“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved.”
Almost all of the 50+ historic theologians below affirm Limited Atonement. They also interpret John 3:16 as not speaking of the elect, but of God’s revealed love for mankind in offering all alike salvation through Christ in the Sincere Free Offer of the Gospel, not desiring that any of them should perish. To see demonstrated that this is the correct understanding of John 3:16-17, see Travis Fentiman’s brief article, John 3:16 – God’s Love for All Mankind in the Sincere Free Offer of the Gospel. To see the same contextual arguments from a major reformed theologian, read Robert L. Dabney on John 3:16. Be sure to note below that this was also the view of John Calvin, Matthew Henry, Charles Hodge, Herman Bavinck, et al.
For an introduction as to how the Sincere Free Offer of the Gospel relates to Limited Atonement, see Iain Murray’s excellent brief booklet The Cross: The Pulpit of God’s Love Buy 2008, 40 pages. Murray was one of the founders of the Banner of Truth and has been associated with it for over 50 years. To see how ministers can preach John 3:16 evangelistically (specifically to unbelievers on the street), see Fentiman’s What is the Gospel?
Historic Reformed Quotes
** – denotes a member of the Westminster Assembly
** – denotes a delegate at the Synod of Dort
John Calvin †1564
The First Helvetic Confession 1536 John Bunyan 1688
Martin Luther 1546 William Burkitt 1703
Philipp Melancthon 1560 John Howe 1705
Augustine Marlorate 1562 Matthew Henry 1714
Wolfgang Musculus 1563 Thomas Boston 1732
. John Willison †1750
Pierre Viret 1573 Ebenezer Erskine 1754
John Diodati 1607 ** John Brown of Haddington 1787
John Preston 1628 John Colquhoun 1824
Ezekiel Culverwell 1631 Charles Simeon 1836
Ludovigus Crocius c.1636 Edward Griffin 1837
John Ball 1640 Thomas Chalmers 1847
The Marrow of Modern Divinity 1645 John Brown of Edinburgh 1858
The Westminster Annotations 1645 ** Duncan Matheson †1869
. James Buchanan 1870
Jeremiah Burroughs †1646 ** Robert Candlish 1873
The Sum of Saving Knowledge 1650 Charles Hodge 1879
Thomas Adams 1652 . Robert Dabney 1898
Hugh Binning 1653 J.C. Ryle †1900
John Arrowsmith 1659 Reformed Presbyterian Church of Ireland 1901
Isaac Ambrose †1664 Alvah Hovey 1903
John Trapp 1669 Herman Bavinck †1921
George Swinnock 1673 Louis Berkhof 1950
Thomas Ford 1674 ** William Hendriksen 1982
Thomas Manton 1677 Leon Morris 2006
Thomas Brooks 1680 Herman Riddderbos 2007
. Don A. Carson
. Iain Murray 2008
John Calvin †1564
Commentary on John 3:16-17
“For God so loved the world.” Christ opens up the first cause, and, as it were, the source of our salvation, and he does so, that no doubt may remain; for our minds cannot find calm repose, until we arrive at the unmerited love of God. As the whole matter of our salvation must not be sought any where else than in Christ, so we must see whence Christ came to us, and why he was offered to be our Savior. Both points are distinctly stated to us: namely, that faith in Christ brings life to all, and that Christ brought life, because the Heavenly Father loves the human race, and wishes that they should not perish. And this order ought to be carefully observed; for such is the wicked ambition which belongs to our nature, that when the question relates to the origin of our salvation, we quickly form diabolical imaginations about our own merits. Accordingly, we imagine that God is reconciled to us, because He has reckoned us worthy that He should look upon us. But Scripture everywhere extols his pure and unmingled mercy, which sets aside all merits.
And the words of Christ mean nothing else, when He declares the cause to be in the love of God. For if we wish to ascend higher, the Spirit shuts the door by the mouth of Paul, when he informs us that this love was founded on the purpose of his will, (Ephesians 1:5.) And, indeed, it is very evident that Christ spoke in this manner, in order to draw away men from the contemplation of themselves to look at the mercy of God alone. Nor does He say that God was moved to deliver us, because he perceived in us something that was worthy of so excellent a blessing, but ascribes the glory of our deliverance entirely to his love. And this is still more clear from what follows; for He adds, that God gave his Son to men, that they may not perish. Hence it follows that, until Christ bestow his aid in rescuing the lost, all are destined to eternal destruction. This is also demonstrated by Paul from a consideration of the time; for he loved us while we were still enemies by sin, (Romans 5:8, 10.)
This mode of expression, however, may appear to be at variance with many passages of Scripture, which lay in Christ the first foundation of the love of God to us, and show that out of him we are hated by God. But we ought to remember–what I have already stated–that the secret love with which the Heavenly Father loved us in Himself is higher than all other causes; but that the grace which he wishes to be made known to us, and by which we are excited to the hope of salvation, commences with the reconciliation which was procured through Christ. For since He necessarily hates sin, how shall we believe that we are loved by Him, until atonement has been made for those sins on account of which he is justly offended at us? Thus, the love of Christ must intervene for the purpose of reconciling God to us, before we have any experience of his fatherly kindness. But as we are first informed that God, because he loved us, gave his Son to die for us, so it is immediately added, that it is Christ alone on whom, strictly speaking, faith ought to look.
…This, he says, is the proper look of faith, to be fixed on Christ, in whom it beholds the breast of God filled with love: this is a firm and enduring support, to rely on the death of Christ as the only pledge of that love. The word only-begotten is emphatic, to magnify the fervor of the love of God towards us. For as men are not easily convinced that God loves them, in order to remove all doubt, He has expressly stated that we are so very dear to God that, on our account, He did not even spare his only-begotten Son. Since, therefore, God has most abundantly testified his love towards us, whoever is not satisfied with this testimony, and still remains in doubt, offers a high insult to Christ, as if he had been an ordinary man given up at random to death…
“That whosoever believes on him may not perish…” And He has employed the universal term whosoever, both to invite all indiscriminately to partake of life, and to cut off every excuse from unbelievers. Such is also the import of the term World, which He formerly used; for though nothing will be found in the world that is worthy of the favor of God, yet He shows Himself to be reconciled [Latin, propitium: propitious, merciful, favourable] to the whole world, when he invites all men without exception to the faith of Christ, which is nothing else than an entrance into life.
Let us remember, on the other hand, that while life is promised universally to all who believe in Christ, still faith is not common to all. For Christ is made known and held out to the view of all, but the elect alone are they whose eyes God opens, that they may seek him by faith..
[verse 17.] For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world. It is a confirmation of the preceding statement; for it was not in vain that God sent his own Son to us. He came not to destroy; and therefore it follows, that it is the peculiar office of the Son of God, that all who believe may obtain salvation by Him. There is now no reason why any man should be in a state of hesitation, or of distressing anxiety, as to the manner in which he may escape death, when we believe that it was the purpose of God that Christ should deliver us from it. The word world is again repeated, that no man may think himself wholly excluded, if he only keep the road of faith. The word judge (prino) is here put for condemn, as in many other passages. When He declares that He did not come to condemn the world, He thus points out the actual design of his coming; for what need was there that Christ should come to destroy us who were utterly ruined? We ought not, therefore, to look at any thing else in Christ, than that God, out of his boundless goodness chose to extend his aid for saving us who were lost; and whenever our sins press us–whenever Satan would drive us to despair–we ought to hold out this shield, that God is unwilling that we should be overwhelmed with everlasting destruction, because He has appointed his Son to be the salvation of the world. When Christ says, in other passages, that he is come to judgment, (John 9:39;) when He is called a stone of offense, (1 Peter 2:7;) when He is said to be set for the destruction of many, (Luke 2:34:) this may be regarded as accidental [not his primary purpose, but only and effect from something else contrary to his primary purpose], or as arising from a different cause; for they who reject the grace offered in him deserve to find him the Judge and Avenger of contempt so unworthy and base. A striking instance of this may be seen in the Gospel; for though it is strictly the power of God for salvation to every one who believes, (Romans 1:16,) the ingratitude of many causes it to become to them death.. Both have been well expressed by Paul, when he boasts of having vengeance at hand, by which he will punish all the adversaries of his doctrine after that the obedience of the godly shall have been fulfilled, (2 Corinthians 10:6) The meaning amounts to this, that the Gospel is especially, and in the first instance, appointed for believers, that it may be salvation to them; but that afterwards believers will not escape unpunished who, despising the grace of Christ, chose to have Him as the Author of death rather than of life.
For More From Calvin:
For further confirmation that Calvin did in fact consistently interpret John 3:16 as God’s benevolent love to the human race in the sincere free offer of the gospel, not willing that any should perish, see also his sermons on Deuteronomy, Psalm 119, Isaiah, Matthew, 1 Timothy and his commentary on John 17:23 here.
The First Helvetic Confession 1536
Authored by Heinrich Bullinger (1504-1575). Martin Bucer (1491-1551) and Wolfgang Capito (1478-1541) had an influential advisory role upon the confession.
5. The Objective of Scripture
The principle intent of all canonical Scripture is that God wishes to be good to mankind, and that He has declared that benevolence through Christ, His only Son. This kindness comes to us and is received by faith alone, but this faith is effective through love for our neighbors. (Gen. 3; John 3; Eph. 2)
Martin Luther 1546
Philip Melancthon 1560
Augustine Marlorate 1562
Marlorate gives block quotes to the same effect from Bucer, Calvin, Erasmus, Musculus, Melancthon, Sarcerius, Brentius, Bullinger, Zwingli and Theodorus.
Wolfgang Musculus 1563
Pierre Viret 1573
John Diodati 1607 **
Diodati (1576-1649) was an Italian protestant Bible scholar, successor to Theodore Beza as the professor of theology at Geneva, Swtizerland, and a pastor. He was one of the six divines that wrote the Canons of Dort (1619). Diodati’s Annotations (1607) were relied heavily upon by the later Westminster Annotations (1645).
Pious and Learned Annotations upon the Holy Bible
‘The world’. Namely, mankind in its generality, which being all subject to eternal perdition through sin, God out of his sovereign and absolute good pleasure has saved his elect from it; whom He has taken of all degrees, and out of all the nations in the world indifferently, that the whole kind might not perish, but that in this number of elect, as in a new and holy communality, it might subsist before God forever. A benefit which He has not imparted to the apostate angels, nor universally to men. See John 17:6,9; 2 Cor. 5:19; 1 John 4:10.
John Preston 1628
Ezekiel Culverwell 1631
Erroll Hulse on Ezekiel Culverwell, from his article, Adding to the Church – The Puritan Approach to Persuading Souls
Even in Puritan times there were some who sought erroneously to impose rationalistic thinking into what essentially is a supernaturalistic framework by arguing that the Gospel was to be offered to the elect only.
This is illustrated by the appearance of an excellent evangelistic book by Ezekiel Culverwell in about 1644 [posthumously] with the title, A Treatise of Faith. The book provoked a charge of inconsistency [by hyper-calvinistic critics]. In reply he [Culverwell] acknowledged that the central issue,
‘indeed the only point in question is, whether salvation in Christ, be in the Gospel proclaimed and offered in general to all that hear it, or only to the Elect?’
To which he gave reply, ‘The former I hold and prove by most evident Scriptures, that is that Christ be in the Gospel offered in general to all who hear it’. (A Brief Answer to Certain Objections Against The Treatise of Faith Clearing Ezekiel Culverwell from the Error of Arminius Unjustly Laid to his Charge, 1646)
Culverwell then quoted the Synod of Dort as upholding his position:
‘It is the promise of the Gospel, that whosoever believeth in Christ crucified, should not perish, but have life everlasting: which promise together with the injunction of repentance and faith, ought promiscuously and without distinction to be declared and published to all men and to all people, to whom God in his good pleasure sends the Gospel‘,
‘But as much as many being called by the Gospel do not repent nor believe in Christ, but perish in their infidelity, this comes not to pass for want of, or by any insufficiency of the sacrifice of Christ offered upon the Cross, but by their own default’.
Continuing in his defense Culverwell declares,
‘The general offer does not make all partakers of Christ: nor does the special partaking of Christ, hinder the general offer. By offer I mean only the outward calling by the Gospel which none can deny to belong to many that are not chosen’.
In facing the challenge to produce any one Scripture to prove the general offer, Culverwell selects two examples, John 3:16 and Mark 16:15. Since, he points out, John 3:16 speaks both of believers who are saved and unbelievers who perish, the text cannot be confined to the elect only. Also when we are commanded to preach the Gospel to every creature it is unreasonable to confine that to every elect creature.
While believing that, ‘no man can believe except it be given him’, Culverwell at the same time insisted on the necessity of the Gospel being preached to every creature, stating his case as follows:
‘either there must be some special mark of difference whereby it may be known, to whom the pardon is proclaimed, and to whom not, or else it must be general to all. But there is no such special certain difference between sinners before faith, whereby one may know the pardon is granted to him.—The only way whereby any may know himself to be contained under the pardon, is this, that he hears that God in his Gospel does proclaim forgiveness of sin in Christ, without exception, to all sinners: that whosoever hears and believes shall be saved‘. (A Treatise of Faith, p. 151)
Ludogivus Crocius c.1636
John Ball 1640
The Marrow of Modern Divinity 1645
The original printing had recommendations by Joseph Caryl, Jeremiah Burroughs, and William Strong, who were all members of the Westminster Assembly **. The 1726 edition contained explanatory notes by Thomas Boston.
p. 106-113 in the 1837 edition, which corresponds to p. 145-150 in the newer 2009 Christian Focus Publications edition Buy
But, Sir, has such a one as I any warrant to believe in Christ?
I beseech you consider, that God the Father as He is in his Son Jesus Christ, moved with nothing but with his free love, to mankind lost, has made a deed of gift and grant unto them all, that whosoever of them all shall believe in this his Son shall not perish, but have eternal life [John 3:16],¹ and hence, it was that Jesus Christ Himself said unto his disciples, Matt 16:15, ‘Go and preach the Gospel to every creature under heaven,’
¹ 1645 Margin Note: Ezekiel Culverwell, Treatise of Faith, p. 15
The Westminster Annotations 1645, John Ley ** was the commentator
[1st edition, 1645]
‘For God so loved the world‘. 1 John 4:9. Mankind.
[2nd edition, 1651, compiled by David Ponter]
‘For God so loved, etc.’. In this verse Christ shows these four concurrent causes of our redemption and salvation. 1. The principal first impulsive; the love of God, which can have no cause but itself. 2. The material, or price of our redemption, his only begotten Son. 3. The instrumental; faith in Christ: that whosoever believes in him. 4. The final, eternal life.
‘The world‘. That is, mankind, for Christ speaks not here of the common love of God where he wills the good of conservation [sustaining preservation] to the creature; so He loved all creatures, but of his special love, where He wills man should be saved by Christ, and He is truly to love the world, because they whom He loves to eternal life, are in the world, a part of the world, and gathered by his word and Spirit into the body of the Church, out of all ages and parts of the world, God loved all that he had made: He loves not sin which is neither in Him nor of Him, He loved a sinning world (for when we were enemies, He reconciled us. Rom. 5.10) but not the sins of the world: if we speak of God’s peculiar love which is to eternal life; we must understand the elect only, opposed to that part thereof, concerning which it is said; the whole world lies in wickedness. 1 John 5:19. and, I pray not for the world, John 17:9. Christ prayed for those whom He loved to salvation; that is, for the elect only I pray for them I pray not for the world, the elect are in the world, not of the world (John 17:16) that is, of that party which lies in sin and unbelief; so two sorts of men are intimated, sub uno mundi nomine; [being translated:] ‘under this one name, world’ (says Prosper) sicut enim dicitur mundus in impriis, ita dicitur mundus in sanctis—[being translated:] ‘the wicked are called the world, and here the saints are called the world’ which God loves, God loves us such as we shall be by his gift, non quales sumus nostro merito. Augustine (de C.D. l.17. c.4), [being translated:] ‘not such as we are by our desert,’ He loved, quod fecerat [‘that made’], etc., elegerat in filio [chosen for his Son], faith (the same tr. 110, in John 17), that which He had made, and chosen in his Son; out of whom He loves no man to eternal life: A Prince may be truly said, to love his Subjects specially then, when he punishes the perverse, rebellious, and seditious among them; and a Physician his patient, specially when humors which disaffect him: so neither can it prejudicate [prejudice against] the love of God that He cuts off and condemns reprobates, or when with severe corrections, He fetches in, amends, and saves those whom He loved and elect[ed] from eternity, thus then the creator, and Lord of lords, loved the world; that is wretched mankind dispersed, upon the face of the the earth, without difference of nation, dignity, sex, or age: all the world with his common love, (of which all have some taste) [,but] of the elect only, according to the effect thereof, [by] his purpose of saving them in Christ. See more concerning the acceptation [accepted use] of the word ‘world’ Augustine (Tome 7, Contra Jul. Pelag. L. 6.c.x).
John 3:17 – “For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved.”
[3rd edition, 1657]
‘For God sent not’. John 12:47. God gave, and sent his son by his incarnation: He confirms that which He said, ‘should not perish’, verse 16, by declaring the end of his present coming into the world.
‘To condemn the world’. Christ’s coming condemns not, but unbelief and contempt of Christ, John 9:39; 12:47, He came not now to judge (that shall be at his second coming) but to propose terms of peace and mercy; that they might believe and be saved.
Jeremiah Burroughs †1646 **
Gospel Conversation, 1648, reprinted Soli Deo Gloria, 1995
Sermon 3 on Phil. 1:27, Eleven Principles Expounded in the Gospel,
1. The Infinite Love of God to Mankind
The Gospel Holds Forth to Us the Infinite Love of God to Mankind
The first and principle thing in the gospel is the holding forth unto us the infinite love of God to mankind. This is the very end of the gospel, that God might declare what an infinite love He has unto the children of men, yea, unto men rather than unto angels. You know that Scripture in John 3:16, ‘God so loved the world that He gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.’ And indeed, that one verse has more of God in it than all the creatures in heaven and earth. The whole frame of heaven and earth does not have as much of God in them as that one verse.
It is as if God should say, when He comes to reveal the gospel, ‘I will have a way wherein it shall appear to men and angels for what the greatness of My love is unto these poor creatures, unto the children of men. And, to that end, I send My Son, the second Person in the Trinity, to take their natures upon Him, to come to be their Mediator. There I will manifest what my love is, that shall be the fruit of love.
This is the great scope of the gospel, the great aim of God, and the great design that God had in the gospel, to make known the infiniteness of His love unto the children of men. Now, then, if so be that God in the gospel reveals what there was in His heart from all eternity to mankind (for so it is), that’s the scope of the gospel. There was, in the heart of God, infinite love burning toward mankind. God from eternity saw mankind before Him, and there was that strong inclination of His heart towards them in love, as even burned in His heart. Now, in time, God reveals this in the gospel, in the doctrine thereof He opens His heart to the children of men.
Whenever the gospel comes to be preached in any place, God looks upon that place and has these kinds of workings in Himself, ‘Well, that love of Mine that I have had burning in My bosom from all eternity towards these poor creatures, now it shall be opened; now it shall be revealed.’
It is just as it was with Joseph, who had his heart so warm in love unto his brothers. Though he kept it in awhile, he could not keep it in long, but at length it broke out like fire. His bowels yearned towards his brothers, and he wept tears of love over their necks. So in the gospel of Christ, God looks upon poor creatures like Joseph did his brothers, and God, as it were, kept in His heart towards them for a long time. But now, when the gospel comes among them, God opens His very heart to them.
Now, therefore, there must be a conversation that becomes the gospel. As becomes this great thing in the gospel, that is the chief thing indeed that the gospel holds forth in every line of it; it reveals His eternal love towards them in particular in the Son of His love, Christ Jesus, in whom He is well-pleased.
Question: You will say, ‘What is it that becomes this thing in the gospel?’
Answer: Surely love, answerable love, that we should return love for love. He that dwells in God dwells in love. God Himself is love. Read but the first epistle of that beloved disciple John. What abundance of love is there made known of God! Every letter of it is a character of love, and what commendations of love in heavenly expressions! But you read no such thing in the Scripture before the gospel was revealed in that clarity as it was then. Now there is nothing but love, love, and how it called for love. Then there must be this conversation, love to God as God loves us. And that must be real, as God’s in Christ was.
Question: How did God manifest His love?
Answer: A conversation becoming the gospel must be a manifestation of our love in some proportionable way. ‘God so loved the world that He gave His only Son.’ It is as if He had said, ‘God so loved the world, so dearly, as that this was the dearest thing unto God He gave for a testimony of His love to mankind.’
The Sum of Saving Knowledge 1650, probably written by James Durham and David Dickson. This summary of what a saving knowledge of Christ entails has often been reprinted with the Westminster Standards **
‘The Practical Use of Saving Knowledge’
IV. For convincing a man of sin, righteousness, and judgment, by the gospel
Again, consider, that this general offer in substance is equivalent to a special offer made to every one in particular; as appeareth by the apostle’s making use of it, Acts 16:31, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house.” The reason of which offer is given, John 3:16, “For God so loved the world, that He gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” Seeing then this great salvation is offered in the Lord Jesus, whosoever believeth not in Him, but looks for happiness some other way, what does he else but ‘observe lying vanities, and forsake his own mercy,’ which he might have had in Christ? Jonah 2:8,9.
Thomas Adams 1652
Hugh Binning 1653
John Arrowsmith 1659
Isaac Ambrose d. 1664
Looking Unto Jesus, pp. 146-7
Consider of those tenders and offers of Christ, those entreaties and beseechings to accept of Christ, which are made in the gospel. What is the gospel? or what is the sum of all the gospel, but this! O take Christ, and life in Christ, that you may be saved. What mean these free offers? Ho every one that thirsteth, come to the waters; and whosoever will, let him take of the waters of life freely [Isa. 55:1]; and, God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth on him should not perish, but have everlasting life. [John 3:16] God is the first suitor and solicitor; He first prays the soul to take Christ. Hark at the door! who is it that knocks there? who is it that call now, even now? Open unto me, my sister, my love, my dove, my undefiled [Song 5:2]; for my head is filled with dew, and my locks with the drops of the night. See Him through the windows [Song 2:9]. This can be none but Christ: his sweet language of sister, love, and dove, bespeaks him Christ; his suffering language, that his head is filled with dew, and his locks with drops of the night, bespeaks Him Christ. But hearken the motion He makes to your soul: Soul! consider what price I have given to save you. This my body was crucified, my hands and feet nailed, my heart pierced, and through anguish I was forced to cry, my soul is heavy, heavy unto death! and now what remains for you but only to believe? See all things ready on my part, justification, sanctification, salvation. I will be thy God, and thou shalt be of the number of my people. I offer now myself and merits, and benefits flowing therefrom, and I entreat you to accept of this offer. Oh! take Christ, and life and salvation in Christ. What, is this the voice of my Beloved? are these the entreaties of Jesus? and, O my soul, will you not believe? will you not accept of this gracious offer of Christ! Oh! consider who it is that proclaims, invites, beseeches. If a poor man should offer you mountains of gold, you might doubt of performance, because he is not of that power; if a covetous rich man should offer you thousands of silver, you might doubt of performance, because it is contrary to his nature: but Christ is neither poor, nor covetous; as He is able, so his name is gracious, and his nature is to be faithful in performance, his covenant is sealed with his blood, and confirmed by his oath, that all shall have pardon that will but come in, and believe. Oh! then let these words of Christ, whose lips are dropping down myrrh, prevail with my soul. Say amen to his offer; I believe, Lord help my unbelief.
John Trapp 1669
Commentary on the Bible
Ver. 16. ‘God so loved the world’. This is a [Latin] sic, [English] “so” without a [Latin] sicut, [English] “just as,” there being nothing in nature wherewith to parallel it. The world, that is, all mankind fallen in Adam. This the apostle fitly calls God’s philanthropy, Titus 3:4, it being a sweet savor to the whole kind of us that any are saved by Christ.
Verse 17. ‘Not to condemn the world’. Unless it be by accident [that is, as a secondary effect against the primary purpose], because they will not be saved; they will not have heaven upon Christ’s terms, they will not part with their fat and sweet (with the vine in Jotham’s parable, 9:13), no, not for a kingdom; they will not be constrained to live happily, reign eternally. At Paris ut vivat regnetque beatus Cogi posse negat [he cannot be compelled to live as a blessed king at Paris]. Hor. Epist. 2.
George Swinnock 1673
Thomas Ford 1674 **
Thomas Manton 1677 Manton wrote the Letter to the Reader which prefaces most editions of the Westminster Standards **
J.C. Ryle on Thomas Manton on John 3:16
‘An Estimate of Manton’, 1870, This quote was collected by Tony Byrne.
“[Thomas] Manton [1620-1677, one of the puritans] held strongly the doctrine of election. But that did not prevent him teaching that God loves all, and that His tender mercies are over all His works. He that wishes to see this truth set forth should read his sermon on the words, “God so loved the world that He gave His only-begotten Son” (John 3:16), and mark how he speaks of the world.”
Thomas Brooks 1680
Precious Remedies Against Satan’s Devices, in his Works, vol. 1, Appendix, p. 146-148
Remedy (2). The second remedy against this device of Satan [that you are not prepared and qualified to receive Christ] is, solemnly To dwell upon these following scriptures, which do clearly evidence that poor sinners which are not so and so prepared and qualified to meet with Christ, to receive and embrace the Lord Jesus Christ, may, notwithstanding that, believe in Christ; and rest and lean upon Him for happiness and blessedness, according to the gospel. Read Prov. 1:20-33, and Prov. 8:1-11, and Prov. 9:1-6; Eze. 16:1-14; John 3:14-18, 36; Rev. 3:15-20. Here the Lord Jesus Christ stands knocking at the Laodicean’s door; He would fain have them to sup with Him, and that He might sup with them; that is, that they might have intimate communion and fellowship one with another.
Now, pray tell me, what preparations or qualifications had these Laodiceans to entertain Christ? Surely none; for they were lukewarm, they were ‘neither hot nor cold,’ they were ‘wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked’; yet Christ to show his free grace and his condescending love, invites the very worst of sinners to open to Him, though they were no ways so prepared or qualified to entertain Him.
John Bunyan 1688
Chapter 8, Whether eternal Reprobation in itself, or in its Doctrine, be in very deed an hindrance to any man in seeking the salvation of his Soul?
II. As it hinders not in itself, so it hinders not by its doctrine: For, All that this doctrine says, is, That some are left out of God’s Election, as considered upright. Now this doctrine cannot hinder any man: for,
1. No man still stands upright.
2. Though it says some are left, yet it points at no man, it names no man, it binds all faces in secret: So then, if it hinder, it hinders all, even the Elect as well as Reprobate; for the Reprobate has as much ground to judge himself Elect, as the very Elect himself has, before he be converted, being both alike in a state of Nature and Unbelief, and both alike visibly liable to the Curse, for the breach of the Commandment. Again, as they are equals here, so also have they ground alike to close in with Christ, and live; even the open, free, and full invitation of the Gospel, and Promise of Life and Salvation, by the Faith of Jesus Christ. Eph. 2:1,2; Rom. 3:9, John 3:16; 2 Cor. 5:19-22; Rev. 21:6 & 22:17.
Chapter 11 – Seeing it is not possible that the Reprobate should receive this Grace and live, and also seeing this is infallibly foreseen of God; and again, seeing God has fore-determined to suffer it so to be; Why does He yet will and command that the Gospel, and so Grace in the general Tenders thereof, should be proffered unto them?
That God is willing to save even those that perish forever, is apparent, both from the consideration of the goodness of his nature, of man’s being his creature, and indeed in a miserable state. But I say, as I have also said already, there is a great difference between his being willing to save them, through their complying with these his reasonable terms, and his being resolved to save them, whether they, as men, will close therewith, or no: So only He saves the Elect themselves, even according to the riches of his Grace, even according to his riches in glory, by Christ Jesus; working effectually in them, what the Gospel, as a condition, calls for from them. And hence it is that He is said to give Faith, (yea the most holy Faith, for this is the Faith of God’s Elect) to give Repentance, to give a new Heart, to give his Fear, even that Fear that may keep them for ever from everlasting Ruin; still engaging his Mercy and Goodness to follow them all the days of their lives, that they may dwell in the House of the Lord for ever: And as another Scripture says, Now he that hath wrought the self-same thing, is God. Ps. 145:9; Job 14:15; John 3:16; Eph. 1:4,7; Phil. 1:29 & 4:19; Acts 5:30,31; Eze. 36:26,27; Jer. 32 & 40; Ps. 23:6; Rom 8:26; etc. 2 Cor. 5:5; etc.
William Burkitt 1703
John Howe 1705
The Redeemer’s Tears Wept over Lost Souls, in Works, vol. 2, p. 336 (SDG reprint)
It [the gospel] tells you Gd desires not the death of sinners, but that they may turn and live; that He would have all men be saved, and come to the knowledge of the truth [1 Tim. 2:4]; that He is long-suffering towards them, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance [2 Pet. 3:9]; that “He so love the world that He gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believes on Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” [John 3:16] The rest of the world cannot but collect, from darker intimations, God’s favorable propensions towards them. He spares them, is patient towards them, that herein his goodness might lead them to repentance [Rom. 2:4].
Matthew Henry 1714
Commentary on the Bible
(3) Herein God has commended his love to the world: God so loved the world, so really, so richly. Now his creatures shall see that he loves them, and wishes them well. He so loved the world of fallen man as he did not love that of fallen angels; see Rom. v. 8; 1 John iv. 10. Behold, and wonder, that the great God should love such a worthless world! That the holy God should love such a wicked world with a love of good will, when He could not look upon it with any complacency. This was a time of love indeed, Ezek. 16:6,8. The Jews vainly conceited that the Messiah should be sent only in love to their nation, and to advance them upon the ruins of their neighbors; but Christ tells them that He came in love to the whole world, Gentiles as well as Jews, 1 John ii. 2. Though many of the world of mankind perish, yet God’s giving his only-begotten Son was an instance of his love to the whole world, because through him there is a general offer of life and salvation made to all. It is love to the revolted rebellious province to issue out a proclamation of pardon and indemnity to all that will come in, plead it upon their knees, and return to their allegiance. So far God loved the apostate lapsed world that he sent his Son with this fair proposal, that whosoever believes in him, one or other, shall not perish. Salvation has been of the Jews, but now Christ is known as salvation to the ends of the earth, a common salvation.
Thomas Boston 1726
Notes on The Marrow of Modern Divinity, For the larger context of Boston’s notes on The Marrow see here
This deed of gift and grant, or authentic gospel-offer is expressed in so many words, ‘For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life’ (John 3:16). Where the gospel comes, this grant is published, and the ministerial offer made, and there is no exception of any of all mankind in the grant. If there was, no ministerial offer of Christ could be warrantably made to the party excepted, more than to the fallen angels; and without question, the publishing and proclaiming of heaven’s grant unto any, by way of ministerial offer, presupposes the grant, in the first place, to be made to them: otherwise, it would be of no more value than a crier’s offering of the king’s pardon to one who is not comprehended in it. This is the good old way of discovering to sinners their warrant to believe in Christ; and it does indeed bear the sufficiency of the sacrifice of Christ for all, and that Christ crucified is the ordinance of God for salvation unto all mankind, in the use-making of which only they can be saved; but not an universal atonement or redemption.
I doubt if the sin against the Holy Ghost can justly be said to be a limitation of God’s grace in Jesus Christ. For in the original authentic gospel-offer, in which is the proper place for such a limitation (if there were any) that grace is so laid open to all men without exception, that no man is excluded; but there is free access to it for every man in the way of believing (John 3:15-16, Rev. 22:17); and this offer is sometimes intimated to these reprobates, who fall into that sin, else they should not be capable of it. It is true, that sin is a bar in the way of the guilty, so they can never partake of the grace of God in Christ; for it shall never be forgiven (Matt 12:31, Mark 3:29); and any further ministerial application of the offer to them seems to cease to be lawful or warranted (1 John 5:16). But all this arises from their own willful, obstinate, despiteful, and malicious rejecting of the offer: and fighting against the Holy Ghost, whose office it is to apply the grace of Christ; and not from any limitation, or exclusive clause in the offer, for still it remains true, ‘Whosoever shall believe, shall not perish.’
John Willison †1750
Sacramental Meditations, in The Whole Works of John Willison, 1816, vol. 3, Meditation 25, p. 286-8. This quote was compiled by R. Andrew Myers.
A crucified Christ, with all his purchase, is offered to all the hearers of the gospel: for Christ in his word, and by his ministers in the gospel-offer, speaks to all and every one of them; yea, speaks to every sinner, man and woman in particular, as though he called them by name and surname. And every man is bound to take the call and offer home to himself, as if he were so named, and believe that Christ stands at his door and knocks, saying, If you, or any man, will open to me, I will come in. ‘The promise is to you, and to all that are afar off;’ even to all the ends of the earth, and to the stout-hearted; to all the sons of men, to every creature, to them that have no money, to the poor, maimed, blind, naked, wretched, and miserable, and to whomsoever will come. ‘To you is the word of this salvation sent.’ Christ does beseech you to be reconciled, and to beware of coming short the promise, by unbelief; such a promise as that, ‘Whosoever believeth in the Son, shall not perish, but have eternal life:’ and that, ‘Him that cometh to me, I will in no wise cast out:’ besides many others; John 3.16; 6.37; Rev. 3.17-18, 20, 22.17; Prov. 8.4; Isa. 45.22, 46.12, 55.1; Mark 16.15; Luke 14.21-23; Acts 2.39, 3.26, 13.26, 47; 2 Cor. 5.20; Heb. 4.1.
Ebenezer Erskine d. 1754
‘God in Christ, A God of Love’, a sermon on 1 John 4:16, in The Whole Works of the late Rev. Ebenezer Erskine, vol. 1, pp. 280-281.
First, I say, let us view the love of a God of love, in the different kinds of it.
1, Then, He has a love of benevolence, or good-will, which He bears towards men, particularly towards the whole visible church. The lifting up of the brazen serpent in the camp of Israel, that whosoever looked to it might be healed, was a clear evidence of his good-will unto the whole camp; so the manifestation of Christ in the nature of man, and the revelation of Him in the gospel, is an evidence of the good-will He bears unto the salvation of all, John 3:15-16. He declares it on his word, that He is “not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance” [1 Tim. 2:4]; and lest his word should not be believed, He has confirmed it with his oath, Ezek. 33:11, “As I live, saith the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live.”
John Brown of Haddington 1787
The Systematic Theology of John Brown of Haddington, 2002 ed., formerly titled, A Compendious View of Natural and Revealed Religion, pp. 343-344.
In the gospel, Jesus Christ is indefinitely presented and offered to all men that hear it, as the absolutely free gift of God, and the official Saviour of mankind, Psalm 68:18; Rom. 11:26-27, 1 John 4.14, John 3:14-17, 4:42, 6:32, 39-40; 1 Tim. 1:15, Heb. 7:25; Isa. 42:6-7, 49:6-8….
John Colquhoun 1824
Saving Faith, 1824, reprint 2008, Buy ed. Don Kistler, The Northampton Press, p. 86
The same gracious offer is, in a very remarkable manner, expressed in these words: “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 3:16). God so loved the fallen, the sinful, the lost world that He gave his only begotten Son, to fulfill a perfect righteousness, and so to merit everlasting salvation; and He still gives Him, with his righteousness and salvation, in the blessed gospel to the same lost world in order to render it warrantable for sinners of mankind in common to believe in Him.
A Treatise on Law and Gospel, p. 117-9
3. The gospel, in its proper acceptation, contains likewise God’s gracious offers of Christ, in his person, righteousness, fullness, offices, and relations, and of Himself in Christ, to sinners of mankind in common. (Isa. 42:6,7; Isa. 55:4; John 3:16; John 6:32)
Sermons Chiefly on Doctrinal Subjects, 1836 edition, Sermon 14, “Salvation From Sin,” p. 207.
The Lord Jesus Christ is constituted the great ordinance of Heaven for the salvation of lost sinners of mankind; and as sustaining this gracious character, God the Father, with the infinite approbation of the Holy Spirit, makes a free grant or offer of him as a Saviour to you, and to every lost sinner who reads or hears the gospel. ‘I have given thee, saith Jehovah, for a covenant of the people, for a light to the Gentiles; that thou mightest be my salvation unto the end of the earth.’ ‘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 3:16] Come, then, men and brethren, and accept of him as the Father’s unspeakable gift to you.
Charles Simeon 1836
Edward Griffin 1837
Thomas Chalmers 1847
Memoirs of Dr. Chalmers, 1847, vol. 4, edited by William Hannah, this quote was compiled by Maurice Roberts
‘His Last Sabbath’
There are what are called Baxterian errors, I am aware, and one of these is in relation to the extent of the sacrifice of Christ; Baxter, I think, holding that Christ died for all men. Dr Chalmers answered:
“yes: Baxter holds that Christ died for all men; but I cannot say that I am quite at one with what some of our friends have written on the subject of the atonement. I do not, for example, entirely agree with what Mr. Haldane says on that subject [who held to a universal atonement]. I think that the word ‘world’, as applied in Scripture to the sacrifice of Christ, has been unnecessarily restricted; the common way of explaining it is that it simply includes Gentiles as well as Jews. [John 3:16] I do not like that explanation, and I think that there is one text that puts that interpretation entirely aside. The text to which I allude is, that “God commandeth all men, everywhere to repent. [Acts 17:30]””
Here the Doctor spoke of the connection between the election of God, the sacrifice of Christ, and the freeness of the offer of the Gospel. He spoke with great eloquence, and I felt as if he were in the pulpit, as some of his finest bursts rolled from his lips. “In the offer of the gospel”, said he, “we must make no limitation whatever. I compare the world to a multitude of iron filings in a vessel, and the gospel to a magnet.”
John Brown of Edinburgh 1856
The Discourses and Sayings of Our Lord Jesus Christ, vol. 1, 1856 edition
V.– Of the Primary Source of the Economy of Salvation, the Love of God to the World
Let us now proceed to consider the primary source of this economy of salvation, as stated by our Lord. The love of God, the love of God to the world. ‘God so loved the world.’
Christ did not die that God might love man; He died because God loved man. ‘God commended his love to us in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.’ ‘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 for our sins.’ (Rom. 5:8; 1 John 4:9,10) The atonement is thus not the cause, but the effect, of the love of God. It is the wonderful expedient devised by infinite wisdom, to render the manifestation of sovereign kindness to a guilty race, not merely consistent with, but gloriously illustrative of the righteousness of the Divine character, as displayed both in the requisitions and sanctions of that holy law which man had violated.
Having thus endeavored to show that the atonement of Christ is not the procuring cause of God’s love to sinners, but the means which God in his wisdom devised for rendering the display of his love consistent with his righteousness, I go on to illustrate somewhat more particularly, the great truth upon which, in this part of the subject, I wish to fix your attention: that the whole of that wondrous economy of salvation unfolded by our Lord, proceeds from the love of God, from the love of God to the world.
2. The love of God to the world the origin of the plan of salvation.
There is another idea to which I wish for a little to turn your attention on this part of the subject. The love in which the economy of salvation originates is love to the world. ‘God so loved the world, as to give his only begotten Son.’ The term ‘world’ is here just equivalent to mankind. It seems to be used by our Lord with a reference to the very limited and exclusive views of the Jews. They thought God loved them, and hated all the other nations of mankind. These were their own feelings, and they foolishly thought that God was altogether such an one as themselves. They accordingly expected that the Messiah was to come to deliver Israel, and to punish and destroy the other nations of the earth. But ‘God’s ways were not their ways, nor his thoughts their thoughts. As the heavens are high above the earth, so were his ways above their ways, and his thoughts above their thoughts.’ (Isa. 55:8,9)
Duncan Matheson d. 1869
Matheson was a Scottish evangelist associated with the old Free Church of Scotland
Life and Labors of Duncan Matheson: The Scotttish Evangelist, by John MacPherson, (Kilmarnock: Ritchie, n.d.), p. 26, as quoted by Ian Murray, The Cross: the Pulpit of God’s Love, n.d., p. 4
“I was standing on the 10th of December, 1846, at the end of my Father’s house, and meditating on that precious word that has brought peace to countless weary ones: ‘God so loved the world, that He gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him, should not perish, but have eternal life’ (John 3:16). I saw the proof of his love in the giving of his Son Jesus. I saw that ‘whosoever’ meant anybody and everybody, and therefore me, even me. I saw the result of believing—that I would not perish, but have everlasting life. I was enabled to take God at his word. I saw no one, but Jesus only, all in all in redemption. My burden fell from my back, and I was saved. Yes, saved!”
James Buchanan 1870
Comfort in Affliction, See all of Meditation 4, pp. 62-79:
“He that cometh to Me, I will in no wise cast out”
How far the last words of this sublime passage [Ex. 34:5] should affect the faith and hope of a sinner under the Christian dispensation, will be considered hereafter; meanwhile, let us give due weight to the former part of the passage, in which God’s love and mercy are declared with a fulness and variety of expression which leave no room for unbelieving doubt or suspicion. His very name is ‘the Lord God merciful and gracious;’ He is declared to be ‘abundant in goodness;’ He is said to be ‘keeping mercy for thousands.’ Nor is this a solitary passage, different from the general tenor of God’s Word: his character is delineated in the same way in so many places, that our chief difficulty consists in making a selection of the most striking and impressive proofs…
‘As I live, says the Lord, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked.’ [Eze. 33:11]
If we look to the Evangelists, we see there recorded the words of Christ Himself:
‘God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.’ [John 3:17]
‘And this is the will of Him that sent me, that everyone which sees the Son and believes on Him, may have everlasting life.’
And finally, let us hear the testimony of the Apostles: ‘God is love,’ [1 John 4:8] says John; ‘God is rich in mercy,’ [Eph. 2:4] says Paul; ‘the Lord is very pitiful and of tender mercy,’ [James 5:11] says James; ‘the Lord is long-suffering to us-ward,’ says Peter, ‘not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.’ [2 Pet. 3:9] Thus the unanimous testimony of the Law, the Psalms, the Prophets of the Old Testament, the Evangelists, and the Apostles of the New, bears witness to God’s character, as a Being of manifold mercies, whose very name is love; and a clear apprehension and cordial belief of this great truth, would do much to remove all the scruples and fears which prevent many an anxious inquirer from coming to Him for life and salvation… The proper effect of such a character, when seen in all its glorious excellency, is to banish distrust and suspicion, and to awaken admiring love, and childlike confidence. The kindness or benignity of an earthly friend produces these feelings, and his very character is regarded as a sufficient warrant for our going to Him in a time of straits, and frankly laying before him our difficulties and wants, in the assurance, that his kindness will prompt him to listen to our request, and to take an interest in our case. Why is it otherwise with us when God is concerned, unless it be that we either do not sufficiently understand the benignity of his nature, or are suspicious of the sincerity of his kindness? Did we really believe God to be so very gracious and merciful a Being as his Word declares Him to be; did we realize his infinite love, and were we assured that his love is perfectly sincere… The evil is, that even when the grace and mercy of God are not formally called in question, there often remains in the heart an undefined and vague suspicion of his sincerity, or an idea that his love is wavering and uncertain, if not capricious, in its exercise; and hence, all the cheering influence which the light of his love might exert on us, is destroyed by the intervention of our own dark unbelief, just as the rays of the sun are intercepted, and their influence diminished, by the dense vapors and thick clouds of the sky.
Robert Candlish 1873
Charles Hodge 1879
Princeton Sermons (London: Thomas Nelson and Sons, 1879), 17, This quote was compiled by Tony Byrne
2. It is here [in John 3:16], as well as elsewhere taught, that it was the design of God to render the salvation of all men possible, by the gift of his Son. There was nothing in the nature, or the value, or the design of his work to render it available for any one class of men only. Whosoever believeth, etc. This is not inconsistent with other representations that it entered into God’s design to render the salvation of his people certain by the death of his Son.
William G.T. Shedd 1894
Robert Dabney 1898
J.C. Ryle †1900
Expository Thoughts on the Gospels, Vol. 3, pp. 156-158 (Baker, 1969)
As taking world as all men: Brentius, Bucer, Calovinius, Glassius, Chemnitius, Musculus, Bullinger, Bengal, Nifanius, Dyke, Scott, Henry, and Manton.
‘An Estimate of Manton’, 1870, This quote was collected by Tony Byrne.
“[Thomas] Manton [1620-1677, one of the puritans] held strongly the doctrine of election. But that did not prevent him teaching that God loves all, and that His tender mercies are over all His works. He that wishes to see this truth set forth should read his sermon on the words, “God so loved the world that He gave His only-begotten Son” (John 3:16), and mark how he speaks of the world.”
Testimony of the Reformed Presbyterian Church of Ireland 1901
Reformed Presbyterian Testimony, Part 1, Doctrinal and Practical (R Carswell & Son, Belfast, 1912), p. 43
In the gospel there is an exhibition of the plan of salvation by a Redeemer, and a call, invitation, or offer, addressed to all who hear it. (1 Tim. 1:15, 2 Cor. 5:29, Prov. 8:4, Is. 55:1, Matt 11:28, Mark 1:15, 16:15). The obligation to believe is not made void by the sinner’s disinclination and spiritual inability, nor is the universality of the gospel offer inconsistent with, or contradictory to, the particular purposes of God or the limited extent of the redemption of Christ (Deut. 29:29)… The gospel offer fully warrants the exercise of faith, and lays no obstacle whatever in the way of the sinner (John 3:16, 6:37).
Alvah Hovey 1903 Hovey was a reformed baptist.
Herman Bavinck d. 1921
Reformed Dogmatics, reprinted 2004, Backer Academic edition, 3:245-246
Against this clear and consistent teaching of Scripture, the few texts to which the universalists appeal have little weight. The vocable “all” in Isaiah 53:6; Romans 5:18; 1 Corinthians 15:22; 2 Corinthians 5:15; Hebrews 2:9 (cf. 10) either proves nothing or proves much more than the universalists assert and would help support Origen’s doctrine concerning the restitution of all things. The universalists themselves, accordingly, are compelled to restrict the word “all” in these passages. Of greater weight are texts like Ezekiel 18:23; 33:11; John 1 :29; 3:16; 4:42; 1 Timothy 2:4,6; Titus 2:11; Hebrews 2:9; 2 Peter 3:9; 1 John 2:2; 4:14, where the will of God or the sacrifice of Christ is linked with the salvation of all or of the world.
But none of these texts is incompatible with the statements cited above that limit Christ’s benefits to the church. The New Testament, after all, is a very different dispensation from that of the old covenant. The gospel is not restricted to one people but must be preached to all creatures (Matt. 28:19). There is no respect of persons with God and no longer any distinction between Gentile and Jew (Acts 10:34-35; Rom. 3:29; 10:11-13). Indeed, even if in Isaiah 53:11-12; Matthew 20:28; 26:28; Romans 5:15,19; Hebrews 2:10; 9:28, there is mention of the “many” for whom Christ died, this is not grounded in the contrast that has often been insinuated into the text later, namely, that not all but only many will be saved. The idea from which the reference to “the many” arises, however, is a very different one: Christ did not die for a few but for many) for a large multitude. He gives his life as a ransom for many; He sheds his blood for many; He will make many righteous. It is not a handful but many who by one man’s obedience will be made righteous [Rom. 5: 19]. Scripture is not afraid that too many people will be saved.
Therefore, based on that same consideration, it says that God has no pleasure in the death of the wicked and that he wants all humans to repent and be saved, that Christ is the expiation of and has given his life for the world, and that the gospel must be preached to all creatures. But when universalists deduce from this that the atonement is completely universal, they run afoul of both Scripture and reality, for the two seem to vie with each other in teaching that not all but only many learn of the gospel and attain genuine repentance. In all these passages, therefore, we are encountering not “the will of God’s good pleasure,” [will of decree] which is unknown to us and neither can nor may be the rule for our conduct, nor an “antecedent will,” which is anterior to the decision of our will and oriented to it, but the “revealed will;’ which tells us by what standard we are to conduct ourselves in the new covenant. It gives us the right and lays on us the duty to bring the gospel to all people without exception. For the universal offer of grace we need no other ground than this clearly revealed will of God. We no more need to know specifically for whom Christ died than we need to know specifically who has been ordained to eternal life. The calling indeed rests on a particular basis, for it belongs to and proceeds from the covenant, but it is addressed in keeping with God’s revealed will and with the inherently all-sufficient value of Christ’s sacrifice – also to those who are outside the covenant in order that they too may be incorporated into that covenant and in faith itself receive the evidence of their election.
Louis Berkhof 1950
Systematic Theology, Part I, ‘On the Communicable Attributes of God’
b. The Love of God.
When the goodness of God is exercised towards His rational creatures, it assumes the higher character of love, and this love may again be distinguished according to the objects on which it terminates. In distinction from the goodness of God in general, it may be defined as that perfection of God by which He is eternally moved to self–communication. Since God is absolutely good in Himself, His love cannot find complete satisfaction in any object that falls short of absolute perfection. He loves His rational creatures for His own sake, or, to express it otherwise, He loves in them Himself, His virtues, His work, and His gifts.
He does not even withdraw His love completely from the sinner in his present sinful state, though the latter’s sin is an abomination to Him, since He recognizes even in the sinner His image-bearer. John 3:16; Matt. 5:44,45. At the same time He loves believers with a special love, since He contemplates them as His spiritual children in Christ. It is to them that He communicates Himself in the fullest and richest sense, with all the fullness of His grace and mercy. John 16:27; Rom. 5:8; I John 3:1.
William Hendriksen 1982
Leon Morris 2006
Herman Ribdderbos 2007
Iain Murray 2008 Murray was one of the founders of the Banner of Truth and has been associated with it for over 50 years.
The Cross: The Pulpit of God’s Love, 2008, Banner of Truth, p. 14-15
Yet if we ask why God was so moved to exercise his holiness and justice in such a manner, at such a cost, in the sacrifice of his own beloved Son for our sins, the answer is ‘God so loved the world’. And it was love that led Jesus first to undertake his sufferings, and then to invite all men to enter into the love which his death proclaims. It is the Puritan Thomas Watson who quotes the words of Augustine, ‘The cross was a pulpit in which Christ preached his love to the world.’ [Thomas Watson, A Body of Divinity (London: Banner of Truth, 1958), p. 175.] On the same subject John Owen writes: ‘There is no property of the nature of God which He doth so eminently design to glorify in the death of Christ as his love.’ [Owen, Works, vol. 9, p.604]
This brings us inevitably to John 3:16, ‘God so loved the world…’…
But what is the love of God to which John 3:16 gives this prominence? Does it have reference to the elect only or all men? Some have answered that its immediate purpose has to do with neither…
…But granting that the message of the cross is one of love to those who by nature are the enemies of God, we are still faced with the fact that the text provides no justification for limiting this love to elect sinners. For if the elect are the ‘world’ that God loves, why is it that only some out of that world (‘whosoever believes in Him’) come to salvation? There is surely a distinction in the text between the larger number who are the objects of love and the smaller number who are the objects of love and the smaller number who believe. It would be a strange reading of John 3:16 to make those who believe correspond exclusively with ‘the world’ that God loves. Such a divine as John Calvin had no hesitation therefore in saying on John 3:16:
“Although there is nothing in the world deserving of God’s favor, He nevertheless shows He is favorable to the whole lost world when He calls all without exception to faith in Christ, which is indeed an entry into life.” [Calvin, The Gospel According to John, 1-10, trans. T.H.L. Parker (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1979), p. 74.]
If this is so, it is proof enough that there is a general proclamation of the love of God which comes to men in the preaching of the cross. Individuals everywhere may be directed, as Nicodemus was directed, to God’s love for the unworthy. We are by no means dependent on John 3:16 alone for this understanding…