Of this there are five kinds, which vary according to the object upon which love is exercised. The attribute in God is the same; but it is in its exit, or in its termination, that it assumes these different forms.
1. There is the love of complacency or approbation. This is exercised towards a worthy object in which excellencies are perceived. It is of the nature of tile love of the beautiful, or the good, or the useful in us. It complacently or approvingly regards, because there is in the object something worthy of such regard.
This is exercised by God, in its highest degree, in the love of himself, of his own nature and character, because the infinitely excellent must be to God the highest object of complacent love.
Were God but one person, in this way only could such love be exercised. But in the Trinity of the Godhead, there is found, in the love of the separate persons towards each other, another mode in which this love of complacency may in this highest sense be exercised.
Such love is also felt by God for his purposes. As he perceives them to be just, wise and gracious, he approves and regards them with complacent love.
But this love extends itself also to the creations, which result from this purpose.
This is true of inanimate creation. It is perfect, as far as conformed to his will, and fitted to accomplish his end, and as such God can regard it and pronounce it good. Thus we find that he did in the creation, Genesis, Chap. 1:10, 12.
The same record is made, in verse 25, as to the animal creation, before that of man; and after the creation, and investiture of man with the dominion over the earth, with its plants and animals, we are told, verse 31, “And God saw everything that he had made, and, behold, it was very good.”
The complacent love of God, therefore, extends not only to himself and his will, but to all his innocent creation and even to inanimate nature.
This love of complacency, however, as it is exercised in its highest degree towards himself, so also is it exhibited, in the nearest approach to that, towards those beings who are most like himself, having been made in his nature and likeness. An innocent angel, or an innocent man is therefore by nature a joy to God, as is the child to the father who sees in it a peculiar likeness to himself.
But the guilty cannot thus be loved. Sinful man cannot receive such love, so long as sinful. Even the penitent believer in Jesus, until the time of his perfect sanctification in the life to come, and doubtless even then, has access to God only through Christ, and, of himself, can in no respect secure the approbation of God.
2. The second kind of love, is the love of benevolence, which corresponds to the idea of God’s goodness towards his creatures.
This is the product of his wishes for their happiness. It is not dependent on their character, as is the love of complacency, but is exercised towards both innocent and guilty.
It is general in its nature, not special, and exists towards all, even towards devils, and wicked men, because God’s nature is benevolent, and, therefore, he must wish for the happiness of his creatures.
That that happiness is not attained, nor attainable, is due, not to him, but to their own sin.
When the benevolence of God is exercised actively in the bestowment of good things upon his creatures, it is called his beneficence. By the former, he wishes them happiness, by the latter, he confers blessings to make them so.
This is done to the wicked also, as well as to the righteous. It is to this that Christ refers, Matt. 5:45, “He maketh his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sendeth rain on the just and the unjust.”
3. The third form of love is the love of compassion.
This corresponds to our idea of pity. It is benevolent disposition to those who are suffering or in distress.
This also may be exercised towards the guilty or the innocent, if it be possible to suppose that guilt and suffering are separable.
It has been very commonly held that they are inseparable. Pain, suffering and distress have been believed to be the result of sin, and consequently inseparable from guilt.
But this is a mistaken notion. Man in a state of innocence was made capable of physical suffering. That capacity was necessary to the protection of his physical organism.
The lower animals also suffer.
Whatever addition to the capacity of suffering has, therefore, been made by the fall, and is the consequence of sin, we are not, on that account ,forced to the conclusion that there can be no suffering where there has been no sin.
The capacity to suffer may so belong to a higher organism, that we would naturally choose that organism, with that capacity, rather than a lower one without it. If so God can justly so create us.
If misery, then, may be the lot of the innocent, God’s love of compassion can be exercised toward such.
It can be and is also exercised toward the guilty. We see this in the forbearance with which he delays their punishment, in his constant offers of mercy, in his yearnings after their salvation, and most signally, in the gift of his only begotten Son, “that whosoever believeth on him should not perish, but have eternal life.” John 3:16.
James P. Boyce, Abstract of Systematic Theology (Florida: Den Dulk Foundation, n.d.), 93-96. [Note, Boyce is being a little too artificial in his dichotomy between love of complancy and love of benevolence, stressing that one is given to the innocent alone, while the other to all men generally. In wider Reformed theology, God can and does delight in his creation, even as it is fallen, because within it remains good, and especially within man, there remains the image of God and the works of God. For example see Calvin on Mark 10:21.]