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A Love/Hate Relationship

Tom Ascol and John Calvin on sin, and God’s simultaneous love and hatred toward sinners:

img   God’s response toward all sinners is anger and opposition. His wrath is provoked and stored up against all sin.
   The distinction that Roman Catholicism makes between venial and mortal sins is baseless. While Protestants rightly reject that kind of distinction theologically, it often subtly informs much of their thinking about sin and judgment. Many are under the false impression that God’s wrath in general, or hell in particular, is reserved for those guilty of “major sins,” such as Adolf Hitler or Saddam Hussein. Lesser sinners are tempted to hope that their case is significantly different. This is why even the title of Jonathan Edwards’ famous sermon, “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God,” so often evokes scorn. It is assumed that while it might be conceivable that some sinners would be in that horrible position, surely it is not true of all.
   To this Calvin answers, “Every sin is a deadly sin!” [Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, 2.8.59.] In saying this, he was merely echoing the prophet Ezekiel, who teaches, “the soul who sins shall die” (18:4, 20), and the apostle Paul, who writes in Romans 6:23, “The wages of sin is death.” Calvin exhorts Christians to acknowledge this fundamental, vital point of biblical teaching: “Let the children of God hold that all sin is mortal. For it is rebellion against the will of God, which of necessity provokes God’s wrath, and it is a violation of the law, upon which God’s judgment is pronounced without exception.” [ibid.]
   This is true even for those whom God chose before the foundation of the world to receive salvation (Eph. 1:4). Though they are the objects of eternal, divine love, they are nevertheless liable to God’s anger because of their sin. Paul reminds the Ephesians of this fact when he writes that Christians were “by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind” (2:3). This means that, before their conversion, the elect are both deeply loved by God and at enmity with Him. Calvin explains the matter quite starkly by quoting Augustine after invoking Romans 5:8:
imgTherefore, [God] loved us even when we practiced enmity toward him and committed wickedness. Thus in a marvelous and divine way he loved us even when he hated us. For he hated us for what we were that he had not made; yet because our wickedness had not entirely consumed his handiwork, he knew how, at the same time, to hate in each one of us what we had made, and to love what he had made. [Ibid., 2.14.4.]

—Thomas K. Ascol, John Calvin: A Heart for Devotion, Doctrine, and Doxology, ed. Burk Parsons (Reformation Trust, 2008), 160–161.

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Posted  in: Church History · John Calvin · John Calvin: A Heart for Devotion, Doctrine, and Doxology · Papism · Tom Ascol
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