  Judged by earthly standards, we see no difference between them.  However, when we consider the eternal consequences of them, we see that His purpose in doing this is as diametrically different as the respective destinies of the two.  When we speak of God's love, we normally mean His underlying motive for the gracious things He does.  The ultimate motive behind God's kindness to the non-elect is to demonstrate how fully they deserve His wrath.  The ultimate motive behind God's kindness and mercy toward His elect is to display the unfathomable riches of His unmerited saving grace in Christ Jesus.

Romans 9:22-23What if God, although willing to demonstrate His wrath and to make His power known, endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction?  And He did so to make known the riches of His glory upon vessels of mercy, which He prepared beforehand for glory,
God is sovereign, and has the sovereign ability to save whomever He pleases.  This is purely a divine prerogativewe do not have the right or power to decide who will be saved nor to cause men to believe.  It is fitting that God should sovereignly set His love upon whomever He wishes.  We, being mere creatures, have no such right.  It is therefore fallacious to suppose that we can or should love men the same way that God loves them.

Practical Considerations.

The question of whether God loves all men or His elect only is not merely an academic one.  There are profound blessings that flow from affirming God's exclusive love for His elect people, and likewise there are serious and dangerous consequences in teaching that God's love is universal in its scope.

To know that you are loved by God should bring great inner peace and settled assurance of your ultimate salvation.  God's love for us was the motive force behind His great saving acts of choosing, redeeming, justifying and quickening us, and it is likewise the motive force behind His faithfulness in sanctifying and glorifying us.  If God has loved you with an everlasting love, and has purposed in His heart to do absolutely everything needed to bring you to ultimate glory, then your assurance is anchored in the solid rock of God's undying, unconquerable love.

On the other hand, if God loves the reprobate who are burning in hell (or even if He once loved them), then there is little consolation in knowing that you are the object of God's love.  What comfort is there to the one who is suffering the eternal agonies of divine justice to know that God loves him, or that God had once loved him?  What assurance is there to know that I am presently loved by God if others, who were likewise once loved by God, are experiencing the awful torments of everlasting hell?  Can I be sure that my faith will endure to the end?  Can I have the confidence that God will preserve me from falling, when He did not do so for others whom He loved?  What an empty and meaningless "love" that would be!

If the doctrine of universal love deprives the genuine believer of his assurance, it does just the opposite for the unbeliever.  "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom" (Proverbs 9:10), but the doctrine of universal love is like a narcotic to the unbeliever, making him callous and insensitive to his desperate situation.  He reasons, after all, that a loving God would never torment any creature whom He loves.  In this, the unbeliever demonstrates far more wisdom than many Christians who suppose that God loves the reprobate along with the elect.  To tell men "God loves you" merely blinds unbelievers to their own sinfulness, and to the awful wrath that awaits them if they remain impenitent.  To preach a universal love is to subvert the gospel by peddling false assurance to the lost.  If we are truly concerned with seeing sinners come to Christ in genuine faith and repentance, we would do far better to awaken their fear of God by telling them of His great holiness and wrath, and to warn them of His great hatred toward sin and toward unrepentant sinners.

Hence, the doctrine of particular love has great implications for our preaching and teaching.  God's love is a doctrine for believers, to give them assurance, to increase their confidence in God, and to ignite their love for Him.  However, it is never appropriate to tell an unconvicted unbeliever that God loves him, lest we confirm him in his complacency and make him even more comfortable in his unbelief.  The greatest revivals have come when men were faced with the utter holiness of God, and trembled in recognition of their own sinfulness and of the greatness of God's wrath against them for their sins.  Shall we blind the man to his lost condition by suggesting to him that God looks favorably upon him, and loves him in his lost, unrepentant condition?  It is not hearing of God's love for him that will cause him to cry out for mercy.  Rather it is hearing of God's hatred of sin that will cause him to fly into the arms of the One he has so greatly offended.  Once he sees the awfulness of his sin, the severity of God's judgment, and his own desperate need of righteousness, then and only then, can he truly appreciate the greatness of God's love and mercy.

Finally, the doctrine of particular love exalts the greatness of our glorious God, and displays to us a love that knows no limitation in its depth and strength.  Repeatedly, Scripture calls upon us to consider the great things that God's love has wrought for us…

1 John 3:1 – See how great a love the Father has bestowed on us, that we would be called children of God; and such we are. For this reason the world does not know us, because it did not know Him.

Ephesians 1:4-5 – In love He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will,

Ephesians 2:4-5 – But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved),

This teaching is brought to its inescapable conclusion when the apostle asserts our assurance by saying that nothing can separate us from God's love
Romans 8:38-39 – For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
God's sovereign love has many profound and glorious attributes:
  1. It is a sacrificial love – It does whatever is needed to save its objects—even if that means sending the only-begotten Son of God to die the horrific death of Calvary's cross to redeem them from their sins.
  2. It is an effectual love – It is fully capable of saving its objects, and never fails to actually save them.
  3. It is an eternal love – God's love is faithful and abiding.  He will never, never, never forsake anyone He genuinely loves.
  4. It is a personal love – God loves persons—not their faith, their works, nor their willingness to believe.  He loves them, not theirs.  He loves us nakedly, and not for what we can give to Him.  Indeed, we possess nothing of merit or value by which God would be attracted to us more than to others.  He loves us freely and undeservedly.
  5. It is a distinguishing love – God's love is a family love.  He is our Heavenly Father, and Christ Jesus is our husband.  Our Father loves His children with a special love of possession and endearment that He does not have for those who are not His children.  The Lord Jesus is no adulterer—He loves His own bride with a caring intimacy that He does not have for others.
Every child of God should take comfort in knowing that, as His dear children, God has a special love for us that will not allow us to perish in hell. It was this distinguishing love for us that prompted Him to predestine us unto adoption as sons (Ephesians 1:4-5), to send His dearly-loved Son to die in our place at Calvary (Ephesians 5:25), and to quicken us together with Christ by His Holy Spirit unto spiritual life, faith and godliness (Ephesians 2:4-5).  In short, God's effectual love breaks through all barriers and does whatever it takes to ensure our ultimate salvation.

We should never suppose that our incalcitrant rebellion and unbelief is any barrier to God's unconquerable love.  God does not need our permission in order to save us.  He is God.  He saves us, not only from the guilt of our sins, but also from our obstinate rebellion and willful rejection of Him.  He is God.  If He loved all men, then His omnipotent, effectual love would overpower every man's stubborn unbelief, and He would infallibly bring every human being to faith and happiness in Christ.  The fact that He does not do this for every man is incontrovertible proof that He does not love all mennot with a desire that they actually be savednot with the deep, effectual love that moves Him to secure their salvation.

We should take comfort in knowing, that as Christ's bride, our Lord has a special, distinguishing love for us which He does not have for others (Ephesians 5:25).  He is our Provider, Protector and Redeemer.  Because He loves us, He makes us fit for heaven, both judicially, by laying down His life for our sins, and practically, by pouring out His Spirit upon us to cleanse us from our sins and to create and nurture His character within us, conforming us to His image (Romans 8:29).  At the end of the age, as a loving husband, He will return for us, to fully glorify us and take us to be with Him forever.  These are the fruits of genuine loveand these fruits belong exclusively to the people whom God has, from all eternity, chosen for Himself.

He does not love every person in the world, but He does love His own, who are in the world...

John 13:1 – Now before the Feast of the Passover, Jesus knowing that His hour had come that He would depart out of this world to the Father, having loved His own who were in the world, He loved them to the end.
Christ's love for His own people is both distinguishing and enduring—He loved "His own", and He loved them "to the end".

When we assert that God loves the non-elect (i.e. in some saving sense), we slander God's pure, saving love, by alleging that God's love is so superficial that He will not exercise His sovereign omnipotence to save them. What a blasphemy to assert that God will cast many of His beloved people into eternal hell fire! Such a "love" is unworthy of any but Satan himself!

There is great comfort and assurance in knowing that you are the object of God's love. Let us never barter this away for the Arminian's cheap, superficial counterfeit.

Ephesians 3:14-21 – For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name, that He would grant you, … to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled up to all the fullness of God. Now to Him who is able to do far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us, to Him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations forever and ever. Amen.
May God's sovereign, electing love reveal to us the unspeakable beauty and untiring faithfulness of our God, and may it cause us to lift our hearts and voices to Him in eternal, joyful praise and thanksgiving!

Epilogue: A Parable of Saving Love.

Two men are enjoying a day at the beach when they suddenly hear a cry for help coming from far offshore.  A child has ventured too far out into the ocean and is drowning.  One man runs out to the end of the pier and, with tears, shouts to the child, exhorting him to swim to shore.  The other man, without hesitation, dives into the water, swims out to the child, and drags him back to shore.

Which man showed love to the child?  Suppose we interrogate the two men.

To the man who remained on the pier, we ask "Why didn't you jump into the water to save the childdid you not know how to swim?"  He replies: "Oh yesI am an expert swimmer.  In fact, I am an experienced, professional lifeguard and, over the years, I have saved many from drowning."  We repeat the question "Why then did you not dive in and rescue the child?"  His reply: "I felt that I did enough by calling to him to save himself.  I honestly wanted him to swim back.  My love for the child should be evident:  Don't you see the tears I shed for him?  Could you not hear the urgency in my voice?  Why should you expect me to do anything more than this?"

We then turn to the man who dived in and rescued the child:  "Why did you swim out to save the child?"  He answers: "Because, you see, this is my own son, whom I dearly loveI could not bear to see him drown.  I would rather die trying to save him than to know that I did not do all I could to save him."  We press him a bit further: "But did you really need to dive in to save him?  Wouldn't it have been enough just to call out to him to swim back?"  The father replies:  "NoI could see that he was too far out, and that the current was too swift and strong.  He did not have the strength to swim against the current and save himself.  Had I not gone out to bring him back, he would be dead by now."

And so we ask this question:  If God is sovereignly able to quicken dead sinners, but does not do so, does He love them?  Does He really, truly, genuinely love them?  If He knows that they will perish in eternal hell if He does not do the "radical" thing and change their hearts—and yet He does not change their heartshow much does He really love them?

Is there any comparison between the ineffectual "love" that merely calls out to men with impassioned, unrelenting pleas, promises and warnings, versus that sovereign, eternal, effectual love whereby God goes beyond the unrelenting, impassioned pleas, and takes the initiative to choose, redeem, quicken, sanctify and glorify stubborn, guilty, rebellious sinners?  One might as well liken the cold, faint glimmer of a distant star on an arctic winter's night to the searing heat of the tropical noonday sun!

Sovereign love is saving love.  It is effectual love.  It is sacrificial love.  It is eternal love.  It is sincere love.  It is a distinguishing love.  Anything elseany so-called "love" that stops short of saving its objectspales into insignificance by comparison.  A universal love is a shallow "love" that refuses to save those whom it is able to save.  Indeed, it is a "love" in name only, and hardly deserves to be called "love".  Call it "kindness", if you likecall it "patience" or "goodness".  Call it "benevolence" if you prefer, but never confuse it with the eternal, sacrificial, effectual love that God has graciously determined to have for His elect people.

Sovereign love is love indeed!


[1] Is it legitimate to say that Arminians deny that God is sovereign?  The Arminian denies the sovereignty of God whenever he asserts that God cannot or will not "violate" human will.  Such a restriction on God's freedom puts a straightjacket on God's ability to do as He pleases.  According to Arminian theology, God cannot accomplish what He desires, because he must protect human "free-will" at all cost—even if it means that multitudes will spend eternity in hell.  The Calvinist worships a God who has the freedom to show mercy to whomever He wishes.  The Arminian worships a handcuffed God who is not free to accomplish His desires.

According to Scripture, the greatest obstacle to God's exercise of mercy was our guilt, but God overcame this obstacle by giving up His blessed Son to die in our place.  The Arminian imagines that there is an even greater obstacle to God's ability to have mercy upon mankind—namely, human unbelief.  God could deal with the problem of guilt, but, according to Arminian theology, God can do nothing about human obstinacy.  Thus, the Arminian concept of God is that of a frustrated deity who can only do so much—and, indeed, has done all that He can to save mankind—but cannot do enough to save everyone He wants to save.  The Arminian's God is great enough to deal with the guilt problem, but not great enough to deal with the problem of unbelief.

The Calvinist, on the other hand, confesses that God is Lord even over the thoughts and decisions of men, and has the freedom to overrule man's sinful choices in order to bring blessing to men.  Indeed, the Calvinist is thankful that God overrules man's rebellious choices.  If God did not overrule our own obstinate depravity, no one would be saved.  The Calvinist rejoices in the thought that God sovereignly chooses men who, of themselves, would never have chosen Him.  We genuinely thank God that He "violated" our freely chosen rebellion, that we might be spared the agonies of hell and become heirs of eternal life.

Suppose a man, in a fit of drunken rage, was determined to murder his wife, and suppose that you detain him long enough until the police can place him in custody.  The next day, when he is sober again and learns how you kept him from committing this tragic act, do you think he will be angry with you for stopping him, or thankful that you kept him from committing such a horrible crime?  Will he feel that it was "unfair" of you to "violate" his free will?
What kind of man would rather spend eternity in the torments of hell than to have God "violate" his free will?  How could there be any impropriety in God having mercy upon rebellious, hell-deserving sinners, once His justice is satisfied by the death of Christ?

[2] The Westminster Confession (2:1) says that God is "without parts or passions".  Does this mean that God cannot truly be said to love or hate anyonethat it is an error to ascribe emotions to God?  Obviously, Scripture ascribes a variety of emotions to God:  Love, hatred, anger, pleasure, compassion, mercy, etc.  The Westminster divines surely did not mean to deny these clear statements of Scripture, so what did they have in mind?

I believe they meant that God's emotions do not rise and fall in response to changing circumstances.  He is not moodybeing happy one day and grouchy the next.  A sovereign God cannot be the puppet of circumstancesas though He does not know what the next moment will bring.  Quite the contrary, He is the master of all circumstancesmolding them as a potter to serve His purposes and to accomplish the ends He has determined.

It is true that Scripture sometimes speaks of God as responding in anger to the sinful acts of men...

Numbers 11:1 -  Now the people became like those who complain of adversity in the hearing of the LORD; and when the LORD heard it, His anger was kindled, and the fire of the LORD burned among them and consumed some of the outskirts of the camp.
But such volatile, reactive emotions are normally understood as belonging to the figure of speech called "anthropopathism"ascribing human emotions to God.  Such examples teach us that God detests sin, and that His wrath burns against our sin.  Scripture describes God's wrath as reacting suddenly to our sin in order to emphasize the grave seriousness of our sin, and God's supreme holiness and His righteous necessity to deal with sin.  Such temporal displays of wrath or anger are generally meant as instructive illustrations that teach us of His holiness, and it is likely that it is just such temporal judgments that the Westminster Confession is addressing when it says that God is "without parts or passions".

But can we describe God's eternal acts toward men as being merely illustrations, or is it proper to use such words as "love" and "hate" to describe the way that God truly regards individual people?

It is enough that we think of God the way that Scripture describes Him—acting in love toward His elect people, and as having hatred for the reprobate.  All men deserve God's hatred.  It should come as no surprise that the Holy Sovereign of the universe would hate rebellious sinners.  The great wonder is that God would sovereignly set His love upon certain people who are just as sinful and rebellious as all the others.

Ephesians 2:3 -  ... we ... were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest.

Ephesians 2:4-5 - But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ ...

God is said to have loved us with an "everlasting love", just as He is said to have chosen us from before the foundation of the world.  It is with a settled, unchanging love that God purposed to bless His elect people.  His love for us is not based on anything good He finds within us, nor on any good thing He foresaw that we would do.  His love for us is grounded in His own eternal purposeHe sovereignly set His love upon usand so it is not subject to the changing climate of human merit or obedience.  His eternal love for us governs the eternal destiny He has prepared for us, and we should have no reservations about genuinely ascribing such a love to God.

Other Voices.
C. H. Spurgeon, Jacob and Esaua sermon preached January 16, 1859 at New Park Street Chapel. 
"Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated."

It is a terrible text, and I will be honest with it if I can. One man says the word "hate" does not mean hate; it means "love less:"—"Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I loved less." It may be so: but I don't believe it is. At any rate, it says "hate" here; and until you give me another version of the Bible, I shall keep to this one. I believe that the term is correctly and properly translated; that the word "hate" is not stronger than the original; but even if it be a little stronger, it is nearer the mark than the other translation which is offered to us in those meaningless words, "love less." I like to take it and let it stand just as it is. The fact is, God loved Jacob, and he did not love Esau; he did choose Jacob, but he did not choose Esau; he did bless Jacob, but he never blessed Esau; his mercy followed Jacob all the way of his life, even to the last, but his mercy never followed Esau; he permitted him still to go on in his sins, and to prove that dreadful truth, "Esau have I hated."

Jonathan Edwards, The End of the Wicked Contemplated by the Righteous

... The saints in glory will know concerning the damned in hell, that God never loved them, but that he hates them, and will be for ever hated of God. This hatred of God will be fully declared to them; they will see it, and will see the fruits of it in their misery. Therefore, when God has thus declared his hatred of the damned, and the saints see it, it will be no way becoming in the saints to love them, nor to mourn over them. It becomes the saints fully and perfectly to consent to what God doth, without any reluctance or opposition of spirit; yea, it becomes them to rejoice in every thing that God sees meet to be done. ...

... It will be no argument of want of a spirit of love in them, that they do not love the damned; for the heavenly inhabitants will know that it is not fit that they should love them, because they will know then, that God has no love to them, nor pity for them; but that they are the objects of God's eternal hatred. And they will then be perfectly conformed to God in their wills and affections. He will love what God loves, and that only. However the saints in heaven may have loved the damned while here, especially those of them who were near and dear to them in this world, they will have no love to them hereafter. ...

... When the saints in glory, therefore, shall see the doleful state of the damned, how will this heighten their sense of the blessedness of their own state, so exceedingly different from it! When they shall see how miserable others of their fellow-creatures are, who were naturally in the same circumstances with themselves; when they shall see the smoke of their torment, and the raging of the flames of their burning, and hear their dolorous shrieks and cries, and consider that they in the mean time are in the most blissful state, and shall surely be in it to all eternity; how will they rejoice!

This will give them a joyful sense of the grace and love of God to them, because hereby they will see how great a benefit they have by it. When they shall see the dreadful miseries of the damned, and consider that they deserved the same misery, and that it was sovereign grace, and nothing else, which made them so much to differ from the damned, that, if it had not been for that, they would have been in the same condition; but that God from all eternity was pleased to set his love upon them, that Christ hath laid down his life for them, and hath made them thus gloriously happy for ever, O how will they admire that dying love of Christ, which has redeemed them from so great a misery, and purchased for them so great happiness, and has so distinguished them from others of their fellow-creatures! How joyfully will they sing to God and the Lamb, when they behold this! ...

Thomas Goodwin, cited by Iain Murray, The Forgotten Spurgeon (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust, 1998), p. 75. 

'That God in his love pitcheth upon persons. God doth not pitch upon propositions only; as to say, I will love him who believeth, and save him, as those of the Arminian opinion hold; no, he pitcheth upon persons. And Christ died not for propositions only, but for persons.... He loved us nakedly; he loved us, not ours. It was not for our faith, nor for anything in us; "not of works", saith the Apostle; no, nor of faith neither. No, he pitcheth upon naked persons; he loves you, not yours. Therefore here is the reason that his love never fails, because it is pitched upon the person, simply as such.... The covenant of grace is a covenant of persons, and God gives the person of Christ to us, and the person of the Holy Ghost to us....' Works of Thomas Goodwin,1861, vol. 2, 151.

A. W. Pink, The Sovereignty of God, Chapter 11 "Difficulties and Objections" 

... One of the most popular beliefs of the day is that God loves everybody, and the very fact that it is so popular with all classes ought to be enough to arouse the suspicions of those who are subject to the Word of Truth. God's Love toward all His creatures is the fundamental and favorite tenet of Universalists, Unitarians, Theosophists, Christian Scientists, Spiritualists, Russellites, etc. No matter how a man may livein open defiance of Heaven, with no concern whatever for his soul's eternal interests, still less for God's glory, dying, perhaps with an oath on his lipsnotwithstanding, God loves him, we are told. So widely has this dogma been proclaimed, and so comforting is it to the heart which is at enmity with God we have little hope of convincing many of their error. That God loves everybody, is, we may say, quite a modern belief. The writings of the church fathers, the Reformers or the Puritans will (we believe) be searched in vain for any such concept. ...

A. W. Pink, Gleanings in the Godhead (Chicago: Moody Press, 1975), p. 74.

… Since God is sovereign, and since He is love, it necessarily follows that His love is sovereign. Because God is God, He does as He pleases; because God is love, He loves whom He pleases. Such is His own express affirmation: "Jacob I have loved, but Esau have I hated" (Romans 9:13). There was no more reason in Jacob why he should be the object of divine love than there was in Esau. They both had the same parents, and were born at the same time, being twins. Yet God loved the one and hated the other! Why? Because it pleased Him to do so.

A. W. Pink, Gleanings in the Godhead (Chicago: Moody Press, 1975), p. 122. 

Let us look more closely at some of the operations of God's love. First, in election. "We are bound to give thanks alway to God for you, brethren beloved of the Lord, because God hath from the beginning chosen you to salvation through sanctification of the Spirit [His quickening] and belief of the truth" (2 Thes 2:13). There is an infallible connection between God's love and His selection of those who were to be saved. That election is the consequence of His love is clear again from Deuteronomy: "The Lord did not [1] set His love upon you, nor [2] choose you, because ye were more in number than any people" (7:7). So again in Ephesians: "In love: having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will" (1:4-5).

Second, in redeeming. As we have seen from 1 John 4:10, out of His sovereign love God made provision for Christ to render satisfaction for their sins, though prior to their conversion He was angry with them in respect to His violated Law. And "how shall He not with him also freely give us all things?" (Ro 8:32)another clear proof that His Son was not "delivered up" to the cross for all mankind. For He gives them neither the Holy Spirit, a new nature, nor repentance and faith.

Third, effectual calling. From the enthroned Saviour the Father sends forth the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:33). Having loved His elect with an everlasting love, with lovingkindness He draws them (Jer 41:3), quickens into newness of life, calls them out of darkness into His marvelous light, makes them His children. "Behold, what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God" (1 Jn 3:1). If filiation does not issue from God's love as a sure effect, to what purpose are those words?

John Gill, Expositor (Winterbourne, Ontario: Online Bible, 1997), on John 13:1. 

having loved his own which were in the world, he loved them to the end. The objects of his love are described by his property in them, "his own"; by whom are meant, not all mankind, who are his by creation; nor the Jews, who were his nation and countrymen according to the flesh; nor the twelve apostles only, whom he had chosen; but all the elect of God, who are his own, by his choice of them, by the Father's gift of them to him, by the purchase he made of them with his blood, and by his effectual call of them by his grace: ... for though whilst in this world they carry about with them a body of sin and death, are liable to many snares and temptations, and are involved in the troubles, and exposed to the hatred of the world, yet are, and always will be, the objects of the love and care of Christ. The acts of his love to them are expressed both in time past, and to come: "having loved" them; so he did from everlasting, with a love of complacency and delight, which he showed as early by espousing their persons to himself, by undertaking their cause, by taking the charge of their persons, and the care of both their grace and glory, and in time by assuming their nature; and having done all this, "he loved them to the end": and which he showed by dying for them; and continues to show by interceding for them in heaven, by supplying them with all grace, and by preserving them from a final and total falling away; and he will at last introduce them into his kingdom and glory, when they shall be for ever with him; and so that love to them continues not only to the end of his own life, nor barely to the end of theirs, but to the end of the world, and for ever; ...

John Gill, Expositor (Winterbourne, Ontario: Online Bible, 1997), on Ephesians 2:4. 

for his great love wherewith he loved us; the love of God to his chosen people is very great, if it be considered who it is that has loved them, God and not man; who is an infinite, unchangeable, and sovereign Being; and his love is like himself, for God is love; it has heights and depths, and lengths and breadths immeasurable; it admits of no variation nor alteration; and is altogether free, arising from himself, and not from any motives and conditions in men: and if the persons themselves are considered, who are the objects of it, men, sinful men, unworthy of the divine notice and regard; and that these are loved personally, particularly, and distinctly, and not others; nakedly, and not theirs, or for any thing in them, or done by them, and that notwithstanding their manifold sins and transgressions: to which may be added, that this love is represented as a past act; and indeed it is from everlasting, and is antecedent to their being quickened, and was when they were dead in trespasses and sins; and is the source and spring of the blessing next mentioned ...


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