Any doctrine of the atonement is misdirected from the outset if it does not take account of the fact that the atonement is the provision of God’s love. “God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son” (John 3:16). “Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be a propitiation for oar sins” (I John 4:10; cf. Rom. 5:8; 8:32; Eph. 2:4, 5; I John 4:9). The title “God” in these texts refers specifically to God the Father. So it is to the initiative of the Father’s love that our attention is drawn when we think of the fountain from which the atonement emanates. And all that has been achieved by Christ’s vicarious undertaking must always be subordinated to the design and purpose of the Father’s love. This is the orientation which the classic exponents of Reformed doctrine have always recognized, and it is a caricature of their position to suppose that they represented the love and compassion of the Father as constrained by the sacrifice of Christ.
In this fact that the love of God is the spring from which the atonement flows we encounter an ultimate of revelation and of human thought. It is the marvel that evokes wonder, adoration, and praise. It is a love that arises from the unsearchable riches of God’s goodness. But though an ultimate of revelation, the Scripture not only permits but requires further characterization of this love. The love of God is differentiating in respect of its objects. It is the love of God the Father that Paul has in view when he speaks of Him who “spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all” (Rom. 8:32). But it is within the orbit defined by Romans 8:29 that this love must be understood, and the latter text speaks of distinguishing love that predestinates to a determinate end — conformity to the image of his Son. Ephesians 1:4, 5 is to the same effect. God chose a people in Christ and in love predestinated them unto adoption through Jesus Christ. It would annul the witness of Scripture if we ignored the differentiation which the love of God institutes and failed to construe the atonement as the provision of this distinguishing love and as that which secures the design of God’s electing grace.