1) Those who hold a contrary opinion are mistaken i n their views of the nature of self-love. They do not distinguish between the love of human nature and the love of fallen human nature. It is impossible for man to divest himself of the former, without ceasing to be man ; because he cannot hate himself or his own flesh. Nay, the very fact that God loves his creatures and the works of his own hands proves, that we, who derive our being from him, should, in imitation of his example, love ourselves. In his fallen condition, man does not love himself as man–as the creature of God; but he does so for his own sake, and in order to gratify his own evil desires; he seeks salvation i n himself and not in God : and, if he worships him at all, he worships him because of some- reward whhich he hopes to receive at his hands. Hermann Venema, Institutes of Theology, trans., by  Alex W. Brown,  (Andover: W.F. Draper Brothers, 1853), 23.

2) The goodness of God, considered in its act must be distinguished into

(a) Benevolence
(b) Beneficence
(c) Complacency

(a) Benevolence is an inclination of the will to do good as far as it is possible and lawful to do so. It is called the love of God towards his creaturesthe strong desire by which he is actuated to promote their happiness and perfection. It is universal in its extent, because it has for its objects creatures as such, inasmuch as they are the works of his hands. For the creator cannot hate what he he himself has made, but is naturally and necessarily led to preserve, to perfect, and to bless his own work. He is called love in the highest sense and without any restriction. “God is love,” 1 John iv. 8; “good and upright is the Lord,” Ps. xxc.8; there is none good but one, that is God,” Matt. xix.17; “he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and the good,” Matt. v.45. Scriptures declares that he has “no pleasure in the death of him that dieth,” because he is his creature, Ezek. xviii.32; that he “will have all men to be saved,” 1 Tim. ii.4; that is he is “not willing any should perish,” 2 Pet. iii.9. It tells us that he “so loved the world that he gave his own begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish but have everlasting life,” John iii.16. This love is therefore universal, and prompted him to give Christ; and hence he is said to be “the Savior of all men, specially of those that believe,” 1 Tim iv.10. His love of benevolence to all appears in the command which he gave that the Gospel should be preached to every creature without exception, Matt. xxviii.19. It is said that he “will render to ever man” without respect of persons, “according to his deeds,” Rom. ii.6; that “we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ; that every one may receive the things done in his body according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad,” 2 Cor. v.10.

(b) There is also his beneficence which consists in his actually showing himself kind relatively to the goodness which is in the creatures. For in this respect he does not treat them all alike but according to their different states.

If they be considered as physically good and as in principle morally good, then God shows his beneficence in supporting them, inasmuch as he preserves the goodness which they have, their conscience, their practical notions. He has endowed them with faculties, and he urges them to the exercise of these faculties by enacting laws, bestowing favors, uttering warnings, and inflicting judgments. He has given Christ to all as a Savior, he has reconciled the world to himself in him, he has furnished every means of salvation either immediate or remote, and thus proves that he willeth not the death of the sinner but his preservation and salvation. He shows his kindness moreover in a remarkable way, inasmuch as by his special grace he causes his creatures to attend to the faculties he has given and to make the right use of them; he effects their conversion; he preserves their rational faculties which in principle are good; he provides every means of salvation in greater or less degree, inasmuch as he has given his Son that whosoever believeth might be saved, John iii.16; and for this reason he has invited them to repentance and salvation. In this way he does good to the creatures as such.

But he manifests far greater kindness to such as his creatures as are actually good, whether they be regarded as at the outset or at an advanced stage of the Christian life, inasmuch as he follows them with his special favour in this life and confers upon them gratuitous blessings which extend even to eternity itself–every thing in a word which they may expect from him to consummate their everlasting happiness.

(c) Complacency is the last form of the goodness of God, by which he acquiesces in his creatures as good, and on account of which they are said to enjoy communion with him and with Christ, 1 John i.3, God also is represented as dwelling with them, delighting in them, glorifying in them, as well as pleased with them.

3. The foundation of this goodness goodness is the love which God has for himself and for the manifestation of his perfections. He therefore loves his work, and the recognition and celebration of these perfections. As this recognition and celebration are actually made by those of his creatures who are good, he cannot but bear testimony to their goodness by manifesting towards them his own goodness. In regard to the manner in which this attribute exists in him, he is naturally and necessarily good, for his goodness flows from his love and from his holiness. But in exercising it he is free and acts according to his wisdom and without injury to his holiness. He is not good in such a sense that he bestows his favors without reason or to all alike. He would deny himself, and his own perfections, and his holiness itself in the exercise of which he regards sinners with abhorrence, if he manifested the greatest goodness to every sinner without reason and without any regard to his holiness. He acts therefore wisely and agreeably to his own nature in showing his goodness. Although he bears to all his creatures a love of good-will he does not bestow his favors indiscriminately. His beneficence is regulated by his wisdom and by a regard to his spotless purity and to manifestation of his own glory. Hermann Venema, Institutes of Theology, trans., by  Alex W. Brown, (Andover: W.F. Draper Brothers, 1853), 162-165.

3) Others, however, of the Remonstrants and the Socinians deny the eternity of the decrees and say that God foresaw or predestinated nothing, but only waited to see what men would perform or neglect, and that then i n time he formed his decrees. They scarcely deserve to be attended to, however, and we have already refuted them when treating of the foreknowledge of God.

The former of these who hold that the decree is the result of Gods foresight of the faith of some and of the unbelief of others argue in favour of their opinion from the conditional statements of Scripture, from the universal love of God, and from some passages of his word;

In regard to the argument drawn from conditional declarations, such as “Whosoever believeth shall be saved” and the like, our system concerning the general decree furnishes an easy reply. We hold that these conditional declarations do indeed belong to the decree, but that they are declarations not of the whole of it but only of a part–because besides the general decree in which God has instituted a connection between faith and salvation, there is also a special decree regarding the unequal dispensation of peculiar efficacious grace; Nor is there any opposition between these two, the one being the divine purpose regarding the way of salvation and the other the selection or choice of those who by that way shall be put in possession of eternal life. From these general or conditional declarations it cannot be inferred that there is not a special decree of election and reprobation.

To the argument drawn from the universal love of God in favour of the equal distribution of the same grace to all, we reply, we admit that that love exists, but we do not admit that in the exercise of it God has given equally to all the same means of salvation. This is contradicted by experience. In this respect, as we have already seen there is an important distinction to be observed. We have also seen that the unequal distribution of special grace is not opposed to the goodness of God. This will appear more evident in a subsequent part of our work.  Hermann Venema, Institutes of Theology, trans., by  Alex W. Brown, (Andover: W.F. Draper Brothers, 1853), 330.

Richard Muller:

Hermann Venema (1697-1787); studied at Groningen (1711-1714) and Franecker (1714-1718). In 1723 he succeeded the younger Vitringa as professor of theology at Franecker, a post he held until his retirement in 1774. His dogmatic work was published posthumously in English translation: Institutes of Theology (1850). Richard Muller, Post-Reformation Reformed Dogmatics, 1:51 (first edition).

[Note: From what I can gather, only volume 1 was ever published.]

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Added entries 1 and 3 on Venema on the General Love of God

November 12th, 2010 at 1:22 pm