I consider John Frame to be among the very best of contemporary theologians and, as I have noted elsewhere, his tri-perspectivalism was seminal in my own triadic thinking, even though at many points my system has deviated from his. Frame’s Systematic Theology is quite a fascinating Systematic. Due to its relative brevity (relative being the operative word here), it doesn’t interact significantly with other theologians or systematics, and in spite of his considerable triadic system, his writing meanders considerably, both for good and ill. And again, with generally good, but still mixed results, there is Frame’s novelty. He is not at all afraid to arrive at conclusions which he thinks biblical, even if it places him on the fringes of Reformed theology in some instances.
Although I am not reading Frame’s Systematic Theology in a systematic manner, I turned to chapter 12 because of a later chapters reliance on the triad he develops here as he introduces God’s attributes. His full chart, interfacing the control-authority-presence triad with love-knowledge-power, is helpful to understand his thinking and presentation. Interestingly, I am unpersuaded concerning first of these triads (the Lordship triad upon which is built Frame’s entire system) and I think the second is just plain wrong! There is a very strong tradition in historic theology of a power-knowledge-goodness triad which Frame inverts here (love being related to goodness).
In spite of what I see as failings in the overall triad and structure of Frame’s views at this point, his section on love, and to a slightly lesser degree, on goodness, are very good indeed, rambling though they be.
The question of standard, or criterion, is an important issue, and I should say a bit about it here. In Plato’s dialogue Euthyphro, the question arises as to whether piety is what the gods say it is, or whether they command piety because of its intrinsic nature, apart from their own wishes. In the dialogue, Socrates argues what is evidently Plato’s position, that the gods command piety because of its intrinsic nature. So piety, then, is something independent of the gods, something impersonal and objective, or, in Plato’s system, a form. The same question has been asked about goodness and its relation to the biblical God. The biblical answer is that goodness is, first of all, God’s own character. It is an attribute of God himself. So it is as objective as Plato wished it to be, but it is a personal quality, rather than an impersonal form. (p234)
In a broad sense, goodness is conduct (by man or by God himself) that measures up to God’s standards (e.g., Gen. 3:5; Lev. 5:4; Num. 24:13; Rom. 2:10; 3:12). As such, it is more or less synonymous with righteousness… So goodness is conduct that meets God’s standards. But Scripture usually speaks of goodness in a narrower sense, as benevolence. (p234)
The latter clarification notwithstanding, I think equating goodness so closely with righteousness is an overstatement.
To whom is God good? Psalm 145:9 says that he is “good to all, and his mercy is over all that he has made.” He is good to his people (73:1), but is good to them even before they become his people, before they embrace him as Lord (Rom. 5:8). What of those who never embrace him, who always remain God’s enemies? Scripture teaches that he is good to them as well (Matt. 5:45), sending rain and sunshine on the just and the unjust. This is not to say, however, that God gives the same blessings to everyone. He is not obligated to do that, and he does not do it. His goodness to the elect, for example, is very different from his goodness to the reprobate (chapter 11). But even the reprobate receive God’s blessings of rain and sunshine. These blessings are substantial, so much that they ought to motivate repentance (Acts 14:17; Rom. 2:4), though the reprobate refuse to give heed. (p234-235)
Regarding love, Frame has a good discussion on the various Greek words, and that too much has been made of the distinctions between them (p235-236). He also quotes Turretin’s triad on God’s love as benevolence, beneficence, and complacency (p236). The section on the extent of God’s love is particularly good.
My conclusion is that God sent his Son, motivated by his love for the whole world. Jesus comes as “Savior of the world” (John 4:42; 1 John 4:14), although not every individual in the world will be saved. Through Christ, God will lift the curse from the creation, and the creation will again be under the dominion of those who love God. God will banish those who serve Satan, the “ruler of this world” (John 12:31; 14:30; 16:11; cf. Eph. 2:2), from the world to come. Does the coming of Christ benefit the reprobate? Certainly the general cultural benefits of Christianity benefit all. So to the providential benevolence of God to all people, we should add that God blesses all human beings by the coming of Jesus and the Spirit. And the reprobate are also blessed by the fact that God gives them an opportunity to turn from their wickedness and believe in Christ. None of these benefits are accidental. God intends them for good, and so they come from God’s love. To be sure, all these benefits (both providential and redemptive-historical), on the last day, bring greater condemnation on the reprobate, on those who never do believe. Some Calvinists conclude that these benefits, therefore, have nothing to do with God’s love, but only with his wrath. But divine attributes are not easily separable. And it is important for us to take history seriously. Before they come to faith, believers are under the wrath of God, real wrath (Eph. 2:3). Similarly, in the time before the last judgment, unbelievers, even the reprobate, experience the love of God, real love. God’s grand historical novel (see chapters 14 and 35) is not concerned only with endings, but also with beginnings and middles. His love to the reprobate is real love, even though it leads later to wrath. God judges the wicked because they have despised his kindness (Rom. 2:4). That kindness must be real kindness if it is to be a valid ground of condemnation. (p237-238)
The full story is this: God sent his Son with both hypothetical and categorical intentions. Categorically, Christ died only for his elect, limited atonement. Hypothetically, he died so that if anyone at all should believe, he would be saved. His death makes that hypothetical statement true. So Christ died to guarantee salvation to the elect and to provide the opportunity of salvation for all. (p239)
But God’s sovereign love motivates our response of obedience, which leads to more divine love: ‘And because you listen to these rules and keep and do them, the LORD your God will keep with you the covenant and the steadfast love that he swore to your fathers.’ (Deut. 7:12) So God’s love both initiates the covenant and continues as his people respond in obedience. It initiates the covenant unconditionally, but its continuance is conditional on human obedience (compare my discussion in chapter 4). For believers, of course, all conditions are met by Jesus, guaranteeing salvation for them and motivating their continued obedience. The OT could not in the nature of things focus as sharply on the cross as could the NT. But in the OT also, redemption is the motivation for obedience. (p239–240)