1) 94. What is God’s goodness and what is it sometimes called?
It is His love toward personal and sentient creatures in general and can also be called Amor Dei generalis, “God’s general love.” Geerhardus Vos, Reformed Dogmatics, tran. Richard B. Gaffin (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2014), 29.
2) The love of this gracious fatherhood is infinitely richer than that pertaining to the three other spheres previously mentioned. It would be wrong, of course, to keep them mechanically separated. For those who are to be received into the inner sanctuary the privileges of the court serve as a preparation. But whatever there is of organic adjustment between the sphere of nature and of the kingdom, between that of common and of special grace, between the love of compassion and the love of adoption, cannot justify us in identifying the one with the other. In our Lord’s teaching this is never done.6 So far as the actual manifestation of the love of God in human consciousness is concerned, a fundamental difference lies in this, that the enjoyment of the common love of God outside of the kingdom does not exempt man from being subject at the same time to the divine wrath on account of sin. Love and wrath here are not mutually exclusive. Within the circle of redemption, on the other hand, the enjoyment of the paternal love of God means absolute forgiveness and deliverance from all wrath. Even this, however, is not sufficient clearly to mark the distinction between these two kinds of love, the wider and the narrower. For, previously to the moment of believing, those who are appointed for salvation, no less than the others, are subject in their consciousness to the experience of the wrath of God. It would seem, therefore, that in his pre-Christian state the one who will later become a child of God is not differentiated from the one who never will, inasmuch as both are in an equal sense the objects of the general benevolence of God and of His wrath in their experience. Thus a representation would result as if the line of God’s general love ran singly up to the point of conversion, there to pass over into the line of His special love. The general love of God, as a common possession of all men, would then be the only factor to be reckoned with outside of the sphere of the kingdom; and a special love of God could be spoken of only with reference to those who have actually become His children. And on this standpoint the temptation would always be strong to view the special love as conditioned by the spiritual character of man, since it does not apply to any except the regenerate. In order to clear the subject thoroughly, therefore, we must note the further fact that, according to our Lord’s teaching, even before the divine wrath is lifted off the sinner at the moment of his believing, there exists alongside of the general benevolence which embraces all mankind a special affection in the heart of God for certain individuals, who are destined to become subsequently His children, and who are in their subjective consciousness as yet the objects of His wrath. Already during the pre-Christian state of the elect there are two lines, that of general and special love, running parallel in God’s disposition toward them. It is not the special love itself which originates at the moment of conversion, but only the subjective realization and enjoyment of it on the part of the sinner. The fourth Gospel, in which so many at present profess to find an indiscriminate universalism of the redemptive love of God, is the most emphatic on this point of all the New Testament writings, Paul alone excepted. Not merely is sovereign election taught here in unequivocal terms: it is also brought into organic connection with the love of God. Those who are appointed unto life are children and sheep of the fold antecedently to their acceptance of the gospel. They belong to the Father in a special sense, and in virtue of this ownership are given by Him to the Son. Because this special relation between the Father and them exists, the Son, who is in His whole appearance and activity the exact reproduction of the Father, chooses them out of the world, and makes them the objects of that High-priestly intercession from which the world is on principle excluded. Believers know that they love God, because He loved them first. And, what is strongest of all, in a context where the Savior dwells upon the Father’s love, which was His before the foundation of the world, He identifies the disciples with Himself even in this unique possession: “In order that the world may know that thou hast sent me, and hast loved them, as thou hast loved me” (17:23).
Geehardus Vos, “The Scriptural Doctrine of the Love of God,” The Presbyterian and Reformed Review 13 (1902) : 24-26.