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Charles Hodge (1797–1878) on the Love of God: General and Special

May 1, 2009

Charles Hodge:

1)

§ 13. The Goodness of God.

A. The Scriptural Doctrine.

Goodness, in the Scriptural sense of the term, includes benevolence, love, mercy, and grace. By benevolence is meant the disposition to promote happiness; all sensitive creatures are its objects. Love includes complacency, desire, and delight, and has rational beings for its objects. Mercy is kindness exercised towards the miserable, and includes pity, compassion, forbearance, and gentleness, which the Scriptures so abundantly ascribe to God. Grace is love exercised towards the unworthy. The love of a holy God to sinners is the most mysterious attribute of the divine nature. The manifestation of this attribute for the admiration and beatification of all intelligent creatures, is

declared to be the special design of redemption. God saves sinners, we are told, “That in the ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of his grace in his kindness toward us, through Christ Jesus.” (Eph. ii. 7.) This is the burden of that Epistle.

As all the modifications of goodness above mentioned are found even in our dilapidated nature, and commend themselves to our moral approbation, we know they must exist in God without measure and without end. In him they are infinite, eternal, and immutable.

Benevolence.

The goodness of God in the form of benevolence is revealed in the whole constitution of nature. As the universe teems with life, it teems also with enjoyment. There are no devices in nature for the promotion of pain for its own sake; whereas the manifestations of design for the production of happiness are beyond computation. The manifestation of the goodness of God in the form of love, and specially of love to the undeserving, is, as just stated, the great end of the work of redemption. “God so loved the world, that He gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” (John iii. 16.) “Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” (1 John iv. 10.) The Apostle prays that believers might be able to comprehend the height and depth, the length and breadth, of that love which passes knowledge. (Eph. iii. 19.)

Love.

Love in us includes complacency and delight in its object, with the desire of possession and communion. The schoolmen, and often the philosophical theologians, tell us that there is no feeling in God. This, they say, would imply passivity, or susceptibility of impression from without, which it is assumed is incompatible with the nature of God. “We must exclude,” says Bruch,458 “passivity from the idea of love, as it exists in God. For God cannot be the subject of passivity in any form. Besides, if God experienced complacency in intelligent beings, He would be dependent on them; which is inconsistent with his nature as an Absolute Being.” Love, therefore, he defines as that

attribute of God which secures the development of the rational universe; or, as Schleiermacher expresses it, “It is that attribute in virtue of which God communicates Himself.”459 According to the philosophers, the Infinite develops itself in the finite; this fact, in theological language, is due to love. The only point of analogy between love in us and love in the Absolute and Infinite, is self-communication. Love in us leads to self-revelation and communion; in point of fact the Infinite is revealed and developed in the universe, and specially in humanity. Bruch admits that this doctrine is in real contradiction to the representations of God in the Old Testament, and in apparent

contradiction to those of the New Testament. If love in God is only a name for that which accounts for the rational universe; if God is love, simply because He develops himself in thinking and conscious beings, then the word has for us no definite meaning; it reveals to us nothing concerning the real nature of God. Here again we have to choose between a mere philosophical speculation and the clear testimony of the Bible, and of our own moral and religious nature. Love of necessity involves feeling, and if there be no feeling in God, there can be no love. That He produces happiness is no proof of love. The earth does that unconsciously and without design. Men often render others happy from vanity, from fear, or from caprice. Unless the production of happiness can be referred, not only to a conscious intention, but to a purpose dictated by kind feeling, it is no proof of benevolence. And unless the children of God are the objects of his complacency and delight, they are not the objects of his love. He may be cold, insensible, indifferent, or even unconscious; He ceases to be God in the sense of the Bible, and in the sense in which we need a God, unless He can love as well as know and act. The philosophical objection against ascribing feeling to God, bears, as we have seen, within equal force against the ascription to Him of knowledge or will. If that objection be valid, He becomes to us simply an unknown cause, what men of science call force; that to which all phenomena are to be referred, but of which we know nothing. We must adhere to the truth in its Scriptural form, or we lose it altogether. We must believe that God is love in the sense in which that word comes home to every human heart. The Scriptures do not mock us when they say, “Like as a father pitieth his children, so the LORD pitieth them that fear Him.” (Ps. ciii.13.) He meant what He said when He proclaimed Himself as “The LORD, the LORD God, merciful

and gracious, long-suffering and abundant in goodness and truth.” (Ex. xxxiv. 6.) “Beloved,” says the Apostle, “let us love one another: for love is of God; and every one that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God. He that loveth not, knoweth not God; for God is love. In this was manifested the love of God toward us, because that God sent his only-begotten Son into the world, that we might live through Him. Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation con our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we ought also to love one another.” (1 John iv. 7-1l.) The word love has the same sense throughout this passage. God is love; and love in Him is, in all that is essential to its nature, what love is in us. Herein we do rejoice, yea, and will rejoice. C Hodge, Systematic Theology, 427-429

2)

Argument from the Special Love of God.

4. By the love of God is sometimes meant his goodness, of which all sensitive creatures are the objects and of whose benefits they are the recipients. Sometimes it means his special regard for the children of men, not only as rational creatures, but also as the offspring of Him who is the Father of the spirits of all men. Sometimes it means that peculiar, mysterious, sovereign, immeasurable love which passes knowledge, of which his own people, the Church of the first-born whose names are written in heaven, are the objects. Of this love it is taught, (1.) That it is infinitely great. (2.) That it is discriminating, fixed on some and not upon others of the children of men. It is compared to the love of a husband for his wife; which from its nature is exclusive. (3.) That it is perfectly gratuitous and sovereign, i.e., not founded upon the special attractiveness of its objects, but like parental affection, or the mere fact that they are his children. (4.) That it is immutable. (5.) That it secures all saving blessings, and even all good; so that even afflictions are among its fruits intended for the greater good of the sufferer. Now to this love, not to general goodness, not to mere philanthropy, but to this peculiar and infinite love, the gift of Christ is uniformly referred. Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. (1 John iv. 10.) Hereby perceive we the love of God (or, hereby we know what love is), because He (Christ) laid down his life for us. (1 John iii. 16.) God commendeth his love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans v. 8.) Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends. (John xv. 13.) Nothing shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus. (Romans viii. 35-39.) He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him also freely give us all things? (Romans vii.32.) The whole argument of the Apostle in Romans v. 1-1l, and especially throughout the eighth chapter, is founded upon this infinite and immutable love of God to his people. From this he argues their absolute security for time and eternity. Because He thus loved them He gave his Son for them; and, having done this, He would certainly give them everything necessary for their salvation. No enemy should ever prevail against them; nothing could ever separate them from his love. This whole argument is utterly irreconcilable with the hypothesis that Christ died equally for all men. His death is referred to the peculiar love of God to his people, and was the pledge of all other saving gifts. This peculiar love of God is not founded upon the fact that its objects are believers, for He loved them as enemies, as ungodly, and gave his Son to secure their being brought to faith,

repentance, and complete restoration to the divine image. It cannot, therefore, be explained away into mere general benevolence or philanthropy. It is a love which secured the communication of Himself to its objects, and rendered their salvation certain; and consequently could not be bestowed upon all men, indiscriminately. This representation is so predominant in the Scriptures, namely, that the peculiar love of God to his people, to his Church, to the elect, is the source of the gift of Christ, of the mission of the Holy Spirit, and of all other saving blessings, that it cannot be ignored in any view of the plan and purpose of salvation. With this representation every other statement of the Scriptures must be consistent; and therefore the theory which denies this great and precious truth, and which assumes that the love which secured the gift of God’s eternal Son, was mere benevolence which had all men for its object, many of whom are allowed to perish, must be unscriptural. C Hodge, Systematic Theology, 2:549-551

3) It is objected to this view of the case that by the “love of God,” or “of Christ,” in the above statement, is not meant the general benevolence or philanthropy of God, but his special, electing, and saving love. When Paul said he lived by the faith of Christ who loved him, and gave Himself for him, he meant something more than that Christ loved all men and therefore him among the rest. He evidently believed himself to be a special object of the Saviour’s love. It was this conviction which gave power to his faith. And a like conviction enters into the faith of every true believer. But to this it is objected that faith must have a divine revelation for its object. But there is no revelation of God’s special love to individuals, and, therefore, no individual has any Scriptural ground to believe that Christ loved him, and gave Himself for him. Whatever force there may be in this objection, it bears against Paul’s declaration and experience. He certainly did believe that Christ loved him and died for him. It will not do to say that this was a conclusion drawn from his own experience; or to assume that the Apostle argued himself into the conviction that Christ loved him. Christ specially loves all who believe upon Him. I believe upon Him. Therefore Christ specially loves me. But a conclusion reached by argument is not an object of faith. Faith must rest on the testimony of God. It must be, therefore, that God in some way testifies to the soul that it is the object of his love. This he does in two ways. First, by the general invitations and promises of the Gospel. The act of appropriating, or of accepting these promises, is to believe that they belong to us as well as to others. Secondly, by the inward witness of the Spirit. Paul says (Rom. v. 5), “The love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us.” That is, the Holy Ghost convinces us that we are the objects of God’s love. This is done, not only by the various manifestations of his love in providence and redemption, but by his inward dealings with the soul. “He that loveth me shall be loved of my Father, and I will love him, and will manifest myself to him.” (John xiv. 21). This manifestation is not outward through the word. It is inward. God has fellowship or intercourse with the souls of his people. The Spirit calls forth our love to God, and reveals his love to us. Again, in Romans viii. 16, the Apostle says, “The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God.” This does not mean that the Spirit excites in us filial feelings toward God, from whence we infer that we are his children. The Apostle refers to two distinct sources of evidence of our adoption. The one is that we can call God Father; the other, the testimony of the Spirit. The latter is joined with the former. The word is συμμαρτυρει, unites in testifying. Hence we are said to be sealed, not only marked and secured, but assured by the Spirit; and the Spirit is a pledge, an assurance, that we are, and ever shall be, the objects of God’s saving love. (Eph. i. 13, 14; iv. 30. 2 Cor. i. 22.) C Hodge, Systematic Theology, 3:102-104.

[Notes: Surprisingly, C Hodge, as far as I can see, has no expansive statement on the general love of God. As for entry #3, reading this paragraph, it does appear that C Hodge intends that the general invitations of the gospel express the love of God to the hearer. Lastly, underlining mine.]

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