25 August, 2016

Rev. Herman Hoeksema on Matthew 5:44-45

[Source: God’s Goodness Always Particular—Chapter 13: "The Triple Cord"]

[According] to the current teaching of the Bible, we may not consider earthly things per se—rain and sunshine and riches and prosperity—as proofs of God’s love and grace with respect to the reprobate ungodly. On the contrary, they are slippery places on which God causes them to fall into eternal destruction [Psalm 73:18]. The ungodly flourish in order to be destroyed forever [Psalm 92:7. When we remember this, we are inclined to look at Matthew 5:44 more closely before we accept [with defenders of common grace] that it teaches that rain and sunshine are manifestations of God’s gracious disposition to all the ungodly. When we study the text more closely and in its context, our objection to [the common grace] interpretation becomes more serious.

In Matthew 5:44 we read, “Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you and persecute you.” We are exhorted to do these things to our enemies because we must follow the example of our heavenly Father: “that ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust” (v. 45). If we take the text in its context, it means that we must love our enemies because and even as God loves his enemies. We must really love them, seek their real good, bless them, pray for them, and seek their salvation, even as God really loves them, seeks their good, and saves them to the very end. . . .

Besides, we must not forget that sunshine and rain are not always blessings. Sometimes the sun causes a scorching heat, and crops dry up and wither. When rain is too abundant, everything rots in the field. Also then God causes his sun to shine and the rain to fall on the just and on the unjust alike, and to both he also sends hail and fire, earthquakes and destruction, and pestilence and death.

At the most we can say that Mathew 5:44–45 refers to God’s providential care in sending rain and causing his sun to shine on the just and the unjust as examples for the children of God to follow. When in this dispensation God sends good gifts and means to men, he does not limit them to the righteous, but he sends them promiscuously to the godly and to the ungodly, to the just and to the unjust alike. He does not leave himself without witness. This is revealed in its most general form in rain and sunshine. With the rain and sunshine comes the calling and obligation to glorify the living God and to give thanks to him who does all these things. When this is done by the righteous man, he receives favour and blessing from God. When the ungodly man fails to give God the glory, he receives no blessing, nor is he the object of God’s favour, even though he receives rain and sunshine. The wrath of God abides on him.

The child of God, who must be perfect even as his Father in heaven is perfect, must follow his example in this. He received the love of God and experienced and tasted that love of God as a love to his enemies. Because he also was God’s enemy even as others, he must manifest this love to his enemies. He must not greet only those who greet him and bless those who bless him, but he must do good to all, even to his enemies.

He cannot reveal this love of God by loving the enemies of God and having fellowship with them, but he must do good to them by telling them the truth, by blessing them and praying for them, and by showing them the way of life. He must not hate those who hate him, and never must he avenge himself by doing evil to his enemies, for then he would not manifest the love of God, but the sinful love of the ungodly. He must be a child of his Father in heaven and be perfect.

The most general example of this he can see in God’s causing his sun to rise and the rain to descend on the just and the unjust in common. And did he not send Christ to die in due time for the ungodly?

Of a gracious disposition to every man, particularly to the reprobate ungodly, there is no mention at all in Matthew 5:44–45. . . . The passages [Matt. 5:44-45 and Luke 6:35] certainly exhort us truly to love our enemies. This does not mean that in a general sense we must be nice to them in regard to temporal things, but that we must love them to the end, bless them, and pray for them. If in this we must be children of our Father in heaven and reflect his love, which, it must be admitted, is always infinitely greater and more perfect than ours, it follows that he also loves his enemies to the end, answers our prayers when we pray for them, blesses them, and saves them. How could [one] possibly apply this to all men, specifically to the reprobate ungodly?

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