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Hermann Venema on the Love of God: General and Special

October 6, 2008

Herman Venema:

The goodness of God, considered in its act must be distinguished into

(a) Benevolence
(b) Beneficence
(c) Complacency

(a) Benevolence is an inclination of the will to do good as far as it is possible and lawful to do so. It is called the love of God towards his creaturesthe strong desire by which he is actuated to promote their happiness and perfection. It is universal in its extent, because it has for its objects creatures as such, inasmuch as they are the works of his hands. For the creator cannot hate what he he himself has made, but is naturally and necessarily led to preserve, to perfect, and to bless his own work. He is called love in the highest sense and without any restriction. “God is love,” 1 John iv. 8; “good and upright is the Lord,” Ps. xxc.8; there is none good but one, that is God,” Matt. xix.17; “he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and the good,” Matt. v.45. Scriptures declares that he has “no pleasure in the death of him that dieth,” because he is his creature, Ezek. xviii.32; that he “will have all men to be saved,” 1 Tim. ii.4; that is he is “not willing any should perish,” 2 Pet. iii.9. It tells us that he “so loved the world that he gave his own begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish but have everlasting life,” John iii.16. This love is therefore universal, and prompted him to give Christ; and hence he is said to be “the Savior of all men, specially of those that believe,” 1 Tim iv.10. His love of benevolence to all appears in the command which he gave that the Gospel should be preached to every creature without exception, Matt. xxviii.19. It is said that he “will render to ever man” without respect of persons, “according to his deeds,” Rom. ii.6; that “we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ; that every one may receive the things done in his body according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad,” 2 Cor. v.10.

(b) There is also his beneficence which consists in his actually showing himself kind relatively to the goodness which is in the creatures. For in this respect he does not treat them all alike but according to their different states.

If they be considered as physically good and as in principle morally good, then God shows his beneficence in supporting them, inasmuch as he preserves the goodness which they have, their conscience, their practical notions. He has endowed them with faculties, and he urges them to the exercise of these faculties by enacting laws, bestowing favors, uttering warnings, and inflicting judgments. He has given Christ to all as a Savior, he has reconciled the world to himself in him, he has furnished every means of salvation either immediate or remote, and thus proves that he willeth not the death of the sinner but his preservation and salvation. He shows his kindness moreover in a remarkable way, inasmuch as by his special grace he causes his creatures to attend to the faculties he has given and to make the right use of them; he effects their conversion; he preserves their rational faculties which in principle are good; he provides every means of salvation in greater or less degree, inasmuch as he has given his Son that whosoever believeth might be saved, John iii.16; and for this reason he has invited them to repentance and salvation. In this way he does good to the creatures as such.

But he manifests far greater kindness to such as his creatures as are actually good, whether they be regarded as at the outset or at an advanced stage of the Christian life, inasmuch as he follows them with his special favour in this life and confers upon them gratuitous blessings which extend even to eternity itself–every thing in a word which they may expect from him to consummate their everlasting happiness.

(c) Complacency is the last form of the goodness of God, by which he acquiesces in his creatures as good, and on account of which they are said to enjoy communion with him and with Christ, 1 John i.3, God also is represented as dwelling with them, delighting in them, glorifying in them, as well as pleased with them.

3. The foundation of this goodness goodness is the love which God has for himself and for the manifestation of his perfections. He therefore loves his work, and the recognition and celebration of these perfections. As this recognition and celebration are actually made by those of his creatures who are good, he cannot but bear testimony to their goodness by manifesting towards them his own goodness. In regard to the manner in which this attribute exists in him, he is naturally and necessarily good, for his goodness flows from his love and from his holiness. But in exercising it he is free and acts according to his wisdom and without injury to his holiness. He is not good in such a sense that he bestows his favors without reason or to all alike. He would deny himself, and his own perfections, and his holiness itself in the exercise of which he regards sinners with abhorrence, if he manifested the greatest goodness to every sinner without reason and without any regard to his holiness. He acts therefore wisely and agreeably to his own nature in showing his goodness. Although he bears to all his creatures a love of good-will he does not bestow his favors indiscriminately. His beneficence is regulated by his wisdom and by a regard to his spotless purity and to manifestation of his own glory. Hermann Venema, Institutes of Theology, trans., by  Alex W. Brown, (Andover: W.F. Draper Brothers, 1853), 162-165.

Richard Muller:

Hermann Venema (1697-1787); studied at Groningen (1711-1714) and Franecker (1714-1718). In 1723 he succeeded the younger Vitringa as professor of theology at Franecker, a post he held until his retirement in 1774. His dogmatic work was published posthumously in English translation: Institutes of Theology (1850). Richard Muller, Post-Reformation Reformed Dogmatics, 1:51 (first edition).

[Note: From what I can gather, only volume 1 was ever published.]

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