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Geerhardus Vos on God’s Love and Desire for the Salvation of All Men

July 7, 2009

I thought I would steal this from Theological Meditations. It is very apt given our recent “conversations” here on Theology Online.


There is, however, still a third sense, in which Jesus leads us to ascribe universality to the divine love. This is done not so much in explicit form as by the implications of His attitude toward sinful men in general. We must never forget that our Lord was the divine love incarnate, and that consequently what He did, no less than what He taught, is a true revelation adapted to shed light on our problem. If the Son of God was filled with tender compassion for every lost human soul, and grieved even over those whose confirmed unbelief precluded all further hope of salvation, it is plain that there must be in God something corresponding to this. In the parable of the prodigal son the father is represented as continuing to cherish a true affection for his child during the period of the latter’s estrangement. It would be hardly in accord with our Lord’s intention to press the point that the prodigal was destined to come to repentance, and that, therefore, the father’s attitude toward him portrays the attitude of God toward the elect only, and not toward every sinner as such. We certainly have a right to say that the love which God originally bears toward man as created in His image survives in the form of compassion under the reign of sin. This being so, when the sinner comes in contact with the gospel of grace, it is natural for God to desire that he should accept its offer and be saved. We must even assume that over against the sin of rejection of the gospel this love continues to assert itself, in that it evokes from the divine heart sincere sorrow over man’s unbelief. But this universal love should be always so conceived as to leave room for the fact that God, for sovereign reasons, has not chosen to bestow upon its objects that higher love which not merely desires, but purposes and works out the salvation of some. It may be difficult to realize from any analogy in our own consciousness how the former can exist without giving rise to the latter; yet we are clearly led to believe that such is the case in God. A logical impossibility certainly is not involved, and our utter ignorance regarding the motives which determine the election of grace should restrain us from forming the rash judgment that, psychologically speaking, the existence of such a love in God for the sinner and the decree of preterition with reference to that same sinner are mutually exclusive. For, let it be remembered, we are confronted with the undeniable fact that this universal love of God, however defined, does not induce Him to send the gospel of salvation to all who are its objects. If the withholding of the gospel is consistent with its truthfulness, then a fortiori the withholding of efficacious grace must be. That there are good reasons for the former is true: but undoubtedly God has also His wise and holy reasons for the latter. The Scriptures do not assert that election and preterition are arbitrary decrees to the mind of God. All they insist upon is that the motives underlying them are inscrutable to us, and have nothing whatever to do with the worthiness or unworthiness of man.

Neither this indiscriminate goodness in the sphere of nature, however, nor the collective love which embraces the world as an organism, nor the love of compassion which God retains for every lost sinner, should be confounded with that fourth and highest form of the divine affection which the Savior everywhere appropriates to the disciples. This is represented under the figure of fatherhood. Notwithstanding all that has been asserted to the contrary by a host of modern writers, an impartial examination of the facts discloses the principle that the fatherhood of God in its specific sense is realized in the kingdom, so that His fatherhood and kingship appear coextensive.

Geerhardus Vos, “The Scriptural Doctrine of the Love of God,” in Redemptive History and Biblical Interpretation, ed. Richard B. Gaffin (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 1980; 2001), 443–444. The article originally appeared in The Presbyterian and Reformed Review 13 (1902): 1–37. Iain H. Murray cites it in “The Cross: The Pulpit of God’s Love Part 2” Banner of Truth 495 (December 2004), 14. The entire article by Vos is available online here.

[Notes: Blog source here; underlining mine; and Ive added a few lines which Tony did not.]

But just in case, let me be super clear on this, only a daft person would claim from this that Vos was a Neo-Amyraldian. ;-)

5 Comments leave one →
  1. Josh permalink
    July 7, 2009 6:20 pm

    Vos was a Neo-Amyraldian!

    Or so it will be claimed by some :0)

    It seems to me that rather than admit defeat and shift to a more biblical position, some would rather reclass the theological position of our theologians of the past, or claim they are taken out of context.

  2. July 8, 2009 5:24 am


    Think about it. Some of our critics are more like the Pharisees than they think. Not only do they not engage in theological dialogue with us with a view to our well-being [assuming we’re wrong], they also merely honor these past saints [Vos, Bunyan, Edwards, etc.] with their lips [like the prophets], when their hearts are far from them.

  3. July 8, 2009 5:32 am

    In other words, some of our critics are behaving in a completely opposite manner to that which the Holy Spirit himself commands us through Paul:

    NKJ 2 Timothy 2:25 in humility correcting those who are in opposition, if God perhaps will grant them repentance, so that they may know the truth,

    Rather, much like the Pharisees, they’re condemning and arrogantly dismissive towards us, while they seek to put us out of the orthodox synagogue, as it were.

  4. Flynn permalink*
    July 8, 2009 8:33 am

    Hey Tony,

    I find it odd that we Reformed Christians as a group rarely talk about the sin of being a schismatic “within” Reformed churches: those who damn and reprobate others in a sectarian manner. I would also include folk like Gerety, Russ and Bain in this. The Puritanboard comes to mind, as does the Predestination Network.

    Nor do we talk about the Pharisaicalism or legalism or loveless-intellectualism of many of these schismatics. Our recent interlocutor is one example of this (as per your own observation and his own confession). Many in the Reformed community are easily able to point fingers at the Hinns and Hagans of this world, but will not lift a pinky to rebuke or correct the legalists and sectarians in our own circles, or to call attention to their vicious public behavior.


  5. Josh permalink
    July 9, 2009 4:06 pm

    The circle is too big

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