What Happens When You Emphasize God’s Love in the Wrong Way?

Geerhardus Vos, writing in 1902:

Whatever may be charged against the intellectualism of the period when orthodoxy reigned supreme, it can claim credit at least for having been broad minded and well balanced in its appreciation of the infinite complexity and richness of the life of God. The music of that theology may not always please modern ears, because it seems lacking in sweetness; but it ranged over a wider scale and made better harmonies than the popular strains of today.

On the other hand, it is plain that where the religious interest is exclusively concentrated upon the will and entirely exhausts itself in attempts at solving the concrete, practical problems of life, no strong incentive will exist for reflecting upon any other aspect of the nature of God than His love, because all that is required of God is that He shall serve as the norm and warrant for Christian philanthropic effort.

It is a well-known fact that all heresy begins with a partial truth. So it is in the present case.

No one will deny that in the Scriptural disclosure of truth the divine love is set forth as a most fundamental principle, nor that the embodiment of this principle in our human will and action forms a prime ingredient of that subjective religion which the Word of God requires of us.

But it is quite possible to overemphasize this one side of truth and duty as to bring into neglect other exceedingly important principles and demands of Christianity. The result will be that, while no positive error is taught, yet the equilibrium both in consciousness and life is disturbed and a condition created in which the power of resistance to the inroads of spiritual disease is greatly reduced. There can be little doubt that in this manner the one-sidedness and exclusiveness with which the love of God has been preached to the present generation is largely responsible for that universal weakening of the sense of sin, and the consequent decline of interest in the doctrines of atonement and justification, which even in orthodox and evangelical circles we all see and deplore.

But this by no means reveals the full extent of the danger to which the tendency we are speaking of has exposed us. It is impossible for any practical displacement of the balance of truth to continue for a long time without endeavoring to perpetuate and justify itself by means of a corresponding reconstruction of the entire doctrinal system. Thus what may have been at first no more than a matter of relative emphasis inevitably tends to become a question of positive theoretical error, such as makes the return to normal conditions in practical religious life more difficult than before.

From Vos’s essay, “The Scriptural Doctrine of the Love of God,” The Presbyterian and Reformed Review 13 (1902): 1-37.

(HT: Justin Taylor)

Peter serves as a pastor-teacher, at home and abroad, resourcing gospel-centred communities.

2 thoughts on “What Happens When You Emphasize God’s Love in the Wrong Way?

  1. Wow what a great quote-

    The one-sidedness and exclusiveness with which the love of God has been preached to the present generation is largely responsible for that universal weakening of the sense of sin.

    How relevant this is to our generation 109 years after it was written.

  2. Shall comments such as this not serve as warnings to us each time we prepare to break the bread of life and stand as ambassadors for Christ?

    “But it is quite possible to overemphasize this one side of truth and duty as to bring into neglect other exceedingly important principles and demands of Christianity.”

    It is sobering to think that overemphais of the deity of Christ our Lord to the neglect of his humanity borders on the heretical, but it does when his humanity is neglected. Those who do flirt with Docetism.

    Shall we neglect the deity of our Lord in our preaching? May it never be! Those who do border on Arianism.

    The same tension and balance is true for many (most?) of the great doctrines: the sovereinty of God and the responsibility of man, the love of God and the wrath of God, et al.

    Thank you for the quote from Vos to remind us that our sovereign God is multifaceted and cannot be comprehended by our finite minds!

    May the Holy Spirit of God guide us into all truth and illuminate us.

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