In an earlier post on Wesleyan Degrees of Love we spoke about the practical application of Christian charity (e.g., doing good all men’s souls) as it pertained to the Methodist people. The second-half of the same essay then covered Anglican opinion Benevolence, mapping out an older view of Love as it was often constrained by Duty. One of my favorite methodist commentators (next to Dr. Clarke) is the so-called church Methodist, Joseph Benson. Mr. Benson resisted the administration of sacraments among methodist preachers as well as venturing an earlier project with Dr. Fletcher make the Wesleyite Connexion subsidiary to the Church of England. Consequently, Benson gives much privy to Anglican opinion. In this case, he provides us further insight on God’s universal Love, though by Degree, by the scriptural verses,”I loved Jacob, And Esau I hated”.
The entire selection from first book of Malachi, chapter 1, verses 1-4 reads hence:
“1 The burden of the word of the Lord to Israel by Malachi. 2 I have loved you, saith the Lord. Yet ye say, Wherein hast thou loved us? Was not Esau Jacob’s brother? saith the Lord: yet I loved Jacob, 3 And I hated Esau, and laid his mountains and his heritage waste for the dragons of the wilderness. 4 Whereas Edom saith, We are impoverished, but we will return and build the desolate places; thus saith the Lord of hosts, They shall build, but I will throw down; and they shall call them, The border of wickedness, and, The people against whom the Lord hath indignation for ever.” (KJV)
Arminian commentators, like Benson, typically understand the particular regard Jehovah (YHVH) has for his people as the privileges of Covenant. These privileges include such parts as the precision of the Law, keeping the Oracles of God, the testimonies of the prophets, and especially the promise of Messiah under a restored Kingdom. So, the Apostle Paul answers his own question, “What advantage has the Jew? Or what profit is circumcision? Much in every way!” Those honors and privileges as contained in the peculiar Love of Jacob are illustrative of what many methodist Arminianians dubbed ‘national election’. So, Benson says Isaac’s twin sons, “But it must be well observed, that Jacob and Esau, as elsewhere Israel and Edom, are put to signify the whole posterity arising from these two persons, namely, the Israelites and Idumeans.”
But, regarding God’s apparent hatred of men, Benson is cautious to keep the Arminian viewpoint:
And I hated Esau — I loved not Esau’s posterity as I loved Jacob’s. By hating here is only meant, having a less degree of love, for in this sense the expression is frequently used. Thus, Genesis 29:31, Jacob’s loving Leah less than Rachel is termed hating her; and Luke 14:26, the loving father and mother, wife and children, less than we love Christ, is termed the hating of them. That this is the meaning of the expression hating, there, is evident from the parallel text, Matthew 10:37-38, where we read, He that loveth father or mother MORE than me, is not worthy of me, &c. From these, and other passages that might be produced, it is evident that the expression, hating, is frequently used to signify no more than loving in a less degree, or showing less regard or favour to one than another. Indeed, as it may be further added, it would be doing a high dishonour to the nature of God to suppose that the expression, as here applied to Jacob and Esau, is to be taken in the strict sense of the word hating.
According to Benson the Bible does not warrant a strict or absolute sense of the word ‘hatred’ in all cases. Other instances it may denote ‘loving less’ or an affection differing by ‘degree’. For example, we know the sun shines on the head of the righteous as well as the wicked. So, God shares the same substance of Love to all men though it is not received in the same proportion or measure– a difference reckoned by the refusal or stubbornness of men to desire the same Love. Benson explains the same elsewhere in Mark 3.4, quoting Drs. Campbell and Whitby,
“But it is justly observed here by Dr. Campbell, that in the style of Scripture, the mere negation of anything is often expressed by the affirmation of the contrary. Thus, Luke 14.26, not to love, or even to love less, is called, to hate; Matt 11.25, not to reveal is to hide; and here, not to do good, when we can , is to do evil; not to save is to kill. From this, and many other passages of the New Testament, it may be justly deduced, as standing principle of Christian ethics, that not to do the good which we have the opportunity and power to do, is, in a certain degree, the same as to do the contrary evil; and not to prevent mischief, when we can, the same as to commit it. Thus, also, Dr. Whitby; ‘Hence it seems to follow, that he who doth not do good to his neighbor when he can, doth evil tho him; it being a want of charity, and therefore evil, to neglect any opportunity of doing good, or showing kindness to any man in misery; and that not to preserve his life when it is in danger, is to transgress that precept which saith, Thou shall not kill [or in our case ‘not hate’]”
We might also recall Bishop Burnet’s description of YHVH’s personality, or those apparently physical attributes of the Lord, while explaining the Creed:
“This Great and Glorious Being, is a Mind that hath no Body: If Eyes and Ears are ascribed to Him, that is only to set forth to us, in Words suited to our capacities, that he knows all Things and directs and orders all Things. He is Perfect in himself: and has no Disorders, or Passions in his Thoughts, such as we have. These flow from a sense of some Trouble given us, which we cannot keep off, resist, or punish: But these are not incident to a Being infinitely Perfect, yet God is said to be Angry, to be Jealous, to Revenge, and to have Fury, which are all Expressions suited to us“. (p. 32-33, Exposition of the Church Catechism)
Perhaps Benson’s explanation of Malachi’s sometimes notorious verse can help us fathom Degrees of Love, even the charity reserved to those who appear to us as enemies. They are not outside this pale of Love, and I suppose we imitate this same divine Love even when we pray for the reconciliation of those who curse us?
More can be read about Anglican degrees of Love here.