What Love Is This?

John MacArthur wrote, 

“How we address the misconception of the present age is crucial. We must not respond to an overemphasis on divine love by denying that God is love. Our generation’s imbalanced view of God cannot be corrected by an equal imbalance in the opposite direction, a very real danger in some circles. I’m deeply concerned about a growing trend I’ve noticed — particularly among people committed to the biblical truth of God’s sovereignty and divine election. Some of them flatly deny that God in any sense loves those whom He has not chosen for salvation.

I am troubled by the tendency of some — often young people newly infatuated with Reformed doctrine — who insist that God cannot possibly love those who never repent and believe. I encounter that view, it seems, with increasing frequency.

The argument inevitably goes like this: Psalm 7:11 tells us “God is angry with the wicked every day.” It seems reasonable to assume that if God loved everyone, He would have chosen everyone unto salvation. Therefore, God does not love the non-elect. Those who hold this view often go to great lengths to argue that John 3:16 cannot really mean God loves the whole world. …

The fact that some sinners are not elected to salvation is no proof that God’s attitude toward them is utterly devoid of sincere love. We know from Scripture that God is compassionate, kind, generous, and good even to the most stubborn sinners. Who can deny that those mercies flow out of God’s boundless love? It is evident that they are showered even on unrepentant sinners.”

Many Calvinistic brethren, like MacArthur in the quote above, when discussing the sincerity of God’s love for all people, seems to distance themselves from the inevitable conclusions drawn by the implications of their own systematic. While attempting to maintain some semblance of divine love for those unconditionally rejected by God in eternity past, they appeal to God’s common provisions such as rain and sunshine. But can such provisions be deemed as genuinely loving given the Scripture’s own definition of love found in 1 Corinthians 13?
Paul, under inspiration of the Holy Spirit, clearly explains what love is not when he writes,
If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.” (1 Cor. 13:1-3)

So we can conclude love is not:

  • Having the power and ability to do all things (vs. 1)
  • Having knowledge of all things (vs. 2)
  • Giving gifts and showing kindness to the weak and poor (vs. 3)

Omnipotence without love is impotent. Omniscience apart from love is worthless. And even benevolent gifts, like the provisions of rain and sunlight, apart from love are nothing. We know that God is omnipotent, omniscient and graciously benevolent to all humanity, but we also know that these characteristics do not necessarily reflect the true nature of love. God, through his servant, tells us what true love is:

“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.” (1 Cor. 13:4-8)

No Bible believing Christian questions the truth that “God is love” (1 Jn. 4:8). “The Lord is gracious and merciful; Slow to anger and great in lovingkindness. The Lord is good to all, And His mercies are over all His works.” (Ps. 145:9). This biblical truth is simply undeniable, which is why many Calvinists attempt to offer these types of rebuttals in defense of God’s love for all people from their Calvinistic worldview. But, can one objectively conclude that God’s treatment of the reprobate within the Calvinistic system is truly “loving” according to God’s own definition above?

  • Is God patient with the reprobate who he “hated” and rejected for salvation “before he was born or had done anything good or bad.”
  • Is God kind to those he destines to torment for all eternity without any regard to their own choices, intentions, or actions?
  • Does God honor the non-elect by allowing them to enjoy a little rain and sunlight before they spend an eternity suffering for something with which they had absolutely no control over?
  • Is God not easily angered by those who are born under His wrath and without hope of reconciliation?
  • Does God keep the record of wrongs committed by reprobates?
  • Does the so-called “love” of God for the non-elect fail or does it persevere?

I must ask, as Dave Hunt so succinctly inquired, “What love is this,” and by what measure can it ever be deemed “great!?”

Lest someone accuse me of being uncharitable, it should be noted that some “higher” forms of Calvinism do not even attempt to defend the idea that God sincerely loves everyone. In a work titled, The Sovereignty of God, by A. W. Pink, he wrote, “God loves whom He chooses. He does not love everybody.” He further argued that the word “world” in John 3:16 (“For God so loved the world…“) “refers to the world of believers (God’s elect), in contradistinction from ‘the world of the ungodly.’”[1]

 The issue comes down to how one defines the characteristic of love. According to Paul, “love does not seek its own,” and thus it is best described as “self-sacrificial” rather than “self-serving” (1 Cor. 13:5). As Jesus taught, “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” It seems safe to say that love at its very root is self-sacrificial. Anything less than that should not be called “love.” One may refer to “kindness” or “care” in reflection of some common provisions for humanity, but unless it reaches the level of self-sacrifice it does not seem to meet the biblical definition of true love.

Given that biblical definition of love as “self-sacrifice,” let us consider Christ’s command to love our enemies. Is this an expectation Christ himself is unwilling to fulfill? In other words, is He being hypocritical in this command? Of course not. The very reason He told His followers to love their enemies is “in order that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven…” (Matt. 5:45).

The meaning is undeniable. We are to love our enemies because God loves His enemies. He loves both “the righteous and the unrighteous” in exactly the same way we are told to love our enemies. The greatest commandment instructs us to “love our neighbor as ourselves” (Lev. 19:18; Matt. 22:37-38). “And who is our neighbor?” (Lk. 10:29). The pagan Samaritans, who were detested as enemies of God.

In short, Jesus is teaching us to self-sacrificially love everyone, even our worst enemies, because that reflects the very nature of God Himself.

Now, we know that Jesus perfectly fulfilled the law in every way (Matt. 5:17-18), which would have to include the greatest commandment. Christ’s self-sacrificial love for His enemies was certainly as encompassing as what He demanded from His followers in Luke 10. Without a doubt, Jesus loved everyone, even His greatest, most undeserving enemies; otherwise, He would have failed to fulfill the demands of the law.

Paul taught, “For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” And again in Romans 13:8: “He who loves his neighbor has fulfilled the law.” Thus, to deny Jesus’ self-sacrificial love for everyone is to deny that He fulfilled the demands of the law. This would disqualify Him as the perfect atoning sacrifice.

If we accept that Jesus fulfilled the demands of the law by self-sacrificially loving all people, then how can we conclude that God’s love is any less far-reaching than that which is reflected in the Son? Would God expect our love to be more encompassing and self-sacrificial than His own?

When God invites His enemies to be reconciled (Isa. 1:18; 2 Cor. 5:20; Mt. 11:28-30), He is making an appeal from a sincere heart of self-sacrificial love. “‘As surely as I live,’ declares the Sovereign LORD, ‘I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live. Turn! Turn from your evil ways! Why will you die, people of Israel?’” (Ezek. 33:11). “The Lord loves the sons of Israel, though they turn to other gods…” (Hosea 3:1). Obviously, God does sincerely love even those who turn from His provision and grace.

26 thoughts on “What Love Is This?

  1. So true this, Leighton.

    MacArthur had no idea what he was fomenting when he joined the Calvinist ranks in the 80’s (no indication of that from him before).

    Now he wants to issue a warning of calm, but too late, that rabid cage-Calvinism train has left the station. Get ready to be called a heretic.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. I will repost (and adapt) here what I said elsewhere on this blog. MacArthur helped create this mess and now he wants to call the rabid back from the brink.

    The Calvinism that I espoused (while studying Greek, Hebrew, and Reformed theology) and left:

    God, before the foundations of the world, chose to elect some and refuse (pass over) others. These were created for eternal destruction (no chance ever given or intended). After their 40-70 years of sinful (potentially miserable: Africa, Middle Ages, human trafficking, slavery, etc) existence, they will pay for eternity with conscious eternal punishment. All this for ‘refusing’ a God that created them for destruction. All this for God’s glory. The elected people are told to love all people… some of whom are NOT the object of God’s love because they were created for destruction. The question is how do Calvinists expect us to love someone and lay ourselves down for someone, when God did not do it himself. And why?

    What do we tell the nations? Rejoice…God thinks about you, and created you for destruction or redemption, but we dont know which. Can we (I have been an overseas missionary for over 25 years) tell them God loves them? Not according to Calvinists. Can we tell them Christ died for them? Not according to Calvinists. What do we tell them? According to Calvinists we say “repent” but of course if they can’t then God is sending us on a fool’s errand.

    Calvinists (MacArthur) have lately started to say “You can say ‘God loves you’ because he does love all people in a certain way. He makes the rain and sunshine for them all and gives them food.” This is mostly spoken by westerners with season tickets to Dodgers and a new Camry in the driveway.

    There is no such thing as “he at least got to enjoy life” for the starving Sudanese boy carried off into slavery and starvation.

    There is no such thing as “she at least got to enjoy life” for the Bangladeshi girl sold into prostitution at 9, dead of disease at 30.

    “She may not be chosen, but she was loved in a certain way by God.” What way was that?

    Now MacArthur wants to say …..”Who can deny that those mercies flow out of God’s boundless love? It is evident that they are showered even on unrepentant sinners.” Oh yes…..that is love showered on the thousands of girls from 5 yr old sold into sex slavery.

    Sorry John, get in line with the rest of the newly-inflamed YRR and declare that He does not love them. That is very disingenuous of you to insist that their painful, horrid existence was the “love” that you are talking about.

    No love in this short life and not chosen for the next.

    That is the Good News we are to preach?

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Thank you for your comments. You understand the bone chilling nature of “God’s love” for the reprobate of Calvinism very well. May God open the eyes of Calvinists to see that they are not representing Him rightly.

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  3. I thank God for the work of Leighton Flowers.
    I have been learning about reformed theology over the past several years. Some of my family members have been leaning toward it. One thing, of many concerns, that I have is that when I listen to them speak/ teach and then I repeat it , I am told I don’t understand it and that what I have stated is not what they believe. I see a big struggle with their words what they really mean. Do words even matter?

    I was saved when I was very young and have been a pastor for over 30 years. Having learned from the Bible ,God’s – mercy, kindness, goodness, long suffering, justice, provision, judgement, wrath, no respect of persons, truth, purity, holiness, power, wisdom, glory, (to name a few ) and the LOVE of GOD .

    I have to be honest , if accept reformed theology, everything I learned about God would change. Since this is about “The love of God” I will try to explain what I mean, when I was in the 3rd grade in an Oklahoma rural school I sat next to the pencil sharpener , a certain girl who came to sharpen her pencil had a very bad smell, as young boy ,I would say “she stunk”. My mother taught me about Jesus and His wonderful salvation and she said “if I was going follow Jesus I would have to LOVE EVERYONE “, and I said , “but mother she stinks ” and she would say, ” Jesus loves everyone and we must too. ” She told me to pray and God would fill my heart with His love.
    Jesus taught us to love the Lord God with all our heart, mind, soul and strength ,this is the first commandment and the second is to love our neighbor as our self and on these two hang all the law and the prophets. And then
    he taught us who our neighbor is, you know, the stranger we find dying by the way (The stinky girl).
    Jesus died for sinners, not just elect sinners, not just some sinners but all sinners, if you are a sinner the Bible tells us Jesus died for you, because He loves you!
    For over 50 years I have told sinners God loves them. In my ministry I have taught christians to love everyone as the Bible teaches us and to think otherwise changes everything!
    At times I try to think what it would be like to be a reformed Christian and live in that systematic , this is what happens, I feel confused, I don’t know the God of the Bible, the love of God I have known and understand begins to fade away, I don’t feel like person anymore, I feel disconnected and afraid to get close to God and ,if the God of Calvinism is true ,nothing really matters any way, we are just here for the ride. God has it all planned out , a few saved and the most damned,Oh well. But something in me rebels against this new idea of God (new to me). What is it? Is it me? All of these years ,have I read the Bible wrong? Have all of my prayers for God’s truth been invain?

    I understand this debate is about God’s love for the elect and God’s lack of love for the reprobate. There seems to be quite a struggle even among the reformed.
    Here’s some food for thought:
    John Piper told of his great struggle with this issue for several weeks, praying and crying until finally accepting it. RC Sproul had similar trouble at first and he also said most students struggle with it. Now I would assume Piper, Sproul and all other students were already believers when in Bible school and for the first time hereing about “election and reprobation”. Could it be that the Spirit of Christ in the believer was saying ” No , No , No ” to this doctrine yet they were finally won over. I mean ,why would a regenerated believer have such a struggle with this doctrine except that it seems so against the nature of God. GOD is LOVE and we are called to walk in that Love. We are not called to LOVE a few and HATE the most. We are called to love as God loves!

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    1. Very well stated! I too believe that the revulsion and grief that Calvinists feel when they come to understand “the dreadful decree” as Calvin called it, is the Holy Spirit within them crying NO! This is NOT who I am! It never ceases to amaze me how this devilish teaching has taken such a foothold.

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      1. aburns67 writes, ““…the dreadful decree” as Calvin called it,…”

        The “dreadful decree” was God’s decree that the corruption Adam incurred when he sinned would be inherited by his progeny. It is the Holy Spirit that then causes people to agree that they are as sinful as Adam and in need of salvation. Only the non-Calvinist thinks the Holy Spirit is trying to tell them that they are not as bad as Adam. Of course, both you and the Calvinist can say, “It never ceases to amaze me how this devilish teaching has taken such a foothold,” but from radically different perspectives.

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      2. The idea of Adam freely sinning would hardly constitute dread.
        But the idea of a god who would as Calvin states “by his own pleasure arrange it” – that would understandably cause Calvin dread.

        And that explains perfectly – why Calvinists are obscurantists and masters of double-speak.

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      3. Perhaps the same way it took a foothold like Joseph Smith’s doctrines did – with massive followers totally convinced theirs’ is the golden standard. Christian Gnosticism spread like wild-fire throughout the ancient world via traveling missionaries. By the time Miltiades was declared the first pope of Rome (311-314) , there had long been established Christian Gnostic monasteries. Gnosticism and especially its theological neighbor – NeoPlatonism, constituted a primary influence on Augustine’s perceptions of god and the cosmos.

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  4. I am reading a little book by John MacArthur, entitled “Being a dad who leads”. Many parts of the book are utterly inconsistent with Calvinistic presuppositions. How can JMac not see that, is beyond me.

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    1. Hi Vincenzo,
      Your observations are right on!!

      Logical inconsistency is the consistency of the Calvinist’s psychology.
      This is because moral dualism is an inherent constituent within the system.
      Moral dualism is mostly non-problematic within the context of Greek deities.
      But a Christianity moral-dualist has to express evil conceptions as good.
      And that requirement results in logical inconsistencies which manifest as double-speak.

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  5. I suspect Mr. MacArthur isn’t really concerned about Calvinists expressing a conception of God’s disposition, which manifests moral-dualism. Since moral-dualism is an inherent, and unique fundamental distinction of Calvinism.
    I suspect Mr. MacArthur would be perfectly happy with this sentiment, if it weren’t for a concern over its negative impact on Calvinism’s marketing image. I suspect that is, in fact, the true basis of the concern.

    It’s easy to suspect this, when we look at the marketing language Calvinist mentors teach the disciple.
    Interestingly, this type of language is the same type of language criminals use under deposition.
    Its a language designed to present a positive image, while carefully withholding facts that wouldn’t.
    It is the language of obscurantism.
    It is designed to present Calvinism in a way that will be accepted within the greater Christian population, and maximize recruitment.
    It learns to present the appearance of communicating in an open and forthright manner.
    Calvinist disciples are mentored in this language and it is a unique aspect of their system.
    Learning to discern Calvinism’s language is a critical part of understanding the Calvinist’s psychology.

    We are however occasionally rewarded by those hard-core Calvinists whose patriotism to doctrine supersedes the marketing image.
    We are thankful to these Calvinists, because they allow us to see through the veil of double-speak.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. Dr. Flowers writes, “Many Calvinistic brethren, like MacArthur in the quote above, when discussing the sincerity of God’s love for all people, seems to distance themselves from the inevitable conclusions drawn by the implications of their own systematic.”

    This is the Calvinist systematic:

    1. God is omniscient and knew, when He created the world, those who would come to salvation and those who would not.
    2. God is sovereign and has the power to save all if He chose to do so.
    3. Scripture tells us that God will not save all.

    The difficulty in the “God is Love” issue is to explain why God does not save all people when He could. Let’s imagine a farmer with a pond in which several children jump in and all begin to drown. The farmer has the ability to save every one of those children but chooses to save some but not all. Do we conclude that the farmer loved all the children equally?

    The non-Calvinist never addresses the elephant in the room – God can save everyone and does not. Then they complain about the Calvinists for taking on a difficult issue and trying to resolve God’s love with God’s actions to save. Let’s see Dr. Flowers, or anyone else, take this issue head-on and explain it any better than the Calvinists and do so without resorting to the Universalist conclusion (that the God of Love will indeed save each and every person)..

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    1. The ancient Christian Gnostics and Christian NeoPlatonists made the same boast.
      Every tree brings forth fruit after its own kind.

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      1. br.d writes, “The ancient Christian Gnostics and Christian NeoPlatonists made the same boast.”

        Even the pagans get some things right. It was a pagan king who correctly said, “[God’s] dominion is an everlasting dominion, And His kingdom endures from generation to generation. “And all the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, But He does according to His will in the host of heaven And among the inhabitants of earth; And no one can ward off His hand Or say to Him, ‘What hast Thou done?’” (Daniel 4)

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    2. God’s universal love, saving will and provision do not equal universalism because by God’s sovereign and free will, He chose to include an “if”. God has decided the condition of salvation which is believing in the Lord Jesus. While He has graciously calls all and has enabled all to believe, this drawing is not irresistible. God can and does save whoever He wants to save, and from scripture we see that He wants to save all that believe in the Lord Jesus. The idea of pre-faith magic wand regeneration to save certain people is foreign to scripture.

      Nowhere in scripture do I see a verse that says that the application of the atonement is automatically applied to all for whom it was intended. I do understand that in your system that is the case, which is problematic because that would mean that the unconditionally elect have always been in a state of blessed savedness (with your faulty understanding of Eph 1) and were never under the wrath of God, which the Bible makes clear that we all were. In fact, repentance and faith wouldn’t really play a role in salvation because the atonement was applied to the arbitrarily picked special people long before they ever showed up on earth. Faith and repentance then would just be symptoms of God zapping them with “regeneration” which is never a conclusion one would come to by a common sense reading of scripture. We believe that the atonement is applied when a sinner repents and believes. This ordo salutis is repeated many times throughout the Bible. This is the gospel message 101.

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      1. aburns67 writes, “God has decided the condition of salvation which is believing in the Lord Jesus. While He has graciously calls all and has enabled all to believe, this drawing is not irresistible.”

        You say that God calls (or draws) each and every person (which is irresistible), conveys faith to each and every person (which is irresistible) and then has the Holy Spirit convict the person of sin (which is irresistible). These things must be irresistible because God, “…has enabled all to believe…” Right?? Your contention is that people then “decide” whether to accept Christ on their own after God has irresistibly enabled them to make that decision. Isn’t it? I don’t think you understand your own position.

        Then, “Nowhere in scripture do I see a verse that says that the application of the atonement is automatically applied to all for whom it was intended.’

        “…[God] saved us, and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace which was granted us in Christ Jesus from all eternity, but now has been revealed by the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus, who abolished death, and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel,…” (2 Timothy 1)

        “[Christ] who was delivered up because of our transgressions, and was raised because of our justification.” (Romans 4)

        “God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5)

        “Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures,…” (1 Corinthians 15)

        “God has not destined us for wrath, but for obtaining salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us, that whether we are awake or asleep, we may live together with Him.” (1 Thessalonians 5)

        “Christ also died for sins once for all, the just for the unjust, in order that He might bring us to God,…” (1 Peter 3)

        “This was in accordance with the eternal purpose which He carried out in Christ Jesus our Lord,…” (Ephesians 3)

        Seems like God had a plan.

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      2. RHUTCHIN: Only Calvinists teach that God’s drawing, convicting, grace,etc is irresistible. The Bible teaches the opposite: people can and do resist God. That is why they are not saved.

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      3. mm writes, “Only Calvinists teach that God’s drawing, convicting, grace,etc is irresistible. The Bible teaches the opposite: people can and do resist God. That is why they are not saved.”

        Calvinists also understand the Scriptures to tell us that, “…people can and do resist God.” This is the normal reaction of the unregenerate mind to the things of God. Paul, in Romans 8, writes, “…the mind set on the flesh is hostile toward God; for it does not subject itself to the law of God, for it is not even able to do so;” So, the Calvinist agrees with you, “That is why they are not saved.”

        So, how do we explain the ability of some people to break loose from a mentality of hostility to God and resistance to His word? Obviously, God is involved in helping a person to do this. We say that God’s help is “irresistible.” For example, God “opened [Lydia’s] heart to respond to the things spoken by Paul.” (Acts 16) Lydia was unaware that God had done this to her – it was an irresistible change wrought in Lydia by God. All Lydia knows is that the things Paul is telling her now make sense, and she wants to respond to them. The Psalmist declares, “Open my eyes, that I may behold Wonderful things from Thy law.” (Psalm 119) We do the same but are unaware how or when God does this – He does it irresistibly – but we begin to discover wonderful things from God’s law (the Scriptures) that escaped us previously.

        Regarding salvation, we know that the Holy Spirit initiates a new birth in the unsaved person per John 3. The unsaved is not presented with a choice on this but finds that his perspective on the Scriptures has changed suddenly – the Holy Spirit having wrought an irresistible change in him. In Ephesians 2, Paul describes the new birth in this manner, “…when we were dead in our transgressions, [God] made us alive…” That change – to make us alive – was an irresistible action by God of which we had no awareness of what God was doing until we sense that something is now different. In John 6, we read, ““No one can come to [Jesus], unless the Father who sent [Jesus] draws him;…” A person is not aware that God is drawing him to Jesus – it is done irresistibly – the person only knows that his perspective of Jesus is, or has, somehow changed.

        I don’t think people generally oppose the idea that God works irresistibly in the heart of the unsaved; they object to the idea that God does this just for certain people and not all because, to them, not doing it for all is not fair.

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      4. Hi maggie matheson,

        Great to see you here!!
        Just wanted to warn you up front – with rhutchin you are guaranteed to get alot of evasions, diversions, red herrings, and especially the “dancing boxer waiting for an opening to get a jab” routine.

        Just wanted you to be aware.

        ur frnd,
        br.d

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  7. Dear Rutchin

    It is not that it is unfair but that it is untrue. Calvinists believe everything is predestined to happen according to God’s decrees,etc. I am well aware of what you believe. I just think that many of your presuppositions are wrong. It would take too long to reply in depth here. The true Gospel is for every sinner. There are many verses that support this. Hope you are set free from the Calvinist plantation one day. Sincerely, MM

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