The True Proportion in a Creed Between the Universal and the Special Love of God



It is objected that insufficient emphasis is laid in the Westminster Confession upon the universal offer of mercy, and the common call to faith and repentance, and some even contend that these are not contained in it. Advocates of revision demand that these doctrines shall be more particularly enunciated than they now are, and complain that more is said concerning the electing love of God in the effectual call than upon his indiscriminate love in the outward call. In reply to this, we mention the three following reasons why the Westminster Confession, in common with all the Reformed creeds, is more full and emphatic regarding the special love of God toward his church than regarding his general love toward the world.

1. The Scriptures themselves are more full and emphatic in the first reference than in the last. A careful examination of the Old and New Testaments will show that while the universal compassion of God toward sinful men is plainly and frequently taught, yet it is the relation of God as the Saviour of his people that constitutes the larger proportion of the teachings of the Prophets, the Psalms, the Gospels, and the Epistles. These parts of Scripture are full of God's dealings with his covenant people, instructing them, expostulating with them, rebuking them, comforting them, helping them—expressing in these and other ways his special love and affection for them, as those whom he has chosen before the foundation of the world. Throughout the Bible men universally are both invited and commanded to believe and repent. No one disputes this. This is God's universal love. But, whenever the love of God is particularly enlarged upon, carefully delineated, and repeatedly emphasized, in the great majority of instances it is his electing love. The Saviour's last discourses with his disciples, and his last prayer, have for their principal theme the " love of his own which were in the world," whom "he loved unto the end." For these he specially supplicates. "I pray for them: I pray not [now] for the world, but for them which thou hast given me, for they are thine." The Epistles of Paul also are like the Redeemer's discourses. So full are they of expanded and glowing descriptions of the electing love of God that the charge of a narrow Jewish conception of the Divine compassion is frequently made against them. The Confession therefore follows the Scriptures in regard to the proportion of doctrine, when it puts the mercy of God toward his people in the foreground. And to object to this proportion is to object to Divine Revelation.

2. The electing love of God and his special grace naturally has the foremost place in the Confession as in Scripture, because it is the only' love and grace that is successful with the sinner. The universal love of God in his outward call and common grace is a failure, because it is inadequate to overcome the enmity and resistance with which man meets it. While therefore the sacred writers represent the common call as prompted by the compassion of God toward the sinner, and expressive of his sincere desire that he would hear it, and as aggravating his persistence in the sin of which a free pardon is offered, yet inasmuch as it yields no saving and blessed results, they see no reason for making it the principal and prominent part of the Divine oracles. But that electing love in the effectual call and irresistible grace, which overcomes the aversion of the sinner and powerfully inclines his hostile will, inasmuch as it is the principal work of God in the human heart, becomes the principal subject of discourse for " the holy men of God who spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost." They dwell rather on the special grace that triumphs over human depravity, than on the common grace that is defeated by it.

3. The universal offer of mercy is not emphasized and enlarged upon in the Confession, because this is superfluous. That the offer of mercy in Christ is universal goes without saying, because if offered at all it must be offered universally. It is impossible to offer the atonement of Christ only to the elect. Ino man knows who are the elect, and therefore the ambassador of Christ must offer salvation to everybody or else to nobody. Any offer at all must, from the nature of the case, be unlimited. Why, therefore, waste words in a creed to declare with unnecessary fulness what must be as a matter of course, and what is clearly and sufficiently announced in such Scripture entreaties as "Turn ye, turn ye, for why will ye die," and such Confessional declarations as we have cited on pp. 24-29?

If it be objected that God knows who are the elect, and that it is inconsistent in him to make a universal offer of mercy through an ignorant agent like a Christian minister, when he does not purpose to regenerate and save every individual man, this is a difficulty for him, not for man. It is certainly consistent for man to offer mercy indiscriminately because he does not know who are the elect, even if it is not for God because he does know. But is it inconsistent for God? What are the facts in relation to God? He offers mercy to a man in the outward call, and accompanies this call with that degree of grace denominated "common." The man despises the call and frustrates the grace, by suppressing conviction of sin and persisting in the worldly life which he loves. Now does the fact that God has decided not to do anything more than this toward the salvation of this resisting man prove that in doing this he has acted inconsistently with mercy? Is not God's action up to this point kind, forbearing, patient, and merciful? All that he has done to this man in the outward call and common grace has had no tendency to injure him by confirming him in sin, but, on the contrary, to benefit him by delivering him from it. There has been nothing hard or unmerciful in this form and grade of divine grace toward this guilty sinner who does not deserve the least degree of grace. It is true that it is not the highest form of grace, yet it is real grace, and far greater than any sinner merits. Is it inconsistent in God to do any kind and degree of good to a sinner, it' he has decided not to do the highest kind and decree of jrood in his power? Shall God do nothing at all that is kind and gracious to a sinful man, unless he has decided to overcome all the opposition that he may make to his kindness and grace? Must God make no offer of mercy to a sinner, unless he has decided to make him accept it? Shall he extend the common call only in the case in which he intends to follow it with the effectual call?

There never was an age of the world when men more needed than now to be reminded that they are resisting the common grace of God, and rejecting his universal offer of mercy, and that in so doing they run the great hazard of God's pretention; of being passed by in the bestowment of regenerating grace. Men need to fear, lest, by stifling conviction of sin and turning a deaf ear to the common call, they shall never be the subjects of the effectual call in regeneration. For, sa}-s the Larger Catechism, 68, "others [than the elect] may be, and often are outwardly called by the ministry of the word, and have some common operations of the Spirit, who, for their wilful neglect and contempt of the grace offered to them, being justly left in their unbelief, do never truly come to Jesus Christ." And this agrees with the solemn declaration of God himself: "Because I have called and ye refused; I have stretched my hand, and no man regarded; I also will laugh at your calamity " (Prov. 1: 24-26).