25 August, 2016

Henry Danhof (1879-1952) on Matthew 5:44-45

[Source: The Standard Bearer, quoted in chapter 13 of God’s Goodness Always Particular, by Herman Hoeksema]

Both texts [Matt. 5:44-45; Luke 6:35] have the same tendency and purpose. They would have the believers be followers of God as dear children. Their love also they must bring into practice according to the example of God. This thought is expressed in both passages in almost the same words. We have here a part of the sermon on the mount, in which Christ teaches his disciples how they must conduct themselves according to the precepts of his kingdom, written by the Spirit in their hearts. Christ’s followers must not walk and act as the ungodly, but must be like their Father who is in heaven. The example he gives they must follow. Such is the thought. This is admitted by all and is evident from the words of Jesus, “I say unto you, 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; 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” (Matt. 5:44-45). “Love ye your enemies, and do good, and lend, hoping for nothing again; and your reward shall be great, and ye shall be the children of the Highest: for he is kind unto the unthankful and to the evil” (Luke 6:35).

All the other elements in these passages are subordinate to this main thought, and we may pass them by for the present to attend to the main questions in these declarations of Jesus. What does God do according to these words? In what must we imitate him? In answering these questions we must be careful lest we turn the order of the two elements around. The synod [of 1924] proceeded from the thought that God loves all his enemies, also the reprobate, because Christ would have his disciples love their enemies. In this way synod arrived at the conclusion that God shows a certain grace, or favour, to the reprobate.

That this method of reasoning is erroneous is evident. We would have the right to draw such a conclusion if the texts mentioned a twofold love of God. Such a conclusion would be permissible if these passages spoke of the love of God for his elect from eternity, according to which he draws them in time with cords of loving-kindness; and of another love of God, in distinction from and in contrast to the love mentioned above, that he shows to his creatures in general, specifically to the reprobate. But the text speaks of only one love of God.

According to these passages, Christ notices among men two different kinds of love. Ungodly and sinners do love, and the disciples of Jesus must also love. Now it is the will of Christ that there is an essential difference between the love of the ungodly and the love of his disciples. Sinners love sinners, those who are like them, with the purpose of receiving from them. Therefore, their love in its deepest root is only selfishness. It is not real love. According to the standard of this love, which is no love, the love of the disciples may not manifest itself.

The children of the kingdom must love as God loves, and God’s love is more than the love of sinners. They can only love those who love them; their enemies they are unable to love. But God is able to love his enemies. If this were not the case, we would all be lost, for by nature we are all enemies of God. God is able to love those who do not love him. From this viewpoint is implied the possibility of our salvation. God loved us while we were yet his enemies. Therefore, we can now also love. Our love harmonizes with God’s love. Through the love of God we are able to love our enemies. In this we excel the unregenerate.

That this is the correct conception of the texts is manifest from the contexts of both Matthew and Luke. Nowhere do these passages speak of a twofold love of God, the love of God to the elect and another love to the reprobate. Throughout, the love of Jesus’ disciples is contrasted with the conception of “those of old time” and with the love of sinners. Their righteousness must be greater than that of the scribes, and only then are they blessed when men hate them, separate them, revile them, and reject their names as evil for the sake of the Son of man. The love of sinners, therefore, must be manifested as hate with respect to Jesus’ disciples.

Therefore, Jesus does not hesitate one moment to condemn the love of sinners. This would have been absurd if it had been his intention to teach that the Father also loves his reprobate enemies, and that sinners do really love, and that the disciples must also love sinners who are enemies of God. In that case Jesus’ act would have directly contradicted his instruction to his disciples and the example of God.

The thought here is that his disciples must not love as sinners love, for they do not truly love, but they must love as the Father loves. They must be perfect, even as their Father in heaven is perfect.

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