“‘God’ the Father ‘so loved,’ had such a peculiar, transcendent love, being an unchangeable purpose and act of his will concerning their salvation, towards ‘the world,’ miserable, sinful, lost men of all sorts, not only Jews but Gentiles also, which he peculiarly loved, ‘that,’ intending their salvation, as in the last words, for the praise of his glorious grace, ‘he gave,’ he prepared a way to prevent their everlasting destruction, by appointing and sending ‘his only-begotten Son’ to be an all-sufficient Saviour to all that look up unto him, ‘that whosoever believeth in him,’ all believers whatsoever, and only they, ‘should not perish, but have everlasting life,’ and so effectually be brought to the obtaining of those glorious things through him which the Lord in his free love had designed for them.”
In which enlargement of the words, for the setting forth of what we conceive to be the mind of the Holy Ghost in them, these things are to be observed:—
First, What we understand by the “love” of God, even that act of his will which was the cause of sending his Son Jesus Christ, being the most eminent act of love and favour to the creature; for love is velle alicui bonum, “to will good to any.” And never did God will greater good to the creature than in appointing his Son for their redemption. Notwithstanding, I would have it observed that I do not make the purpose of sending or giving Christ to be absolutely subordinate to God’s love to his elect, as though that were the end of the other absolutely, but rather that they are both co-ordinate to the same supreme end, or the manifestation of God’s glory by the way of mercy tempered with justice; but in respect of our apprehension, that is the relation wherein they stand one to another. Now, this love we say to be that, greater than which there is none.
Secondly, By the “world,” we understand the elect of God only, though not considered in this place as such, but under such a notion as, being true of them, serves for the farther exaltation of God’s love towards them, which is the end here designed; and this is, as they are poor, miserable, lost creatures in the world, of the world, scattered abroad in all places of the world, not tied to Jews or Greeks, but dispersed in any nation, kindred, and language under heaven.
Thirdly, Ἵνα πᾶς ὁ πιστεύων, is to us, “that every believer,” and is declarative of the intention of God in sending or giving his Son, containing no distribution of the world beloved, but a direction to the persons whose good was intended, that love being an unchangeable intention of the chiefest good.
Fourthly, “Should not perish, but have life everlasting,” contains an expression of the particular aim and intention of God in this business; which is, the certain salvation of believers by Christ.
John Owen, Salus Electorum, Sanguis Jesu: or, The Death of Death in the Death of Christ (1647), Book 4.2 in William H. Goold (ed.), The Works of John Owen (1850-53; 16 vols, Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1967), 10: 320-21.