05 June, 2019

Ephesians 2:3—“and were by nature the children of wrath, even as others”

And you hath he quickened, who were dead in trespasses and sins; wherein in time past ye walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience: among whom also we all had our conversation in times past in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind; and were by nature the children of wrath, even as others. But God, who is rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he loved us, even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ, (by grace ye are saved) (Eph. 2:1-5).

Appeal is made to this text with an attempt to refute the notion that God cannot both hate and love (or love and hate) the same person at the same time—something, which, if true, demolishes the theory of common grace altogether, since common grace postulates that God both hates and loves the reprobate wicked—He hates them with regard to their sins, while, on the other hand, He loves them, and demonstrates His love toward them in the giving of earthly bounties, and more—all of which are said to be “tokens of His attitude of grace and lovingkindness toward them.” (e.g. John Murray teaches this).

“See?,” it is asked, “You hold that hatred and love are incompatible, and that God cannot both love and hate the same person at the same time. Well here is a verse that says God hated His elect before they were converted, and yet, at the same time, He loved them with His everlasting love. Surely, therefore, there is no problem with saying that God can both hate the reprobate from all eternity, but at the same time love them (during their lifetime) in showering good gifts upon them, restraining their sin, preserving their existence, giving them plenty of opportunities to be saved, even offering Jesus Christ to them in the gospel, and desiring their salvation!”

The assumption here, of course, is that “wrath” is the same as “hatred.”

Appeal is also made to this passage in order to attack the orthodox doctrine of God’s absolute Immutability (unchangeableness). They argue that God cannot be absolutely immutable, since, according to Scripture, it appears that He is wrathful towards an individual one moment (prior to the conversion), but no longer wrathful towards them the next (after conversion). Therefore (they argue), God can love the reprobate in time, but then change to an attitude of only wrath and hatred afterwards, when they die.

Others try to disprove the notion that God cannot have unfulfilled purposes or desires, by appealing to this text and saying “God’s wrath is REAL (not imaginary, figurative, or an illusion). It is REAL. His wrath is His purpose to destroy someone for their sins forever. We were under that same REAL and eternal wrath, prior to our conversion. We would have ended up in hell, had that purpose been fulfilled or carried out. Surely, therefore, there is no problem with saying God can have a REAL desire, purpose, intention to save the reprobate, though that purpose or desire be unfulfilled—and that we simply hold these things in tension … as a paradox … as a mystery. Do you not accept that there are mysteries in the Bible?” (Cornelius Van Til and R. B. Kuiper held this position, as well as certain ministers today in Westminster Theological Seminary.)


Prof. Herman C. Hanko

[Source: Another Look at Common Grace (2019 edition), pp. 61-62]

Sometimes there is some confusion [with regard to God’s hatred]. The confusion lies in the failure to distinguish properly between wrath and hatred. God is indeed filled with wrath against the wicked; but He is also angry with His people. David complains: “O Lord, rebuke me not in thy wrath: neither chasten me in thy hot displeasure” (Ps. 38:1). Yet, in His wrath towards His people, God still loves them. This is evident from the following considerations. 1) Wrath is not incompatible with love. A father may be very angry with his son who walks in sin and may, as a result of that anger, chasten his son. But this anger and chastisement, if it is godly, is a manifestation of love. In fact, the opposite is also true. If an earthly father did not chasten his son for wrongdoing, but allowed his son to continue in a way of sin, this would not be a manifestation of love at all, but of hatred. His hatred would be evident in his utter unconcern for the spiritual welfare of his son. It is love which makes him angry. 2) The text itself speaks exactly of such chastisement. As is so often true in the Psalms, Psalm 38:1 is also an incident of Hebrew parallelism. The last clause of the text is an explanation of the first. God’s wrath is His hot displeasure, and God’s rebuke is His chastisement. When His people walk in sin, God does not, in love, allow them to continue in their sins, but He turns them again to Himself through the rod of His chastisement. Chastisement hurts; it hurts very much; it hurts so much that David fears it, as is evident in his anguished plea. But this does not alter the fact that chastisement is visited upon sons, for “whom the Lord loveth be chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth” (Heb. 12:6).
But hatred is different from wrath. Hatred includes wrathof course, God’s wrath is upon the wicked reprobate, but the wrath of God upon the wicked is hatred, not love. Only sons are chastened in love. “If ye endure chastening, God dealeth with you as with sons; for what son is he whom the father chasteneth not?” (Heb. 12:7).



Rev. Angus Stewart

[Source: Covenant Reformed News, vol. 17, no. 2 (June 2018)]

The question addressed in the last Covenant Reformed News brought up Ephesians 2:3, which describes believers prior to their conversion: “Among whom [i.e., the ungodly] also we all had our conversation in times past in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind; and were by nature the children of wrath, even as others.”

Some wrongly understand “wrath” as the equivalent of hatred. Thus they teach that God hates the elect before He regenerates them. Since Scripture clearly declares that Jehovah loves His chosen ones before their spiritual birth (4-5), before their physical birth (Rom. 9:10-13), before the cross (I John 4:9-10) and even before the foundation of the world (Jer. 31:3), their doctrine is that God both loves and hates those chosen in Christ prior to their conversion.

If the Most High is able both to love and hate His elect before their effectual call, then, they claim, He can both love and hate the reprobate, those from whom He sovereignly wills to hide spiritually the gospel so that they do not believe and are not saved (Matt. 11:25-27). The Westminster Confession summarizes the Bible’s teaching on reprobation:

The rest of mankind, God was pleased, according to the unsearchable counsel of his own will, whereby he extendeth or withholdeth mercy as he pleaseth, for the glory of his sovereign power over his creatures, to pass by, and to ordain them to dishonour and wrath for their sin, to the praise of his glorious justice (WCF 3:7).

The intent of their appeal to Ephesians 2:3 is to support the well-meant offer: an earnest (though completely useless) divine desire or wish to save all men head for head. This position needs, first, a general or universal love or grace of God which passionately wills to save the reprobate, that is, to elect, redeem, regenerate, effectually call, give faith and repentance to, justify, illuminate, indwell, sanctify, seal, preserve, comfort and glorify those whom He has eternally appointed “to dishonour and wrath for their sin, to the praise of his glorious justice.” What a glaring contradiction!

Second, this view requires an explanation or justification of a divine attitude—or, rather, attitudes!—of hatred and love towards the reprobate. Hence the appeal to Ephesians 2:3. If God can both love and hate the elect (prior to their regeneration), then He can both hate and love the reprobate (in time)!

The first insuperable problem with this scheme is that Holy Scripture nowhere teaches that Jehovah loves the reprobate. Instead, it repeatedly states that He eternally and justly hates them for their sins (e.g., Ps. 5:5-6; 11:5-6; Prov. 16:4-5). Whereas the dogma of the well-meant offer is “Jacob have I loved and hated, but Esau have I hated and loved,” what the Bible actually says is this: “As it is written, Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated” (Rom. 9:13; Mal. 1:2-3).

Second, if the Most High really hates all the objects of His wrath, then He even hates the Lord Jesus! Scripture reveals that Christ is our propitiation (Rom. 3:25; I John 2:2; 4:10), that is, the One who, under the terrible burden of God’s wrath, bore the punishment due to the elect for all their sins (Heidelberg Catechism, A. 17).

Third, and similarly, if Jehovah hates all the objects of His wrath, then He also hates believers! Thus holy David speaks of his experience of Jehovah’s “wrath” and “hot displeasure” (Ps. 38:1), and “anger” and “hot displeasure” (6:1). Every saint knows this divine chastening (v. 1), “For whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth” (Heb. 12:6; cf. 7-8).

What a wretched, comfortless message for the child of God that necessarily follows from the erroneous interpretation of Ephesians 2:3 by those who twist it in support of their well-meant offer: not only did Jehovah hate each and every saint before their regeneration, but He also hates us now, after our conversion! What a terrifying thought for the distressed Christian: “God loves and hates me, and He also loves and hates those who will perish everlastingly!”

So what, positively, does the phrase in Ephesians 2:3 mean? By itself, “the children of wrath” could refer to people who indulge in sinful anger. The other option is that the text refers to God’s wrath. I am not aware of anyone who holds the first position.

While the elect were unregenerate, we were under “the wrath of God,” for we walked in “ungodliness and unrighteousness” (Rom. 1:18). In this, we were just like the reprobate, as Ephesians 2:3 says, “even as others.” Moreover, we “were by nature the children of wrath” (v. 3). That is, we did not become such by, for example, picking up vicious habits but we were born totally depraved. We were the children of wrath innately and inherently, as those conceived and born in sin (Ps. 51:5).

The elect before their new birth were under God’s wrath and, especially at certain times, we deeply felt it! We experienced guilt, shame, the fear of death and the apprehension of hell awaiting us, as those who were not right with God and under His wrath.

Jehovah never has hated and never will hate His elect in Jesus Christ; we are the objects of His love alone—eternally and unchangeably (Eph. 1:4; 2:4). It would have been unjust for God to lavish the experience of this love upon us while we walked in unbelief. Instead, He manifested His righteous wrath upon us in our sins. Through faith in Christ, we are now reconciled to God and know His love towards us. If we walk impenitently in iniquity, our loving God shows us His anger and chastises us, in order to bring us back into the enjoyment of His fatherly embrace. 



British Reformed Journal

[Source: British Reformed Journal, no. 10 (April-June 1995), pp. 4-8]

If, as these theologians assert, God’s wrath over the pre-conversion elect is a sincere threat of ultimate damnation, then two things follow. First, there is then an evident will or purpose in God, i.e., to damn, which, in the case of the elect, is never fulfilled, because of course, God saves His elect from that damnation. Secondly, this indicates that there exists in God two parallel and incompatible purposes with respect to the elect, one, an eternal purpose unto the just damnation of the elect for their sins, and the other an equally eternal purpose to redeem them. This, it is then alleged, establishes that in God two mutually and simultaneously incompatible decrees and attitudes can co-exist, and that unfulfilled purpose or intent is also to be found within the Divine person. [It is asserted that if] this is so with respect to the elect, then it is perfectly compatible with there being a similar phenomenon with regard to the reprobate, or non-elect, that is, that God can and does hold with regard to them two mutually simultaneous and incompatible purposes—the decree to leave them in their sins unto damnation, and the sincere desire to save them from this consequence, this latter purpose being, in the case of the non-elect, a sincere desire or purpose which remains unfulfilled, or frustrated, even as the sincere purpose to damn the pre-conversion elect was also unfulfilled.

All this, it is claimed, indicates a salient proof of their notion of the “free offer” of the gospel as being a sincere expression of God’s desire to save the non-elect. Leaving aside the deleterious consequences of this kind of reasoning on the Biblical doctrine of God in His Unity, Simplicity, and Omnipotence, it is eye-opening to make a close inspection of the logic contained in this line of argument. At the outset, it is necessary to point out that it is based on an entirely false and unbiblical view of the matters in hand. A false scenario has been drawn by proponents of this view, and their deductions follow, ipso facto and inexorably. But following as they do from a false scenario, ipso facto and inexorably their deductions are wrong. One ought to consider here, the following criticism of their arguments, given by Hugh Williams, thus:

They leave out of their picture the most important feature of Biblical revelation and Christian Theology, that is, the work of our Lord Jesus Christ in His Three-fold Office whereby He effectuates the Redemption of God’s elect through His Atonement. It has to be said that, on occasion, some Reformed theologians in discussing the decretive purposes of God, lose connection with the work of our Saviour, and tend to hold the doctrines of the decrees and of God’s nature and purpose in abstract from Christ. The result can be such as exemplified in the false scenario put forth here. The fact is, that biblically speaking, God’s wrath against the pre-conversion elect is absolutely and indubitably as sincere and as damning as the wrath He holds over the non-elect. There is NO difference whatsoever. To the elect as well as to the non-elect comes the Scriptural warning “… flee from the wrath to come …” (Matt. 3:7), and St. Paul can write to the Thessalonians about “... even Jesus, which delivered us from the wrath to come” (I Thess. 1:10). But it is utterly false, and contrary to Scripture, to assert that this just, sincere, and damning wrath of God is unfulfilled and/or frustrated with regard to the elect, and that concerning them an important aspect of God’s purposes is left unfulfilled. Scripture indubitably teaches that God’s wrath over the elect HAS BEEN FULFILLED, that His righteous anger over them has been satisfied, and not in any way frustrated. His wrath on the elect was poured out on Christ, who in His estate of humiliation fully bore and suffered the just anger and retribution due to the elect for their sins. And thus the Scriptures teach:

Who His own self bare our sins in His own body on the tree, that we, being dead to sins, should live unto righteousness: by whose stripes we are healed. (I Pet. 2:24)

But God commendeth His love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. (Rom. 5:8)

For Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh, but quickened by the Spirit. (Rom. 4:25)

One could multiply such Scriptures almost endlessly, e.g., I Thess. 5:9 and 10; Col. 1:14–22; Matt. 26:28; Titus 2:14; I Cor. 15:3; Heb. 9:12–27: Christ’s humiliation consisted in His being born, and that in a low condition, made under the law, undergoing the miseries of this life, THE WRATH OF GOD, and the cursed death of the cross, in being buried, and in continuing under the power of death for a time.

Thus it is indubitably manifest that God’s purpose of wrath over the pre-conversion elect, far from being unfulfilled, has been fulfilled, and that in a manner that could not be more excellent. At the same time as He procured this satisfaction for His justice and wrath, God’s eternal decree to save the elect is effectuated, whereby they undergo an ontological transition out from the estate of sin and misery and into an estate of salvation, being metamorphosed into new creatures in Christ in the process, and this by the sovereign application of the Holy Spirit’s energies. Thus St. Paul is inspired to speak of how “the righteousness of God without the law is…” and how God, through the work of Christ declares “…at this time His righteousness: that HE MIGHT BE JUST, AND THE JUSTIFIER OF HIM WHICH BELIEVETH ON JESUS.” (Rom. 3: vv. 20 through 26)

Hence there is also, no question of God holding, with regard to the elect, two mutually simultaneous contradictory attitudes or purposes. His purpose to damn is appropriate to the pre-conversion elect, but His purpose to elect unto life is appropriate to Christ, and all those IN CHRIST, for the Scriptures do not say “according as He hath chosen us before the foundation of the world,” but rather, “according as He hath chosen us IN HIM before the foundation of the world…” (Eph. 1:4). Outside of Christ there is no election, only damnation.

The corollary of this is that the assertion that there exists in God a temporally expressed desire to save the non-elect immediately collapses, as it would require the positing of an unfulfilled purpose or desire in the Divine personality, now no longer backed by a similar parallel phenomenon registered vis a vis the elect. With it collapses the notion of God holding two mutually simultaneous contradictory purposes with regard to the non-elect, i.e., the decree to damn, and the purpose or desire to save. For this too, is now seen to have no parallel backing from God’s dealings with His elect. And with this too, the whole charade of “common grace” disintegrates, collapsing like the pack of cards in “Alice in Wonderland,” depending, as it does, like the “Free Offer” fantasy, on the blasphemous notion of there being “double-track” psychology in a God who suffers perpetually the pangs of frustration from unfulfilled but “sincere” purposes and desires.

One might desire to do X, and simultaneously to desire to do NOT X. But one cannot SINCERELY desire to do X, and simultaneously SINCERELY desire to do NOT X. And to ascribe such logical acrobatics to the Almighty is sheer blasphemy, and effectively reduces Him to the level of being a crook, a downright fraud.8

One is left therefore, with the conclusion that only those who [hold] that God does not will the salvation of the reprobate at all, are in keeping with the teaching of the Westminster Standards.


8. Personal correspondence from editor of British Reformed Journal.



More to come! (DV)

Question Box:

Q. 1. “If God hates or loves, it is an eternal hatred or love for sin or good work in Christ. He continually, in Adam, hates our rebellion. Yet, He eternally loves us in Jesus Christ. That is why we are not consumed as Jacob’s sons. Hyper-Calvinism teaches that the elect are not hated in Adam, but only loved in Christ …”

[The questioner] speaks of God “in Adam, hat[ing] our rebellion,” and then of God hating the sins of the elect. But what does that prove? That, therefore, God hates the elect themselves? Surely it is possible to hate one’s sins and foolish rebellion without hating the person. Parents do it with their children all the time, especially if a child in cruelty has hurt someone else—hating the deed, not the child. So with God. Yes, even His elect children yet living in unbelief, whom God “foreknows” in love, such as Saul of Tarsus, hating his pride and cruelty, but not Saul himself, whom in everlasting love God intended to adopt and save. It was exactly because God so loved Saul (seeing him in Christ) that He would separate him from the sins that He so hated. God would not have this young fool destroyed. He was a vessel of mercy, loved in Christ. (Kenneth Kool, “Reflections on the Free Offer and the Charge of Hyper-Calvinism,” pp. 23-24)


Q. 2. “When Paul says, in Ephesians 2:3, that we were ‘children of wrath like the others,’ doesn’t that mean that God ‘hated’ us prior to our conversion?”

No, it doesn’t.
The simple fact is that “wrath” and “hatred” are two different concepts, and it is possible to be filled with wrath towards someone, and to deal with one in just wrath, without hating that person at all. Wrath towards one whom one yet loves. A judge in a small community may have to sentence his own daughter to a lengthy prison term because she drove while drunk and killed a family coming the other way. That is just wrath. And then that judge visits that daughter in prison with tears week after week. An elder votes to excommunicate his own son, who, as a young man, is living in fornication and wasting his living. Anger, wrath, and what? Hatred? No, rather praying to God to have mercy, and to make the son a prodigal who comes home in time.
Shall we mention David, who had Uriah murdered? There came upon David a divine wrath for all to see. God was grieved, as any father would be; but did God hate him? If God hates you, He never brings you back, no, not from the fall of Adam itself. All of us, Cains and Abels, in Adam in common were children of wrath, forfeiting life and under the sentence of death. The difference is that some are vessels of wrath fitted to destruction (Rom. 9:22), hated by God; but the others, though under God’s just wrath, are vessels of mercy, to be fitted to honor. (Kenneth Kool, “Reflections on the Free Offer and the Charge of Hyper-Calvinism,” p. 24)


Q. 3. “Is wrath a form of love?”

That is not the question. The question is, is wrath always an expression of hate? … And to that the answer is “No,” as is plain even from human life. There are times when, indeed, it proceeds from hatred, when one’s intention is to see another destroyed (and perhaps forever—read Malachi 1:1-4), but it can also be visited on one whom one loves, justice demanding it and one’s own righteous character, though the object of the wrath is one whom you love, is precious to you, but is to be cut off from that love’s expression, until the wrong doing is properly addressed and dealt with.
Consider Christ crucified, the object of God’s wrath for those three dreadful hours, cut off from every expression of love. Did God then hate His Son? If [wrath is always an expression hate], He must still hate His Son in some sense even now. Be careful what you say here, lest you speak with a rashness completely out of place. (Kenneth Kool, “Reflections on the Free Offer and the Charge of Hyper-Calvinism,” pp. 24-25)


Q. 4. “But God’s wrath is real wrath intended for damnation. If it were not for Christ we would not escape this …”

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