World of Gods elect


Benjamin Warfield

“For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life!” [John 3:16]

The distribution of the notion “world” in our text into “each and every man” in the world, does less than justice to the infinitude of the love of God which it is plainly the object of the text to exalt in our thought. Reacting from the ineptitudes of this interpretation, and determined at all costs to take the conception of the love of God at the height of its idea, men of deeper insight have therefore suggested that it is not the world at large that is in question in the text, but God’s people, the chosen of God in the world.

Surely, it is God’s seeking, nay, God’s finding love that is celebrated here, they argue—the love which goes out to its object with a vigor which no obstacle can withstand, and, despite every difficulty, brings it safely into the shelter of its arms. The “world” that God so loved that he gave His Son for it—surely that is not the “world” that He loved so little as to leave it to take or leave the Son so given, as its own wayward heart might dictate; but the “world” that He loved enough, after giving His Son for it, powerfully to move upon with His quickening Spirit and graciously to lead into the offered salvation.

This is the “world” of believers, in a word, as they are called in the following clause, or, as they are called elsewhere in Scripture, the “world” of God’s elect. It was these whom God loved before the foundation of the world with a love beyond all expression great and strong, constant and prevailing, a love which was not and could not be defeated, just because it was love, the very characteristic of which, Paul tells us, is that it suffereth long, is not provoked, taketh no account of evil, beareth all things, endureth all things, yea, never faileth: and therefore was not and could not be satisfied until it had brought its objects home.

Beyond all question, the love which is celebrated is the saving love of God; and the “world” which is declared to be the object of this love is a “world” that is not merely given an opportunity of salvation, but actually saved. As none but believers—or, if you choose to look at them sub specie aeternitatis, none but the elect—attain salvation, so it seems but an identical proposition to say that it is just the world of believers, or the world of the elect, that is embraced in the love of God here celebrated. When the text declares, therefore, that God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son for it, is not what is meant, and what must be meant, just the elect scattered throughout the world.


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