One of my favorite stanzas in the collection of hymns which is the treasure of the people of God is the third stanza of Frederick Lehman’s, “The Love of God”:
Could we with ink the ocean fill,
And were the skies of parchment made,
Were every stalk on earth a quill,
And every man a scribe by trade,
To write the love of God above,
Would drain the ocean dry.
Nor could the scroll contain the whole,
Though stretched from sky to sky.
And the chorus states:
O love of God, how rich and pure!
How measureless and strong!
It shall forevermore endure
The saints’ and angels’ song.
The apostle John, who walked with Jesus for nearly three years, wrote, “God is love” (1 John 4:8). This is a simple statement of fact pertaining to the very nature of God which consists of His attributes or qualities that set Him apart from human beings. Man can love, but man is not love. Only God is love, and His love is measureless. To say that something is measureless is to say that is incalculable, it has no observable limits, it is infinite. No book (scroll) could contain the whole of God’s love. It is beyond our comprehension but most reassuring: “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” (John 3:16). The world mentioned by John is not the planet we live on, but the people who inhabit it. A careful study of John’s Gospel and his epistles does not allow for any limitation of the word kosmos (world) in John 3:16. This presents a difficulty for those who affirm that Jesus died only for those He chose in eternity past and not for all mankind. In Romans 5:8 we learn that God loved men even in their state of rebellion: “But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” A good example of this truth is seen in the dialogue Jesus had with a man who came to Him seeking to know what he had to do to inherit eternal life (Mark 10:17). Rejecting the admonition Jesus gave him to sell his goods and take up his cross and follow Him, the man went away sad. This man’s wealth was the very thing keeping him from Christ. However, what is significant about this encounter, relative to the love of God, is seen in verse 21. Right before Jesus told him to dispense with his earthly possessions so that he might possess heavenly riches (Jesus himself), the Scripture says, “Then Jesus beholding him loved him.” In his rejection of Jesus, the blessed Savior loved him, and there is no record of this man’s repentance. What love is this? It is the love of God for lost sinners--without distinction. It is the measureless love of God that led Jesus to Calvary to suffer and die for the sins of mankind, and the Gospel invitation goes out to the whole world as the clearest expression of that deep, deep love of God.
Herein lies the heart of the matter: How can a Christian tell a lost sinner that God loves him and has provided the means whereby his sins can be forgiven if Christ’s death was in behalf of some, but not all, men? The answer is that he can’t tell him God loves him, at least not with a love that called for the death of His only begotten Son. David Allen cites the following example: “In his book, The Gospel and Personal Evangelism, Mark Dever suggested three motives for evangelism: obedience to Scripture, a love for the lost, and a love for God.” Allen goes on to say: “I agree completely but, Dever fails to mention two other critical motives: Christ’s death for all men, and God’s universal saving will. Unless I have missed it, his book never mentions these two as motives for evangelism. Of course, Dever cannot affirm Christ’s death for all men because he holds to limited atonement. His theology prohibits it.”
The Bible, however, does not prohibit the affirmation that Christ died for all men:
• “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the LORD hath laid on him the iniquity of us all” (Isaiah 53:6).
• “The next day John seeth Jesus coming unto him, and saith, Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world." (John 1:29).
• “Therefore as by the offence of one judgment came upon all men to condemnation; even so by the righteousness of one the free gift came upon all men unto justification of life”(Romans 5:18).
• “God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them; and hath committed unto us the word of reconciliation” (2 Corinthians 5:19).
• “For the grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men “(Titus 2:11).
• “For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus; Who gave himself a ransom for all, to be testified in due time” (1 Timothy 2:5, 6).
• “For therefore we both labour and suffer reproach, because we trust in the living God, who is the Saviour of all men, specially of those that believe” (1 Timothy 4:10).
• "But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels for the suffering of death, crowned with glory and honour; that he by the grace of God should taste death for every man" (Hebrews 2:9).
• “And he [Jesus] is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world” (1 John 2:2).
• "And we have seen and do testify that the Father sent the Son to be the Savior of the world" (1 John 4:14).
I realize that many devout and faithful Christians who limit the atonement of Christ have answers to all these verses, but I don’t believe their answers disannul what the verses clearly teach: Christ died for all! It is best to take them at face value and praise God for His immeasurable, unlimited, undeserved love--the just dying for the unjust that he might bring us to God (1 Peter 3:18). Otherwise, how could a holy, righteous, and loving God justly condemn people for rejecting the manifestation of his love if it was not intended for them? Jesus said, “If ye do not believe that I am he [the Messiah] ye shall die in your sins” (John 8:24). Were those whom Jesus addressed prohibited from believing by Divine decree? Or did they willfully reject Christ? Jesus said in John 5:39, 40, “Search the scriptures; for in them ye think ye have eternal life: and they are they which testify of me. And ye will not come to me, that ye might have life.”
The question must be asked: Did Jesus desire all men to come unto Him? Certainly, for He issued the invitation, “Come unto me all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls” (Matthew 11:28, 29). The stubborn refusal of sinners to come to Jesus is the very essence of unbelief; and pride is the root of this unbelief. In contrast to the proud of heart, Jesus said, “If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God, or whether I speak of myself” (John 7:17). This is not a matter of free will, but whosoever will: If any man is willing he will be taught of God. Those who were willing comprised the remnant in Israel who humbly admitted their sin and came to Jesus for eternal life. “He came unto his own, and his own received him not. But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name” (John 1:11, 12).They were not made alive before they believed; they believed unto eternal life: “And many other signs truly did Jesus in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book: But these are written, that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through his name” (John 20:30, 31). I might also add that coming to Jesus is not saving one’s self, because no one would come to Jesus were it not for the convicting ministry of the Holy Spirit (John 16:8). Salvation is a gift of God made possible by the work of God in the heart of man. But salvation also requires the willingness of the hopeless sinner to bow the knee and receive the free gift: “But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness” (Romans 4:5).
So if you believe that Christ died for the sins of the whole world (all mankind), don’t be ashamed of it or be intimidated by someone charging you with ignorance of Scripture or weakness in doctrine. Cling to the simple but wonderful truth of God’s immeasurable love, and go tell the good news. Preach it far and wide, rejoicing that God is able to save the worst of sinners. Let your love for the lost, as Dever said, be a motivation for personal evangelism, but don’t deny that God’s love for mankind is far greater than your love could ever be, for God is love! If Jesus commands us to love our enemies (Matthew 5:44), should we think that it is not so with Him? John MacArthur writes, “His [God’s] pleading with the lost, His offers of mercy to the reprobate, and the call of the gospel to all who hear are all sincere expressions of the heart of a loving God. Remember, He tenderly calls sinners to turn from their evil ways and live. He freely offers the water of life to all” (Isaiah 55:1). But how sincere is it to offer the water of life to someone, knowing that he has no power or ability to drink it? McArthur admits that he struggles with the question of how God can really love those he does not choose to save. He writes, “Yet if I seem to dwell on this issue, it is because I want to acknowledge that it poses a perplexing difficulty for other aspects of God’s revealed truth. Let us honestly admit that on the face of it, the universal love of God is hard to reconcile with the doctrine of election.” Personally, I don’t think it is hard to reconcile the love of God for all mankind with God choosing only some for salvation-- I think it is impossible.
Dear friend, if you have not already done so, you can know the love of Christ in a personal way by calling upon Him to forgive you of all your sins. The Bible says that “whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved” (Romans 10:13).
“The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9).
May you find joy and peace in believing upon the name of the Lord Jesus Christ.
1 Allen, David and Lemke Steve, A Biblical-Theological Review of Five-Point Calvinism, WHOSOEVER WILL (B&H Academic, 2010) 97
2 Mac Arthur, John, The Love of God (Word Publishing), 1996), 17.