25 August, 2016

Herman Hoeksema (1886-1965) on Matthew 5:44-45


[Source: The Protestant Reformed Churches in America (1947), pp. 325-327]

20.  But does not Matt. 5:44, 45 prove the point synod made in its first declaration?

If the synod’s interpretation of this text were the correct one, it would prove far too much and, besides, it would lead to absurdity. It is deplorable that synod merely quoted without even an attempt at explanation; otherwise synod would have soon realized how untenable the position is, that in these verses we have a proof that God is gracious to all men. The interpretation which, evidently, synod would offer, runs as follows:

a.  We must love our enemies.
b.  If we do, we will be children of God and reflect His love, for He loves all His enemies, as well as the good, in this present life.
c.  This love to all men is manifested in the rain and sunshine on all without distinction.

Of this interpretation we assert that, first, it proves too much and, secondly, it leads to absurdity and is untenable. It proves too much, for, all the Scriptures witness that God does not love, but hates His enemies and purposes to destroy them, except them He chose in Christ Jesus and whom He loves not as His enemies, but as His redeemed people, justified and sanctified in Christ. God does, indeed, love His enemies, but not as such, but as His children in Christ. And it leads to absurdity, for if rain and sunshine are a manifestation of God’s love to all men, the just and the unjust, what are floods and droughts, pestilences and earthquakes and all destructive forces and evils sent to all through nature, but manifestations of His hatred for all, the just and the unjust? But it is absurd to say that God hates the just, for He loves them. It is also absurd to say that God changes, now loving the just and the unjust and manifesting this love in rain and sunshine, now hating them and revealing His hatred in upheavals and destruction. Hence, the interpretation that leads to this evident absurdity is itself absurd.
Besides, it must not be overlooked, that the text does not at all state, that God is gracious to the just and to the unjust, but that He rains and causes His sun to shine on all.

21.  How, then, must the text be interpreted?

We must take our starting point from verse 44. The Lord admonishes His people that they shall love their enemies. Now, love is not a sentimental feeling or emotion or affection. It is, according to Scripture, the bond of perfectness [Col. 3:14]. It is, therefore, the bond between two parties or persons that are ethically perfect, that seek each other and find delight in each other because of their ethical perfection, and that, in the sphere of ethical perfection seek each other’s good. It is in this true sense that God is love.

However, it stands to reason that in the case of loving our enemies that despitefully use us, curse us and persecute us, love must needs be onesided. There cannot be a bond of fellowship between the wicked and the perfect in Christ. To love our enemy, therefore, is not to flatter him and to speak sweetly to him; but rather to rebuke him, to demand that he leave his wicked way and thus to bless him and to pray for him. It is to bestow good things upon him with the demand of true love that he leave his wicked way, walk in the light and thus have fellowship with us. If he heed our love, which will be the case if he be of God’s elect and receive grace, he will turn from darkness into light and our love assumes the nature of a bond of perfectness. If he despise our love, our very act of love will be to his greater damnation. But the cursing and persecution of the wicked may never tempt the child of God to live and act from the principle of hatred, to reward evil for evil, and eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.

As a single illustration from actual life and experience, the Lord points to the fact, that so God rains and causes His sun to shine upon the just and the unjust, thus bestowing good things upon them all, demanding that they shall employ them as means to walk in righteousness and light. For with God love is delight in perfection in the highest sense of the word. If now the wicked receive grace with rain and sunshine, they will walk in the light and have fellowship with God. If they do not receive grace they will employ the rain and the sunshine in the service of sin and receive the greater damnation.
But rain and sunshine is never grace and Matt. 5:44, 45 does not prove the contention of the first point.



[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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