29 March, 2016

I Timothy 2:4—“… who will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth”

I exhort therefore, that, first of all, supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks, be made for all men; for kings, and for all that are in authority; that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty. For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour; who will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth. For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus; who gave himself a ransom for all, to be testified in due time (I Tim. 2:1-6). 

This is one of the most frequently-appealed-to texts used in support of the theory of “common grace” and of the “well-meant gospel offer.”
That God “will have all men to be saved, and to come to the knowledge of the truth” is taken to mean that God “earnestly desires, wills, wishes, and wants to save all men head for head, soul for soul, that ever lived and will live (the reprobate included).


Rev. Angus Stewart

[Source: Covenant Reformed News, vol. 10, nos. 6-7 (Oct-Nov, 2004)

God “will have all men to be saved, and come to the knowledge of the truth” (I Tim. 2:4). Many, including Iain Murray and J. I. Packer (who, sadly, has compromised justification by faith alone), reckon that this verse teaches a will or desire in God for the salvation of all men, including the reprobate (the free offer or well-meant offer of the gospel). The argument is that “all” means everybody without exception (Esau as well as Jacob; Judas as well as Peter).

Two objections immediately arise against this view.

First, if God wills or desires or wishes or wants to save absolutely everybody, then His will has been thwarted with regard to millions, nay billions, of people. A thwarted divine will means (and must mean) frustration. God wanted something (the salvation of the reprobate), but His will (somehow) was defeated, therefore He must be frustrated. What, then, of God’s mighty power and perfect blessedness? Also this view posits a will of the omnipotent, unchangeable and eternal God which is not irresistible, unchangeable and eternal.

Second, if God really desires absolutely everybody “to be saved, and come to the knowledge of the truth,” then why did He not see to it that the gospel was preached to them? In the Old Testament days, only Israel had God’s Word (Ps. 147:19-20), for God “suffered all nations to walk in their own [pagan] ways” (Acts 14:16). Even in the New Testament age, many never hear the gospel of Jesus Christ. Could God really want all the reprobate to “come to the knowledge of the truth” (the end) but never see to it that many of them have the truth proclaimed to them (the necessary means to this end)?

Another problem for the “free offer” view of I Timothy 2:4 arises from the context. If “all,” in verse 4, means absolutely everyone, then in verse 6 it must mean absolutely everyone as well. If God desires to save all without exception (v. 4)—the “free offer” view—then “the one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus” (v. 5) “gave himself a ransom for all” (v. 6) understood as absolutely everyone—the heresy of universal atonement!

Read I Timothy 2:4-6 (noting the “For” with which verse 5 begins) and you will see that the “free offer” view leads inescapably to Arminianism’s universal atonement (which hinges on the alleged free will of the sinner). 

Universal atonement is excluded by I Timothy 2:6 itself, which calls Christ’s death a “ransom.” A ransom is a price that it is paid to deliver a captive. If Christ really paid the ransom for absolutely all men, then all are ransomed, i.e., delivered from the bondage of sin. Christ did not “potentially” ransom people (with the ransom depending on man’s supposed free will); He actually “ransomed” them.  In I Timothy 2:6, lutron (ransom) comes with the prefix anti (which means “instead of” or “corresponding”): a ransom instead of, or corresponding to, us. This makes the substitutionary character of Christ’s death particularly clear. He gave Himself a ransom for us “in our place” and “in our stead.” “The Son of man,” Jesus said, came “to give his life a ransom for many” (Matt. 20:28), not everybody head for head.

What then is the true interpretation of the passage?

To answer this question, we must consider the context. The apostle is speaking about prayer and for whom it must be made: “I exhort ... that ... supplications, prayers, intercessions, giving of thanks, be made for all men” (v. 1). Paul continues by specifying: “For kings, and for all that are in authority.” He then gives two reasons why we should pray for those in civil government.

First, we must pray for them “that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty” (v. 2). Thus we are to pray for magistrates that they will maintain law and order. Then Christians (“we”) may “lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty,” for we can worship God publicly on the Lord’s Day and serve Him at home, school, work and in the world without being attacked by mobs or hauled off to prison. Even this prayer is, of course, subject to God’s decree, for He wills civil unrest and/or state persecution of the saints at various times and in various places. Thus it is a lawful, good and commanded thing to pray (subject to God’s will) for the civil magistrates that God would use them to restrain wicked men so that we, His people, may individually and collectively serve him in our respective callings. This petition, Paul tells Timothy, must be brought before God in congregational prayer.

Second, we must pray for civil magistrates, “For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour; who will have all men to be saved, and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (vv. 3-4). Is there any point praying for the conversion of the prime minister or president or monarchs or rulers of this world?  I Timothy 2 tells us that God can and will save “kings” and those “that are in authority,” according to His eternal election. So we must pray for the conversion of earthly potentates and not only those of lowly station, as we might otherwise be inclined. For God wills to save (and will save—for His will is never defeated) all kinds of people.

Augustine (354-430) put it well:

Now the apostle had enjoined that prayers should be made for all men, and had especially added, ‘For kings, and for all that are in authority,’ who might be supposed, in the pride and pomp of worldly station, to shrink from the humility of the Christian faith. Then saying, ‘For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour,’ that is, that prayers should be made for such as these, he immediately adds, as if to remove any ground of despair, ‘Who will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth’ ... Our Lord ... says to the Pharisees: ‘Ye tithe mint, and rue, and every herb.’ For the Pharisees did not tithe what belonged to others, nor all the herbs of all the inhabitants of other lands. As ... in this place we must understand by ‘every herb,’ to mean every kind of herb, so in the former passage we may understand by ‘all men,’ every sort of men (Enchiridion, 103).



Augustine (354-430)


[Source: “Enchiridion,” contained in A Select Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, edited by Philip Schaff (Buffalo: The Christian Literature Company, 1887), vol. III, cf. Chapters 96-97, 102-103; emphasis added]

For if it were not a good that evil should exist, its existence would not be permitted by the omnipotent Good, who without doubt can as easily refuse to permit what He does not wish, as bring about what He does wish. And if we do not believe this, the very first sentence of our creed is endangered, wherein we profess to believe in God the Father Almighty. For He is not truly called Almighty if He cannot do whatsoever He pleases, or if the power of His almighty will is hindered by the will of any creature whatsoever. Hence we must inquire in what sense is said of God what the apostle has mostly truly said: “Who will have all men to be saved” [I Tim. 2:4]. For, as a matter of fact, not all, nor even a majority, are saved: so that it would seem that what God wills is not done, man’s will interfering with, and hindering the will of God ... But however strong may be the purposes either of angels or of men, whether of good or bad, whether these purposes fall in with the will of God or run counter to it, the will of the Omnipotent is never defeated; and His will never can be evil; because even when it inflicts evil it is just, and what is just is certainly not evil. The omnipotent God, then, whether in mercy He pitieth whom He will, or in judgment hardeneth whom He will, is never unjust in what He does, never does anything except of His own free-will, and never wills anything that He does not perform. Accordingly, when we hear and read in Scripture that He “will have all men to be saved” [I Tim. 2:4], although we know well that all men are not saved, we are not on that account to restrict the omnipotence of God, but are rather to understand the Scripture, “Who will have all men to be saved,” as meaning that no man is saved unless God wills his salvation: not that there is no man whose salvation He does not will, but that no man is saved apart from His will; and that, therefore, we should pray Him to will our salvation, because if He will it, it must necessarily be accomplished. And it was of prayer to God that the apostle was speaking when he used this expression ... Or, it is said, “Who will have all men to be saved;” not that there is no man whose salvation He does not will (for how, then, explain the fact that He was unwilling to work miracles in the presence of some who, He said, would have repented if He had worked them?), but that we are to understand by “all men,” the human race in all its varieties of rank and circumstances—kings, subjects; noble, plebeian, high, low, learned, and unlearned; the sound in body, the feeble, the clever, the dull, the foolish, the rich, the poor, and those of middling circumstances; males, females, infants, boys, youths; young, middle-aged, and old men; of every tongue, of every fashion, of all arts, of all professions, with all the innumerable differences of will and conscience, and whatever else there is that makes a distinction among men. For which of all these classes is there out of which God does not will that men should be saved in all nations through His only-begotten Son, our Lord, and therefore does save them; for the Omnipotent cannot will in vain, whatsoever He may will? Now the apostle had enjoined that prayers should be made for all men, and had especially added, “For kings, and for all that are in authority,” who might be supposed, in the pride and pomp of worldly station, to shrink from the humility of the Christian faith. Then saying, “For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour,” that is, that prayers should be made for such as these, he immediately adds, as if to remove any ground of despair, “Who will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth” [I Tim. 2:1-4]. God, then, in His great condescension has judged it good to grant to the prayers of the humble the salvation of the exalted; and assuredly we have many examples of this. Our Lord, too, makes use of the same mode of speech in the Gospel, when He says to the Pharisees: “Ye tithe mint, and rue, and every herb” [Luke 11:42]. For the Pharisees did not tithe what belonged to others, nor all the herbs of all the inhabitants of other lands. As, then, in this place we must understand by “every herb,” every kind of herbs, so in the former passage we may understand by “all men,” every sort of men. And we may interpret it in any other way we please, so long as we are not compelled to believe that the omnipotent God has willed anything to be done which was not done: for setting aside all ambiguities, if “He hath done all that He pleased in heaven and in earth” [Ps. 115:3], as the psalmist sings of Him, He certainly did not will to do anything that He hath not done.


[Source: “Treatise on Rebuke and Grace, chap. 44, in Nicene and Post Nicene Fathers, First Series, vol. 5, p. 489; emphasis added]

And what is written, that “He wills all men to be saved” [I Tim. 2:4], while yet all men are not saved, may be understood in many ways, some of which I have mentioned in other writings of mine; but here I will say one thing: “He wills all men to be saved,” is so said that all the predestinated may be understood by it, because every kind of men is among them. Just as it was said to the Pharisees, “Ye tithe every herb” [Luke 11:42]; where the expression is only to be understood of every herb they had, for they did not tithe every herb which was found throughout the whole earth. According to the same manner of speaking, it was said, “Even as I also please all men in all things” [I Cor. 10:33]. For did he who said this please also the multitude of his persecutors? But he pleased every kind of men that assembled in the Church of Christ, whether they were already established therein, or to be introduced into it.


[Source: Raymond A. Blacketer “Blaming Beza: The Development of Definite Atonement in the Reformed Tradition,” in David Gibson and Jonathan Gibson [eds.], From Heaven He Came and Sought Her: Definite Atonement in Historical, Biblical, Theological, and Pastoral Perspective [Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2013], pp. 128-129; 129, n. 39]

This is the typical exegetical strategy that Augustine employed when he encountered universalizing texts. “All” means all classes and nationalities, not every individual [in I Timothy 2:4] ... See, for example, Enchiridion [10]3, in J. P. Migne, ed., Patrologia Cursus Completus, series Latina, 217 vols. (Paris, 1844-1855), hereafter cited as PL, 40:280-281; De civ. Dei, 22.2.2, PL 41:753; Tract. in Ev. Joan., 52.11, PL 35:1773; De Corr. et Grat., 44, PL 44:943.



Januarius (fl. 420’s)

[Source: Letter to Valentinus; quoted in Francis X. Gumerlock, Fulgentius of Ruspe on the Saving Will of God: The Development of a Sixth-Century African Bishop’s Interpretation of I Timothy 2:4 During the Semi-Pelagian Controversy (Lewiston, NY: Edwin Mellen Press, 2009), pp. 123-124]

This Apostle tells us how to understand who wills all persons to be saved [I Tim. 2:4]. For, here in this manner, it is told how “all” is spoken by the Apostle in another passage, Through a man came death, and through a man came the resurrection of the dead. For, just as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all will be made alive (1 Cor. 15:21-22). For, because it is said, In Adam all die, it is clear that it is necessary that all people die through him. But because it is said, So also in Christ all will be made alive, here now it does not pertain to all people, but to all those who will be saved through his grace. For, there are many who die without the faith of Christ. It is the same also in that passage of the same Apostle, where he says, Just as through the sin of one, condemnation came upon all persons (Rom. 5:18). This is true because the condemnation from the sin of that man pertains to all persons. But what follows, So also through the righteousness of one the justification of life came on all persons (Rom. 5:18), here all persons are not understood because many die, having made themselves strangers from his righteousness. But these “all” are those who pertain to his members and who are designated his body, about whom the same Apostle says, The Lord knows who are his (2 Tim. 2:19). And he says again, But whom he predestined, those he also called; and whom he called, those he also justified; and those he justified, those he also glorified. What therefore, he says, shall we say to these things. If God be for us, who can be against us? (Rom. 8:30-31).



Fulgentius of Ruspe (468-533)


[Source: Epistula 17, 61, 63, 66; quoted in Francis X. Gumerlock, Fulgentius of Ruspe on the Saving Will of God: The Development of a Sixth-Century African Bishop’s Interpretation of I Timothy 2:4 During the Semi-Pelagian Controversy (Lewiston, NY: Edwin Mellen Press, 2009), pp. 4, 96, 98, 99.]

Truly, by these all persons whom God wills to be saved [I Tim. 2:4] are signified not the entire human race completely, but the entirety of all who are to be saved. And, likewise, they are called “all” because divine goodness saves all those from all humanity, that is, from every nation, condition, and age, from every language and from every province … And so that we might know more fully who those “all” are, let us listen to the words of the same blessed Peter who, speaking by the Holy Spirit, concluded that Joel’s prediction was fulfilled in the exhortation where he says: Repent and be baptized, each one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For, the promise is for you, and for your children, and for all who are far off, as many as the Lord our God will call (Acts 2:38-39). And so he says, “all,” but also “as many as the Lord will call.” Also, blessed Paul refers to them as those called according to his purpose (Rom. 8:28) … Since scripture testifies, All things whatsoever he willed, he did (Ps. 115:3), there is nothing that he has willed and has not done ... For, it is evil for someone to say that the Omnipotent is not able to do something that he willed to do … Those whom he [i.e., the Son] wills to be given life are those whom he wills to be saved [I Tim. 2:4]. Therefore, just as he saves whom he wills, he also gives life to whom he wills [John 5:21].


[Source: De veritate praedestinatione et gratiae 3.15-18; quoted in Francis X. Gumerlock, Fulgentius of Ruspe on the Saving Will of God: The Development of a Sixth-Century African Bishop’s Interpretation of I Timothy 2:4 During the Semi-Pelagian Controversy (Lewiston, NY: Edwin Mellen Press, 2009), pp. 4, 112, 113, 117-118, 120]

Therefore, they are called “all” because they are gathered from all kinds of persons, from all nations, from all conditions, from all masters, from all servants, from all kings, from all soldiers, from all provinces, from all languages, from all ages, and from all classes. Thus all are saved whom God wills to be saved (1 Tim. 2:4) … For our Savior said, No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son, and the one to whom the Son willed to reveal him (Matt. 11:27). In saying this he certainly shows that he wills to be revealed to some, and does not will to be revealed to others. How then is it said that he wills those to be saved to whom he did not will to reveal himself and his Father? … To you it has been given to know the mystery of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given (Matt. 13:11). To you it has been granted to know the mystery of the kingdom, but to those who are outside, everything is spoken in parables; so that seeing, those seeing should see but not see, and those hearing should hear but not understand; lest at any time they be converted and their sins be forgiven them” (Mark 4:11-12). To you it has been given to know the mystery of the kingdom of God, but to the rest in parables, so that seeing they may not see, and hearing they may not understand (Luke 8:10) … It thus appears that the Lord spoke to the multitudes, but nevertheless refused [Lat. nollet] to open the mystery of the kingdom of heaven to them. Certainly in doing this, therefore, he did not will [Lat. nolebat] that his words be understood, because he did not will [Lat. nolebat] himself to be revealed in that mystery ... If therefore God generally wills all persons to be saved and to come to knowledge of the truth (1 Tim. 2:4), how is it that the Truth himself hides the mystery of his knowledge from some? … Certainly to those whom he denies his knowledge, he also denies salvation … If the statement of the Apostle is referring universally to all persons entirely, they [who believe this] will be compelled to pronounce that the holy evangelists are liars. For, how is it that he who wills all persons to be saved and to come to knowledge of the truth, did not will to give to certain ones to know the mystery of the kingdom of heaven? Surely if he wills to save all persons entirely, he certainly does not refuse anyone … Therefore, how was there both a will to save and an unwillingness to show the mystery of salvation? How was it, I ask, that if the Truth willed that all persons should come to his knowledge, that he did not will to show them the way in which they should come? ... How therefore does he will those to come to his knowledge to whom he denies his knowledge? For what is to not will to show the mystery of his knowledge, but to not will [Lat. nolle] to save? … If the Truth willed that all persons would come to his knowledge, how is it that he refused to show them [the way] by which they would come? ... How, therefore, does he will those to come to his knowledge whom he denies his knowledge? For what is it to refuse to reveal the mystery of his knowledge except to refuse to save? Therefore he, who refuses to open the mystery of his knowledge to some because of the hardness of their own hearts, knowledge without which no one comes to salvation, does not will all persons to be saved ... Therefore he willed to be saved those to whom he gave to know the mystery of salvation; but he does not will to be saved those to whom he has denied the knowledge of the mystery of salvation.



Caesarius of Arles (c.470-542)

[Source: De gratia; quoted in Francis X. Gumerlock, Fulgentius of Ruspe on the Saving Will of God: The Development of a Sixth-Century African Bishop’s Interpretation of I Timothy 2:4 During the Semi-Pelagian Controversy (Lewiston, NY: Edwin Mellen Press, 2009), pp. 162, 163-165]

But lifting yourself up in the most proud tribunal of your heart, you presume to judge God, saying ... How does it seem [right] to him to will that the dew of divine grace remain in one cloud, that is, in the people of the Jews, through so many thousands of years, and that all of the other areas, that is, the whole world, did not deserve to be watered through the mercy of God? Or why afterward this one cloud, that is, the people of the Jews, would remain dry without the grace of God, and the areas of all of the Gentiles would receive the dew of divine mercy? And since our Lord and Savior said in the Gospel that if the miracles, which had been performed in Korazin, Bethsaida, and Capernaum, had been performed in Tyre and Sidon and even in Sodom, they would have repented long ago sitting in sackcloth and ashes (Luke 10:13), ask him why he would perform miracles there [i.e. in Korazin, Bethsaida, and Capernaum], not only where he would not be believed but also where he would suffer persecution, and did not perform them there [i.e. in Tyre, Sidon, and Sodom] where they would have repented and believed? Also, accuse the Lord Christ [asking] why he said in the Gospel: Not everyone receives the word, but those to whom it has been given (Matt. 19:11); and this: To you it has been given to know the mystery of the kingdom of God, but to them it has not been given (Matt. 13:11). And because you have prepared your soul more for blaming the Lord than for praising him, ask why he, praying to the Father, would say: I ask not for the world, but for those whom you have given to me (John 17:9)?; and why no one may come to him unless the Father draws him (cf. John 6:44); and that which the Lord again has said: No one knows the Father except the Son, and the one to whom the Son wills to reveal him (Matt. 11:27)? Say to him: Why not to everyone, but [only] to whom he wills? And that which he again said: Just as the Father raises and quickens the dead, so also the Son quickens whom he wills (John 5:21). And on this passage respond to him: Why does he not quicken all, but [only] those whom he wills? Also argue with the Holy Spirit, why he does not breathe on everyone, but [only] where he wills (John 3:8), and why he distributes to each one as he wills (1 Cor. 12:11).
And also say this: Why as we read in the Acts of the Apostles, did God in previous generations permit all nations to walk in their own ways (Acts 14:16), and chose only one nation of the Jews; and why, when Paul and Barnabas were preaching, only those believed who had been predestined to eternal life (Acts 13:48)? Argue why, when Paul was teaching, God opened up the heart of Lydia, the seller of purple, so that she would believe those things which were spoken to her by Paul (Acts 16:14), or why he carried this out in her, but did not do it in all the rest who were present then.
And accuse God in this, about that which the Apostle said: If the number of the children of Israel were as the sand of the sea a remnant will be saved (Rom. 9:27). And this: A remnant has been saved through the election of grace (Rom. 11:5). Speak against the Apostle: Why only a remnant?
Again, I ask you whether God in one day is able to make the whole world Catholic. If you say that he is not able, see how much evil you would presume to bring forth out of your mouth? If you say what is true, that he is able, do you presume to ask him why he does not do it, because without doubt he is able to? The Apostle responds to you with what was already said above: O man, who are you who answers back to God? (Rom. 9:20); and this: O the depth of the riches of the wisdom and of the knowledge of God, how incomprehensible are his judgments! (Rom. 11:33).
Perhaps you say: “God indeed wills that all believe in him [cf. I Tim. 2:4], but not all are willing.” Why? Because they are not able without his grace. And at this point I ask you whether the human will is more able to contradict the divine will or whether the power of God is more able to convert human wills to himself. If you presume to deny this [latter assertion], the Psalmist cries out to you: But our God in heaven on high did all things whatsoever he willed in heaven and on earth (Ps. 115:3; 135:6); and the Apostle says: Who has resisted his will? (Rom 9:19). If he did all things whatsoever he willed, what he did not do, he certainly did not will, by a judgment hidden and also deep, and although incomprehensible nevertheless just.



Prudentius of Troyes (d. 861)

[Source: Quoted in Francis X. Gumerlock, “The Tractoria of Prudentius of Troyes (d. 861),” Kerux 25:1 (May 2010), pp. 22-23]

[As a doctrinal subscription for the ordination of Aeneas of Paris:] … Concerning the Will of God: Fourth. That one should believe and confess that the omnipotent God wills to save whomever [He wants], and that no one is in any way able to be saved unless He saves them; and all those to be saved, He willed to be saved [cf. I Tim. 2:4]. And from this, [concerning] those who are not saved, it is clearly not His will that they should be saved, as the prophet says, 'All things whatsoever God willed, He did in heaven and on earth, in the sea, and in all of the abyss' (Ps 135:6). Also, it may be that some have consented, approved, and subscribed to other opinions, which the Church universally condemned against Pelagius. Nevertheless, against him and his companions, the Church every day rejoices over, confesses, preaches, holds, and will hold these things, having been delivered from his very depraved opinions through the apostolic see, at the insistence of the most blessed Aurelius, bishop of Carthage, and Augustine, with two hundred and fourteen other bishops, and having been made common throughout the whole world through many epistles as well as books. May He [i.e., God], through His bounty, deign to forever preserve these things happily through all of your consent, [knowing that] your praiseworthy paternity and fraternity is unbreakable and very strong through heavenly grace"



Gottschalk (c.808–c.867)

[Source: Victor Genke and Francis X. Gumerlock (eds. & trans.), Gottschalk and a Medieval Predestination Controversy: Texts Translated From the Latin (Milwaukee, WI: Marquette University Press, 2010)]

All those whom God wills to be saved (1 Tm 2:4) are without doubt saved, nor can any be saved but those God wills to be saved. Nor is there any one whom God wills to be saved, and is not saved, since our God has done all things whatever he willed (Ps 134:6). They therefore are all saved—all whom he wills to be saved (p. 66).

“All” and “every” have to be understood, that is, as all who are saved, about whom the Apostle says: Who wills all men to be saved (1 Tm 2:4), and all who are not saved, whom God does not will to be saved (p. 67).

It is said of all the members of Christ: All the ends of the world will remember and turn to the Lord. And all the families of the nations will worship in his sight, for the kingdom is the Lord’s, and he will rule over the nations (Ps 21:28-29). And all kings of the earth will worship him; all the nations will serve him (Ps 71:11), and: All the nations that you have made will come and worship before you, Lord, and will glorify your name (Ps 85:9), and: Therefore all died, and he died for all (2 Cor 5:14-15), and: He handed him over for us all (Rom. 8:32), and: Who will all men to be saved (1 Tm 2:4) ... (pp. 120-121).

God saves by this salvation those upon whom he has mercy in his great goodness, not those whom he hardens with no iniquity. He nonetheless does both by his equally pious and just will and by his most omnipotent power. For the Apostle does not say: He has mercy on whom he wills and hardens whom he does not will, but: He has mercy on whom he wills, and hardens whom he wills (Rom 9:18). Hence, those who want the words of the Apostle: God wills all men to be saved [I Tim. 2:4], to be understood in general both for the elect and for the reprobate, but he saves the elect because they themselves will to be saved, and on the contrary he does not save the reprobate because they do not will to be, can most easily be refuted by the one syllable by which is said: He hardens whom he wills (Rom 9:18). For God truly by no means willed to save with eternal salvation those whom he on that account, as scripture testifies, justly hardens because he wills, not because he does not will. Here let them wake up, if they can, who thus far have not been afraid to believe this and also are not afraid even now. And if they do not blush for shame at what the Lord God said to Moses: I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion, and I will be gracious to whom I will be pleased (Ex 33:19)—he did not say: “To him who pleases me”—or at what the psalmist said: Great are works of the Lord, sought out in all his wills (Ps 110:2), and: The Lord has done whatever he willed in heaven and on earth, in the sea and in all the deeps (Ps 134:6) ... (pp. 144-145).

God does not will that all men be saved, but only those who are saved. And in the words of the Apostle: Who wills all men to be saved (1 Tm 2:4), “all” means only all those who are saved" (p. 173).

[Gottschalk] says, as the old predestinarians also said, that “God does not will all men to be saved (1 Tm 2:4), but only those who are saved; however, all those are saved whom he willed to save and for this reason whoever is not saved absolutely do not belong to that will that they be saved. Since if all those whom God wills to be saved are not saved, he has not done whatever he willed, and if he wills what he cannot do, he is not omnipotent, but weak. But he is omnipotent who has done whatever he willed, as the scripture says: The Lord has done whatever he willed in heaven and on earth, in the sea and in all the deeps (Ps 134:6) ... (pp. 176-177).

[Gottschalk] says that God does not will all men to be saved (1 Tm 2:4), but only those who are saved, but that all are saved whom he willed to save, and for this reason that all those who are not saved did not pertain to that will that they be saved. Scripture says: The Lord has done whatever he willed in heaven and on earth, in the sea and in all the deeps (Ps 134:6); In your will, Lord, all things have been placed, and there is no one who is able to resist your will (Est 13:9). Therefore, he does not will all to be saved, but only those who are saved, because if he wills what he cannot do, he is not omnipotent (p. 179).



Remigius of Lyon (d. 875)

[“A Reply to the Three Letters” in George E. McCracken (ed. and trans.), Early Medieval TheologyThe Library Of Christian Classics, vol. 9 (London: SCM Press, 1957), pp. 167-168]

[On behalf of the church at Lyons …] In this matter therefore we grieve that ecclesiastical truth has been condemned, not a wretched monk [i.e., Gottschalk]. In that statement of the apostle wherein he speaks of God “who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of truth” [I Tim. 2:4], we believe that the interpretation of the most blessed Augustine (always devoutly accepted by the whole church and to be so accepted to the end of the world) has been followed. Treating of so great a problem with the twofold testimony of apostles and prophets being brought together, he explained in many passages of his books, especially in the treatise called the Manual [i.e., The Enchridion], how each truth must be received according to a sound understanding of the fiat, and he makes clear what seems to him the more probable interpretation of so great a matter. It would not be proper for his absolutely truthful interpretation to be condemned on the part of any man by the catholic priests of God, lest he whose authority is followed be adjudged the heretic rather than the one who is supposed to be in error ... The treatment concerning the value of the Lord’s blood which was given for those only who wished to believe is manifestly (as we have satisfactorily shown above) the opinion of the same blessed fathers, the same indeed which that one [i.e., Gottschalk], we think, learned by reading and which he was afraid to disapprove.



Peter Lombard (c.1100-1160)


[Source: The Sentences, I, d. 46, c. 2, a. 2]

But that text [i.e., I Timothy 2:4] is not to be understood to have been spoken in that sense, as if God had willed some to be saved and they are not saved.


[Source: Jonathan H. Rainbow, The Will of God and the Cross: An Historical and Theological Study of John Calvin’s Doctrine of Limited Redemption (Eugene, OR: Pickwick Publications, 1990), pp. 33-34]

Augustine’s exegesis of I Tim. 2:4 also continued to find expression in the early scholastics. Anselm, for instance, limited the saving will of God to the “righteous,” and Hugh of St. Victor, building on the conviction that what God wills must take place, followed Augustine in seeing the saving will of God in I Tim. 2:4 as the power by which God makes men willing to be saved. This is, in effect, to limit it to the elect, since God does not work this desire in any but the elect. Peter Lombard especially showed himself repeatedly a faithful disciple of Augustine in this regard. He often asserted Augustine’s doctrine of divine omnipotence, and made it the foundation both of his exposition of I Tim. 2:4 and of his systematic treatment of the question of God’s will in the Sentences: “‘Who wills all men to be saved.’ Because of these words many have deviated from the truth, saying that God wills many things to happen which do not happen. But it must not for this reason be understood to speak as if God willed some to be saved and they are not saved.”


[Source: Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, vol. 2, p. 352, citing P. Lombard, Sententiae in IV liberis distinctae, I, dist. 40-41; in the commentaries of Thomas [Aquinas], Bonaventure, and Duns Scotus; T. Aquinas, Summa theol., I, qu. 19, 23; Summa contra gentiles, III, 163]

In the line of Augustine, Januarius, Fulgentius, Caesarius, Prudentius, Gottschalk, Remigius, etc., even in the later Middle Ages, for many of the leading theologians, “I Timothy 2:4 is still read in a restrictive sense and interpreters still refrain from teaching a universal divine benevolence and universal atonement.”



Gregory of Rimini (d. 1358)


[Source: Rainbow, The Will of God and the Cross, pp. 39-40]

Gregory of Rimini [d. 1358], however, saw in such a treatment of the verse [i.e., I Tim. 2:4] the ghost of Pelagius and the seeds of the exaltation of the human will at the expense of the divine, and so returned to Augustine’s interpretation. Rejecting the antecedent-consequent scheme along with its motive, he maintained that “all” means all categories of men and that the saving will of God is for the elect from these categories: “The sense is that God wills some to be saved from every estate, whether noble or ignoble, poor or rich, male or female, and of whatever differences there are among individuals”


[Source: Gordon Leff, Gregory of Rimini: Tradition and Innovation in Fourteenth Century Thought (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1961), pp. 199, 201, 202]

[According to Gregory of Rimini {d. 1358},] God, far from loving all mankind and desiring the salvation of all men [head for head], deliberately discriminated among them, choosing to elect some and to damn others; He is not an acceptator personarum when dealing with those who are in sin, for He renounces and punishes all iniquity. Central to Gregory’s views is his exegesis upon Timothy I, 2, 4, [i.e., I Timothy 2:4] that God “will have all men to be saved.” This had come to be almost the key text in the discussion ... [Gregory] regards God’s will by which He predestines as beneplacite ... that is to say, for Gregory, when God wills that someone be elected or damned, He does so not by a precept … nor by the negative act of permission, but actively. His will is therefore unconditional and cannot be evaded; and those whose salvation He has willed, He has willed absolutely and determinately. Hence it is not velleitas; for St. Paul does not use the subjunctive vellet, when he says that God wants all men to be saved, but vult … In his [i.e., Gregory’s] eyes “all” [in I Timothy 2:4] did not mean literally every man but men of every different sort and condition: to use his own expression, it was to be understood ... ut sit distributio pro generibus singulorum, embracing high and low, rich and poor, men and women, a conspectus of mankind, but not all men [absolutely] ... Since the decision over salvation is made without reference to the saved, by the same token He has willed those who are not to be saved.



John Wycliffe (d. 1384)

[Source: Rainbow, The Will of God and the Cross, pp. 40-41, 43]

[John] Wyclif affirmed the omnipotence of God and the doctrine of predestination in the strongest conceivable terms. The divine will is immutable. He was not reticent to say that because of God’s predestination all things happen by necessity, since it is impossible for the divine will to be frustrated or altered ... Wyclif was in these fundamental respects a faithful disciple of Augustine ... When he interpreted I Timothy 2:4 ... [t]he end result was, of course, that which Augustine would have desired, but the method was scholastic.



Martin Luther (1483-1546)

[Source: Wilhelm Pauck (ed.), Luther: Lectures on Romans (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2006), p. 252; italics original. Pauck correctly adds this as a footnote to the third sentence: “Augustine, Enchiridion, XXVII, 103” (n. 66)]

A second objection: “God will have all men to be saved” (I Tim. 2:4), and he gave his Son for us men, and he created man for the sake of eternal life. And likewise: Everything is there for man’s sake and he is there for God’s sake in order that he may enjoy him, etc. But this objection and others like it can just as easily be refuted as the first one: because all these sayings must be understood only with respect to the elect, as the apostle says in II Tim. 2:10: “All for the elect.” Christ did not die for absolutely all, for he says: “this is my blood which is shed for you” (Luke 22:20) and “for many” (Mark 14:24)—he did not say: for all—“to the remission of sins” (Matt. 26:28).



Martin Bucer (1491-1551)


[Source: Quoted in Rainbow, The Will of God and the Cross, p. 60]

And the scripture always pointed to [by the Anabaptists], that God “wants all men to be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth” (I Tim. 2:4), also applies only to the elect, but the elect of all peoples and tribes.


[Source: Quoted in Rainbow, The Will of God and the Cross, p. 60]

Certainly God has appointed his own people from all kinds and grades of men, whom he leads to the knowledge of the truth [I Tim. 2:4] ... That he says “all” is likewise as if he had said, some from all, for there is no kind of man in which he does not have some of his own.



Peter Martyr Vermigli (1499-1562)

[Predestination and Justification (Kirksville, MO: Truman State University Press, 2003), pp. 62-64]

They [i.e., our Roman Catholic adversaries] also put forward the statement to Timothy, “God will have all men to be saved” [I Tim. 2:4]. Pighius regularly repeats this passage as if it were invincible. Yet Augustine often taught that it may be expounded in such a way that it lends no weight at all to prove their fond invention. First, we take it to be spoken of all states and kinds of men, that is, that God will have some of all kinds of men to be saved. This interpretation agrees perfectly well with the purpose of the apostle. He had instituted that prayers and supplications should be made for all men, especially kings and those in public authority, so that under them we may live a quiet life in all piety and chastity [I Tim. 2:1-2]. Therefore, to declare that no state or kind of person is excluded, he added, “God will have all men to be saved.” It is as if he had said that no one is prevented by that calling and level in which he is placed, so long as it is not repugnant to the word of God, but that he may come to salvation; therefore, we should pray for all kinds of men. Yet we cannot infer from this that God endows everyone in particular with grace, or predestines everyone to salvation. Similarly, in the time of the flood, all living creatures are said to have been saved in the ark with Noah, but only some of every kind were gathered together in it ... The Holy Scriptures set forth two human societies: one of the godly and the other of the ungodly. Both societies have universal propositions attached which should be restricted to their own category by the careful reader. The prophets say, and Christ cites them: “All shall be taught by God (theodidaktos) and all shall know me from the least to the greatest”; and again he says, “When I shall be lifted up from the earth, I will draw all things to myself” [John 6:45; John 12:32]. Unless these universal propositions refer to the godly who are elected, they are not true. This is also true of these passages: “I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh” and “All flesh shall come in my sight and shall worship in Jerusalem,” and again, “All flesh shall see the salvation of God,” and finally, “God lifts up all who fall” [Joel 2:28; Isa. 66:23; Luke 3:6; Ps. 145:14]. Who does not see that these passages are to be understood only of the saints? In contrast, these following passages refer to the ungodly: “No one receives his testimony” yet many believed, and “You will be hated by all.” Again it is stated, “They all seek after their own interests”; and “They have all turned aside together; they have become corrupt. There is no one who does good, not even one” [John 3:32; Matt. 10:22; Phil. 2:21; Ps. 14:3]. Those who are pious and regenerate are acceptable to God and endeavor to show him some obedience to the law, but these universal sayings should not be extended beyond their own society. Augustine had this distinction in mind in his book The City of God, where he proves that there have always been two cities, one the city of God and the other the city of the devil. Therefore, in these general propositions we must always give due consideration as to which class or group of men they refer. If we do so here, we will apply the statement to the saints and the elect, namely, that “God will have all men to be saved,” and so all doubt is removed.



John Calvin (1509-1564)


[Source: Calvin’s Calvinism (Jenison, MI: RFPA, 2009), pp. 92-93]

The difficulty, according to Pighius, that lies in the other place of Paul, where the apostle affirms that “God will have all men to be saved and come unto the knowledge of the truth” [I Tim. 2:4], is solved in one moment and by one question, namely, How does God wish all men to come to the knowledge of the truth? For Paul couples together this salvation and this coming to the knowledge of the truth. I would ask, Did the same will of God stand the same from the beginning of the world or not? For if God willed or wished that his truth should be known unto all men, how was it that he did not proclaim and make known his law to the Gentiles also? Why did he confine the light of life within the narrow limits of Judea? What does Moses mean when he says, “For what nation is there so great who has God so nigh unto them as the Lord our God is in all things that we call upon him for? And what nation is there so great, that has statues and judgments so righteous, as all this law that I set before you this day” [Deut. 4:7, 8]? The divine lawgiver surely means that there was no other nation that had statutes and laws by which it was ruled like unto that nation. What does Moses extol but the peculiar privilege of the race of Abraham? To this responds the high encomium of David, pronounced on the same nation: “He hath not dealt so with any nation, and as for his judgments, they have not known them” [Ps. 147:20]. Nor must we disregard the express reason: “Because the Lord loved thy fathers, therefore he chose their seed after them” [Deut. 4:37]. And why did God thus choose them? Not because they were more excellent in themselves than others, but it pleased God to choose them “for his peculiar people” [Deut. 14:2; Deut. 26:18; I Pet. 2:9]. What? Are we to suppose that the apostle did not know that he was prohibited by the Holy Spirit from preaching the word in Asia, and from passing over into Bithynia [Acts 16:6, 7]? As the continuance of this argument would render us too prolix, we will be content with taking one position more. God, after having thus lighted the candle of eternal life to the Jews alone, suffered the Gentiles to wander for many ages in the darkness of ignorance, and at length this special gift and blessing were promised to the church: “But the Lord shall arise upon thee, and his glory shall be seen upon thee” [Isa. 60:2]. Now let Pighius boast, if he can, that God wills all men to be saved. The above arguments, founded on the Scriptures, prove that even the external preaching of the doctrine of salvation, which is very far inferior to the illumination of the Spirit, was not made of God common to all men. This passage of the apostle was long ago brought forward by the Pelagians and handled against us with all their might. What Augustine advanced in reply to them in many parts of his works, I think it unnecessary to bring forward on the present occasion.


[Source: Calvin’s Calvinism (Jenison, MI: RFPA, 2009), pp. 93-94]

The true meaning of Paul, however, in the passage now under consideration [I Tim. 2:4], is perfectly clear and intelligible to everyone who is not determined on contention. The apostle is exhorting that all solemn “supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks be made for all men: for kings and for all that are in authority” [v. 1]. And because there were in that age so many and such wrathful and bitter enemies of the church, Paul, to prevent despair from hindering the prayers of the faithful, hastens to meet their distresses by earnestly entreating them to be instant in prayer “for all men” and especially “for all those in authority” [vv. 1, 2]. “For” says the apostle, “God will have all men to be saved” [v. 4]. Who does not see that the apostle is here speaking of orders of men rather than of individuals? Indeed, the distinction that commentators make is not without great reason and point: Nations of individuals, not individuals of nations, are here intended by Paul.


[Source: Calvin’s Calvinism (Jenison, MI: RFPA, 2009), pp. 153-154]

“But Paul teaches us,” continues Georgius, “that God ‘would have all men to be saved’” [I Tim. 2:4]. It follows, therefore, according to his understanding of that passage, either that God is disappointed in his wishes or that all men without exception must be saved. If he should reply that God on his part wills all men to be saved, or as far as he is concerned, seeing that salvation is nevertheless left to the free will of each individual, I in return ask him, Why, if such be the case, God did not command the Gospel to be preached to all men indiscriminately from the beginning of the world, and why he suffered so many generations of men to wander for so many ages in all the darkness of death? It follows, in the apostle’s context, that God ‘would have all men come to the knowledge of the truth’ [v. 4]. But the sense of the whole passage is perfectly plain and contains no ambiguity to any reader of candor and of a sound judgment. We have fully explained the whole passage in former pages. The apostle had just before exhorted that solemn and general prayers should be offered up in the church “for kings and princes ...” [vv. 1, 2], that no one might have cause to deplore those kings and magistrates whom God might be pleased to set over them, because at that time rulers were the most violent enemies of the faith. Paul, therefore, makes divine provision for this state of things by the prayers of the church and by affirming that the grace of Christ could reach to this order of men also—even to kings, princes, and rulers of every description.


[Source: Calvin’s Calvinism (Jenison, MI: RFPA, 2009), p. 228]

But as conversion is God’s peculiar gift, he converts effectually those whom he wills to be converted in reality. In what sense is it that Paul says, “God will have all men to be saved” [I Tim. 2:4]? As we have observed and explained before, let readers learn from the context.


[Source: Calvin’s Calvinism (Jenison, MI: RFPA, 2009), p. 246]

And as to your [i.e., Pighius, the Roman Catholic theologian] usual way of citing that passage of the apostle Paul—“God would have all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” [I Tim. 2:4], how vain a prop that is to put under your error to support it. I think I have shown with sufficient plainness and that repeatedly. For it is, so to speak, more certain than certainty itself that the apostle is not in that passage speaking of individuals, but of orders of men in their various civil and national vocations. He had just before commanded that the public prayers of the church should be offered up for kings, others in authority, and for all who held magisterial offices, of what kind and degree they may be. But as nearly all those who were then armed with the sword of public justice were open and professed enemies to the church, and as it might therefore seem to the church singular or absurd that public prayers should be offered for them, the apostle meets all objections, so very natural, by admonishing the church to pray even for them and to supplicate God to extend his grace and favor even to them for the church’s quiet, peace, and safety ...


[Source: Calvin’s Calvinism (Jenison, MI: RFPA, 2009), pp. 247-248]

One thing is certain: These two things—salvation and the knowledge of the truth—are always inseparably joined together. Now, then, answer me: If God had willed that his truth should be known unto all men, how is it that from the first preaching of the gospel until now, so many nations exist unto whom his pure truth has never been sent by him and unto whom, therefore, it has never come? Again, if such had been the will of God concerning all men, how is it that he never opened the eyes of all? For the internal illumination of the Spirit, with which God has condescended to bless so few, is indispensably necessary unto faith. There is also another knot for you to untie: Since no one but he who is drawn by the secret influence of the Spirit can approach unto God, how is it that God does not draw all men indiscriminately to himself if he really “wills all men to be saved,” in the common meaning of the expression [I Tim. 2:4]?


[Source: Commentary on Daniel 7:27]

As, however, it is certain that many have perseveringly rebelled against God and the teaching of his gospel, it may seem absurd for the angel to pronounce all the powers of the world obedient and submissive. But it is worth while to study the customary methods of scriptural expression. For instance, by the phrase “all people,” the Spirit does not mean every single person, but simply some out of every nation who should submit to Christ’s yoke, acknowledge him to be king, and obediently obey his Church. How often do these sentiments occur in the prophets? All nations shall come–all kings shall serve. At that time no king existed who was not professedly an enemy of true piety, and who did not desire the abolition of the very name of his law. The prophets enlarge thus magnificently on the future restoration of this kingdom, as we have stated before, in consequence of the event being so utterly incredible. So, also, in this place all powers, says he, shall serve and obey him; that is, no power shall so boast in its loftiness, as not willingly to become subject to the Church, although at present all so fully despise it; nay, while they rage with all their might against the most wretched Church, and while they tread it most ignominiously under foot, even then they shall be subject to it. This we know to have been amply fulfilled. Some persons foolishly press beyond their meaning words of universal import, as when Paul says, God wishes all men to be saved. Hence, say they, no one is predetermined for destruction, but all are elect, that is, God is not God. (1 Tim. ii. 4.) But we are not surprised at such madness as this, corrupting the impious and profane, who desire by their cavils to promote disbelief in all the oracles of the Spirit. Let us clearly comprehend the frequency of this figure of speech; when the Holy Spirit names “all,” he means some out of all nations, and not every one universally.


[Source: Sermons on Timothy and Titus (Great Britain: Banner, 1983), pp. 150, 151-152; spelling and punctuation modernized)

As Paul speaks now of all nations, so speaks he also of all estates, as if he should say that God will save kings and magistrates, as well as the less and baser sort ... If a man will read but three lines, he shall easily perceive, that Saint Paul speaks not here of every particular man (as we showed already) but he speaks of all people and of all states, and shows that the case stands not as it did before the coming of Christ, whereas there was but one chosen people, but now God shows himself a Saviour of all the world, according to that which was said, Thine inheritance shall be even to the end of the world. Moreover, to the end that no man abuse himself or be deceived by their vain and foolish talk, which wrest and wrench holy writ or rather pervert it, let us see how the saying of these enemies of God and all godliness may stand. God will have all men to be saved, that is to say, every one, as they imagine. If the will of God be so now a days, no doubt it was like even from the beginning of the world, for we know that his mind changes not, he changes not as men do. So then, if at this day God will have all men to be saved, his mind was so always, and if his mind was so always, what shall we make of that that Saint Paul adds that he will that all men come to the knowledge of truth? He chose but one certain people to himself (as Saint Paul says in Acts 14) and left the poor Gentiles to walk in their ignorance. Could he not have executed his will at that time? Nay, even since the Gospel, it was not his will that all should know the gospel at the first blow.


[Source: 1539 Institutes, quoted in Rainbow, The Will of God and the Cross, p. 137]

The first statement of the apostle [i.e., I Tim. 2:4] is unsuitably adduced here [as if it opposed eternal predestination]. For it is easily seen from the context that the apostle there speaks, not of individual men, but of orders of men.


[Source: Institutes, 3.24.16, pp. 983-984]

I reply: first, it is clear from the context how he wills it. For Paul couples the two points: that he wills them to be saved, and to come to a recognition of the truth. If they mean that this has been fixed by God’s eternal plan so that they may receive the doctrine of salvation, what does that saying of Moses’ mean: “What nation is so glorious that God should draw nigh unto it as he does unto you?” [Deut. 4:7 p., cf. Comm.]. How did it happen that God deprived many peoples of the light of his gospel while others enjoyed it? How did it happen that the pure recognition of the doctrine of godliness never came to some, while others barely tasted some obscure rudiments of it? From this it will be easy to determine the drift of Paul’s reasoning. He had enjoined upon Timothy to make solemn prayers in the church for kings and rulers [I Tim. 2:12]. But since it seemed somewhat absurd to pour out prayers to God for an almost hopeless class of men (not only strangers all to the body of Christ, but intent upon crushing his Kingdom with all their strength), he adds, “This is acceptable to God, who wills all men to be saved” [I Tim. 2:3-4]. By this, Paul surely means only that God has not closed the way unto salvation to any order of men; rather, he has so poured out his mercy that he would have none without it. The other statements do not declare what God has determined in his secret judgment regarding all men, but they proclaim that there is ready pardon for all sinners, provided they turn back to seek it. For if they should tenaciously insist on the statement that he wills to have mercy on all [cf. Rom. 11:32], I give by way of exception what is written elsewhere: “Our God is in heaven, where he does whatever he pleases” [Ps. 115:3]. So, then, this word is to be explained as to agree with the other: “I will show mercy to whom I will show mercy, and I will pity those whom I pity” [Ex. 33:19]. He who chooses those upon whom he is bound to show mercy does not bestow it upon all. But since it clearly appears that he is there concerned with classes of men, not men as individuals, away with further discussion! Yet we ought at the same time to note that Paul is not stating what God does at all times, in all places, and to all men, but leaves him free to make even kings and magistrates sharers in the heavenly doctrine, though because of their blindness they should rage against it.


[Source: Rainbow, The Will of God and the Cross, p. 138]

Thus appeared in the final form of [John Calvin’s] Institutes [i.e., the 1559 edition], in a programmatic way, the important themes of Calvin’s exegesis of this verse [i.e., I Tim. 2:4]: God does not will every human being to be saved, but “all men” describes a universality of kinds.


[Source: Rainbow, The Will of God and the Cross, p. 136; italics Rainbow’s]

“[God] wills that all men be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth” [I Tim. 2:4]. This text was always in the middle of any discussion of the extent of God’s saving purpose. Origen had taken it as an affirmation of universal salvation. Augustine, seeking to uphold both the omnipotence of God [against the Pelagians and Semi-Pelagians] and the reality of damnation [against the Origenists], had argued that “all” did not mean every. Hoffman [the Anabaptist] had used the text against Bucer; Bucer had replied with the Augustinian universalism of kinds exegesis. And, predictably, Calvin’s opponents hauled out the verse again, and Calvin, proving himself in this respect a completely loyal and unoriginal Augustinian, reproduced the exegesis of Augustine and Bucer. We get the impression, from the frequency of his remarks upon it, that this was the text that always came up, that everyone knew about; you could not discuss soteriology in the sixteenth century without saying something about it! We may also assume that Calvin grew weary of plowing the same ground again and again and must admire all the more, for that reason, his persistence in so doing. This was the theological trench warfare of the sixteenth century.


[Source: Richard A. Muller, “A Tale of Two Wills? Calvin, Amyraut, and Du Moulin on Ezekiel 18:23,” in Calvin and the Reformed Tradition on the Work of Christ and the Order of Salvation (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2012), p. 115]

In all three places [including his sermon on I Timothy 2:3-5], Calvin denies that God has two wills—and, significantly, even when he comments on the double (duplex) manifestation of God’s willing, he refers to the will in the singular. Amyraut’s language, by contrast, consistently identifies two wills corresponding to two divine mercies.


[Source: Raymond A. Blacketer, “The Three Points in Most Parts Reformed: A Reexamination of the So-Called Well-Meant Offer of Salvation,” in Calvin Theological Journal, vol. 35, no. 1 (April, 2000), pp. 55-56]

In his 1552 treatise On the Eternal Predestination of God, directed against the views of Albert Pighius and Georgius Siculus, Calvin responds to Pighius’ claim, based on 1 Timothy 2:4 and Ezekiel 33:11, that God desires the salvation of all persons: “Now we reply, that as the language of the prophet here is an exhortation to repentance, it is not at all marvelous in him to declare that God wills all men to be saved. For the mutual relation between these threats and promises shows that such forms of speaking are conditional. In this same manner God declared to the Ninevites, and to the kings of Gerar and Egypt, that he would do that which, in reality, he did not intend to do, for their repentance averted the punishment which he had threatened to inflict upon them ... Just so it is with respect to the conditional promises of God, which invite all men to salvation. They do not positively prove that which God has decreed in his secret counsel, but declare only what God is ready to do to all those who are brought to faith and repentance.” If the distinction between God’s preceptive and decretive will is not clear enough, Calvin adds that “as a Lawgiver, he enlightens all men with the external doctrine of conditional life. In this manner he calls, or invites, all men unto eternal life.” This is an indiscriminate declaration of what is required for a person to receive eternal life, but it is not an offer of salvation to those whom God has decreed to leave in their sin. Regarding the promise of the gift of conversion in Jeremiah 31:33, Calvin remarks that “a man must be utterly beside himself to assert that this promise is made to all men generally and indiscriminately.” Actual salvation, then, is not offered to all; but the way of salvation is proclaimed to all. The proposition that God desires the salvation of every individual cannot be maintained, Calvin argues, because not even the external preaching of the word comes to everyone, let alone the illumination of the Spirit: “Now let Pighius boast, if he can, that God wills all men to be saved!” If God does not intend salvation for all, how can he “offer” it to all? “No one but a man deprived of his common sense and common judgment can believe that salvation was ordained by the secret counsel of God equally and indiscriminately for all men. Returning to Pighius’ use of 1 Timothy 2:4, where Paul says that God “wants all men to be saved and come to a knowledge of the truth,” Calvin argues that this passage does not mean that God wants each and every individual to be saved. “Who does not see that the apostle is here speaking of orders of men rather than of individuals? Indeed, that distinction which commentators here make is not without great reason and point; that classes of individuals, not individuals of classes, are here intended by Paul.”


[Sebastian] Castellio [an antipredestinarian heretic] thinks that God desires the salvation of every individual because all are called. But Calvin responds that Castellio does not understand that most basic truth about God’s calling (Calvin calls it the ABCs of the Christian faith): the distinction between the external and the internal call. The external call comes “from the mouths of men,” while the internal call is the secret work of God. Moreover, Calvin adds, 1 Timothy 2:4 means that God desires the salvation of all who will come to a knowledge of the truth, that is, the elect. Castellio would do well to profit from “the little book written by our brother, Mr. Beza.” This little book is Beza’s Summa totius Christianismi, which includes his famous table of predestination. Far from characterizing the external call as an offer of salvation, Beza writes that God justly hates the reprobate because they are corrupt. As for the reprobate who hear the external call, Beza explains that “their downfall is much more severe, since he in fact grants them the external preaching, but who, despite being called, are neither willing nor even able to respond, because, they are content in their blindness, and think that they see, and because it is not given to them to embrace and believe the Spirit of truth. Consequently, although their obstinacy is necessary, it is nevertheless voluntary. This is why they refuse to come to the banquet when they are invited; for the word of life is foolishness and an offense to them, and ultimately a lethal odor that leads to death.” Turning back to Calvin’s trouncing of Castellio, he concludes his brief treatise by once more employing the distinction between God’s preceptive and decretive will. It is true, he says, that God often uses a form of speech such as “Return to me, and I will come to you.” But the purpose of such language is to show us what we ought to do, not what we are able to do.


Calvin later expanded his refutation of Castellio’s antipredestinarian views in a treatise on the Secret Providence of God (1558). Here again, Calvin makes it clear that the proposition in 1 Timothy 2:4, that God desires the salvation of all persons, must be qualified. “Since no one but he who is drawn by the secret influence of the Spirit can approach unto God, how is it that God does not draw all men indiscriminately to himself, if he really ‘wills all men to be saved’?” For Calvin, this passage can mean that God wants all kinds, races, and classes of people to be saved; or it can mean that God wills that if anyone is to be saved, that person must repent and believe, and that this preceptive will of God is to be preached indiscriminately to all. But it does not mean that God earnestly desires the salvation of all who hear the preaching of the gospel.


[Source: Jaroslav Pelikan, The Christian Tradition: A History of the Development of Doctrine, vol. 4 (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 1984), p. 237]

Martin Bucer, to whose exegesis of the Pauline epistles Calvin acknowledged his indebtedness, followed Augustine’s explanation that the saving will of God of which the passage [i.e., I Tim. 2:4] spoke pertained not to individuals, but to classes of men. [Zacharias] Ursinus [1534-1583], too, interpreted the passage to refer to “all classes” rather than to all individuals ... It was essential, according to Calvin, not to superimpose 1 Timothy 2:1-4 on the doctrine of predestination, but rather to read it in the light of “the term ‘election,’ [which] occurs so often in Scripture.” Then it would be evident that “the apostle’s meaning here is simply that no nation of the earth and no class of society is excluded from salvation.” By any other interpretation, this command to pray for pagan kings and emperors, “an almost hopeless group of men,” would be “absurd” on the face of it. There must be, Beza argued, a proper “order of causes” in the interpretation of this passage, just as the term “world” in the passage, “God so loved the world” [John 3:16], must refer only to the elect, since Christ explained later in the same Gospel that he was not praying for the “world” [John 17:9].



John Knox (c. 1514-1572)

[Source: On Predestination, in Answer to the Cavillations by an Anabaptist (1560), pp. 406-407, 410-412; spelling and punctuation modernized]

Further, if God willeth all men to be saved, and to come to the knowledge of the truth [I Tim. 2:4], and yet many do perish in ignorance, and shall be condemned as Christ Jesus doth pronounce: then must it either follow, that God’s will is mutable, and so be unconstant, and not at all times like to himself, or else that he is not omnipotent ... The Apostle in these words: “God willeth all men to be saved, and to come to the knowledge of the truth,” speaketh not of every man, and of every particular person, but of all men in general, that is to say, of men of all estates, all conditions, all realms, and all ages. For as in Christ Jesus there is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither man nor woman, free man nor servant, but all are one in him [Gal. 3:28], so can no estate, no condition of man, no realm, nor no age, be proved so wicked and so corrupt, but out of the like hath God called some to the participation of his light, and to salvation and life by Christ Jesus; and that this is the very natural meaning of the Holy Ghost, the text itself doth witness. For the Apostle immediately before willeth prayers and supplications to be made for all men, for kings, and for all that were placed in authority. And because that the Church was chiefly oppressed by such, these doubts might have risen: Are we then bound to pray for those that are express and conjured enemies against God! “You are (saith the Apostle) for that is good and acceptable before God our Saviour, who will have all men to be saved:” that is, God willeth you to pray for your persecutors, that their eyes may be opened, and they be converted to the living God; who, no doubt, will save some of all estates, of all conditions and vocations of men ... If this interpretation (which we doubt not to be the very meaning of the Holy Ghost) can not satisfy you, then will I ask of you, If God will men otherwise to be saved than by Christ Jesus? or, as the Apostle speaketh, by coming to the knowledge of the verity? Plain it is, that by the words of the Apostle you can conclude none otherwise. For as he saith, “God will all men to be saved,” so doth he add, “and willeth all men to come to the knowledge of the verity.” Which word “willeth,” albeit it be not expressedly repeated in the second member, yet of necessity it must be understood as those that be but meanly seen in the Greek or Latin tongue do evidently see. Then, if I shall sufficiently prove, that God willeth not all men to come to the knowledge of the verity, in such sort as the Apostle meaneth, shall it not infallibly follow, that God will not all men to be saved, in such sense as you understand. That God willeth not all men to come to the knowledge of that verity, by the which man is verily made free from the bondage of Satan, is evident, not only by those whom we do see walk in darkness and ignorance, but also by the manifest Scriptures of God, who called Abraham, making to him and to his seed, the promise of salvation, saying, “I will be thy God, and the God of thy seed after thee,” which promise he kept secret many ages from the rest of the world. When he did notify his law unto Israel, and when Moses did repeat the same, he said, “Behold, I have laid before you this day life and death, benediction and execration; chose therefore life, that thou and thy seed may live” [Deut. 30:19]. If God would that all men and all nations indifferently should come to the same knowledge, why were not the laws, statues, and judgments of God made manifest to others, as they were to Israel? And if you answer that so they were, the Holy Ghost shall convict you of a lie. For he affirmeth, that God had not done so to all nations, and that his judgments he had not revealed nor made known unto them [Ps. 147:19-20]. But if that plain division made by God himself betwixt Jew and Gentile, during the time of the law, doth not fully satisfy you, hear yet the sentence of our Master Christ Jesus, who saith to his disciples, “To you it is given to understand the secrets of the kingdom, but unto others in parables, that having eyes they should not see” [Mark 4:11-12]. And that most plainly in that his solemn thanksgiving, he saith, “I praise thee, O Father, for thou hast hid these things from the prudent, and from the wise, but thou hast revealed them to little ones” [Matt. 11:25]. If God would have had the true knowledge of himself, and of his Son Christ Jesus, common to all why should Christ himself affirm, “That to some it was given, and to others it was not given; to some it was revealed, and from others it was hid!” And therefore, seeing it is plain that God will not give his true knowledge to all (yea, to some he doth never offer it), you shall never be able to prove, that God will all men to be saved. For the only means to attain to salvation and to life, is to know and embrace God to be our merciful Father in Christ Jesus, to which knowledge whosoever doth not attain (I mean of those that come to the years and age of discretion) can have no assurance to be saved. This were sufficient to convict you, even in your own conscience. For albeit malice will not suffer you to give place to the plain verity, yet shall the weight thereof so oppress your pride, that when you do open your mouth against it, yet shall you be witnesses even against yourselves.



Jerome Zanchius (1516-1590)

[Source: Absolute Predestination, Observations on the Divine Attributes, The Will of God, POSITION 8]

Since, as was lately observed, the determining will of God being omnipotent cannot be obstructed or made void, it follows that He never did, nor does He now, will that every individual of mankind should be saved. If this was His will, not one single soul could ever be lost (for who hath resisted His will? [Rom. 9:19]), and He would surely afford all men those effectual means of salvation, without which it cannot be had. Now, God could afford these means as easily to all mankind as to some only, but experience proves that He does not; and the reason is equally plain, namely, that He will not, for whatsoever the Lord pleaseth, that does He in heaven and on earth [Ps. 115:3]. It is said, indeed, by the apostle, that God, “would have all men saved, and come to the knowledge of the truth” [I Tim. 2:4], i.e., as Augustine (Enchir. c. 103 and De Cor. and Gr. c. 14), consistently with other Scriptures, explains the passage, “God will save some out of the whole race of mankind,” that is, persons of all nations, kindreds and tongues. Nay, He will save all men, i.e., as the same father observes, “Every kind of men, or men of every kind,” namely, the whole election of grace, be they bond or free, noble or ignoble, rich or poor, male or female. Add to this that it evidently militates against the majesty, omnipotence and supremacy of God to suppose that He can either will anything in vain, or that anything can take effect against His will; therefore Bucer observes, very rightly (ad Rom. ix.), “God doth not will the salvation of reprobates, seeing He hath not chosen them, neither created them to that end.” Consonant to which are those words of Luther, “This mightily offends our rational nature, that God should, of his own mere unbiased will, leave some men to themselves, harden them, and then condemn them; but he has given abundant demonstration, and does continually, that this is really the case, namely, that the sole cause why some are saved and others perish proceeds from His willing the salvation of the former and the perdition of the latter, according to that of Paul, He hath mercy on whom He will have mercy, and whom He will He hardeneth” (De Serv. Arb. c. 161)



Theodore Beza (1519-1605)

[Source: Raymond A. Blacketer, “Blaming Beza,” in David Gibson and Jonathan Gibson (eds.), From Heaven He Came and Sought Her, pp. 129, 138]

[Theodore] Beza begins his comments on this text [i.e., I Tim. 2:4] by noting that God gathers his church from every sort (genus) of people. To make this clearer, Beza chooses to translate [the Greek word pantas] as quosvis rather than omnes, preferring “indefinite” over “universal.” The duty of the Christian, then, is to pray for all, and not “to judge whoever has not yet come into the church as forsaken by God.” This is a rather magnanimous interpretation for a man accused of being coldly rationalistic. A similar sentiment, that one can never judge a person to be reprobate, occurs in his Tabula Praedestinationis. Beza argues, with an intentional lack of originality, that the text refers to sorts or classes of people, not every individual ... Beza’s comments substantially reflect the teachings of Calvin on these points, as one can demonstrate by comparing them to Calvin’s sermon on 1 Timothy 2:3-5. Here Calvin makes the point—repeatedly—that God does not will the salvation of every individual, but of people from every nation and class, Jew and Gentile, both great and small. God presents himself to all the world, but this does not undermine election and reprobation, or imply that God’s will is indifferent. Nor does God will that the gospel come to every person. Moreover, God does not provide a universal grace that he extends randomly; God’s grace is only for those whom he has chosen. The church is to present the promise of the gospel to all, but only because human beings cannot determine who is elect and who is reprobate. This does not imply two wills in God (which would violate the doctrine of divine simplicity) ...



Jacobus Kimedoncius (c.1550-1596)

[Source: Of the Redemption of Mankind, trans. Hugh Ince (London: Felix Kingston, 1598), pp. 52, 54-55, 260, 261; spelling and punctuation modernized]

Yet as touching the mind of Paul, the place [i.e., I Timothy 2:4] needeth interpretation, as Ambrose admonishes. For if God (who verily is Almighty, and does whatsoever he will, in heaven and earth [Ps. 135:6]) will have all men to be saved, and to come to the knowledge of the truth, why is not his will fulfilled? Neither say, as the Pelagians used to [argue] (as Augustine witnesses) that therefore this will of God is not fulfilled, because men will not. For no free will does withstand God being willing to save, as he teacheth On Rebuke and Grace 14, for so to will or not to will is in the power of the willer or niller, that it hinders not God’s will, nor overcomes his power. For he himself does the things that he wills, concerning those men that do not his will ... Augustine, The Enchiridion 103, expounds, He will that all men be saved [I Tim. 2:4], that is, all kinds of men, severed by what differences soever, kings, private men, noble, high and low, learned, unlearned, wise, foolish, rich, poor, males, females, children and infants, in all ages, in all professions, and if there be any other differences in men. And this exposition agrees throughly with the purpose of Paul. For thus he reasons, whom God would have to be saved, for their salvation the church ought to pray [vv. 1-2]. But God would have all, that is, whomsoever to be saved, without difference of nation, sex, order and dignity. Therefore for all, that is, whomsoever, even for kings and other kinds of men, faithful and unfaithful, the church ought to pray. Thus rightly is that expounded, which he says, that we must pray for all men. For if we should pray for all simply, and without exception of anyone, in vain had John said, There is a sin unto death, I say not for that that thou shouldest pray (I John 5:16). Elsewhere Augustine expounds these words, he will that all be saved, saying, that all the predestinate may be understood by them, because all sorts of men are in them, says he, On Rebuke and Grace 14. But of those words enough, which if the adversaries continue to abuse, let them also call to mind the exposition of Heerbrandus, Disput. de predest. th. 93, and of Biddenbachus and Osiander, Respons. ad. assertiones Iesuitarum Dilingenfium, where they also allow the received distinction of the schoolmen of the double will of God [i.e., the will of God's command and the will of God’s decree], which their Schmidlinus after endeavoured to confute, and they interpret the words of Paul with Augustine, to wit, that he speaks not of every person of men but of all the orders of men or not of every singular one of all sorts but of the sorts of every one. Further, that which is another reason of the adversaries out of that place of the apostle, they captiously catch at, in that he says, one mediator of God and men [I Tim. 2:5], that is, all men who come from Adam, say they, because also by the name of God is understood whatever is in God. But this is a mere shift. Paul speaks indefinitely, that Christ is the mediator of God and men. He adds not all, and if he had added it, the same restraint should take place, whereof was spoken before. For it is the part of a mediator (as Ambrose observes in his exposition of I Timothy) to be an umpire between him who has sinned and him against whom the sin is committed, that this party may pardon and that man may hereafter abide in the faith of God, which thing Christ did not take upon him for the reprobate world, for whom he vouchsafed no not so much as to pray unto the Father (John 17:9). Of which place also Cyril discoursing plainly testifies that Christ is the mediator and high priest not of the world but of his own, and that unto them alone is attributed rightly the benefit of the mediator ... But he will not effectually work in all and every one that they may believe and be saved. For if he willed this, his will should be altogether fulfilled and no man should be damned. But now he has mercy on whom he will, and whom he will he hardens [Rom. 9:18] ... Augustine also teaches that the saying of the apostle is rightly so to be understood, he will that all men be saved [I Tim. 2:4], that is, all kinds of men, howsoever differing: kings, princes, rich, poor, base, etc. [The Enchiridion 103]. The same man elsewhere expounds, he will that all men be saved, that all the predestinate be meant, because all kinds of men are in them [The Enchiridion 107]. But of this place we have more largely dealt above ...



Geneva Bible (1599)

[Source: Comm. on I Tim. 2:4-5]

Another argument, why Churches or Congregations ought to pray for all men, without any difference of nation, kind, age, or order: to wit, because the Lord by calling of all sorts, yea, sometimes those that are the greatest enemies to the Gospel, will have his Church gathered together after this sort, and therefore prayers are to be made for all. God would not else be manifested to be the only God of all men, unless he would show his goodness in saving all sorts of men; neither should Christ be seen to be the only Mediator between God and all sorts of men, by having taken upon him that nature of man which is common to all men, unless he had satisfied for all sorts of men, and made intercession for all.



Pierre du Moulin (1568–1658)

[Source: Anatomie of Arminianism (London: T. S. for Nathaniel Newbery, 1620), pp. 247-248, 249; cf. p. 355]

They [i.e., the Arminians] do colourably boast of that place, 1 Tim. 2:4 God would have all men to be saved, and come to the knowledge of the truth. And, verse 6, Christ gave himself a ransom for all. Also that to Titus, chap. 2 The grace of God, that bringeth salvation unto all men, hath appeared: But that here, by all, are understood any; and men, of whatsoever state and condition, the very context and coherence of the place doth prove. In that place to Timothy, the apostle would have kings to be prayed for; in that place to Titus, he commandeth servants to be faithful, and not to purloin. Of this exhortation, this is the cause and reason; because the promise of salvation did belong to kings, although at that time they were strangers from Christ; and to servants, although they were of an abject and base state; neither is any condition of men excluded from salvation. Saint [Augustine] doth thus take this place of the first [letter] to Timothy [Enchiridion, chapter 103]. And [so too does] Thomas [Aquinas] in his commentary upon this epistle ... For if God should absolutely will, or should seriously desire all and particular men to be saved, there would not be wanting means to him, whereby he might effect what he would, and [they] be made partakers of his desire.



David Dickson (1583-1663)

[Source: Commentary on All St. Paul’s Epistles, in loc.]

God will have all sorts of men (therefore some amongst kings and magistrates, and all orders of men) to be saved, and come to the faith of the gospel: therefore he wills that we pray for all sorts of men, and by name for kings, and those in authority, concerning whom we are obliged to hope well [I Tim. 2:1-4].



The Geneva Theses (1649)

[Source: Quoted in James T. Dennison, Jr., Reformed Confessions of the 16th and 17th Centuries in English Translation, vol. 4 (Grand Rapids, MI: Reformation Heritage Books, 2014), p. 421; cf. p. 417]

[The Geneva Theses (1649), drafted by Theodore Tronchin (1582-1657) and Antoine Léger (1594-1661), approved by Geneva’s Venerable Company of Pastors and signed on their behalf by the moderator, Joannes Jacobus Sartorius (1619-1690)]: “Rejection of the error of those: Who teach that ... most especially the places of Scripture (Ezek. 18:21 etc. and 33:11; John 3:16; I Tim. 2:4; 2 Peter 3:9) ought to be extended to each and every man and by these the universality of love and grace ought to be proved.”



John Owen (1616-1683)

[The Works of John Owen (Great Britain: Banner, 1967), vol. 10, pp. 346, 381]

We are bound to pray for all whom God would have to be saved. Now, we ought not to pray for all and everyone, as knowing that some are reprobates and sin unto death; concerning whom we have an express caution not to pray for them [I John 5:16] ... All shall be saved whom God will have to be saved; this we dare not deny, for “who hath resisted his will?” [Rom. 9:19] ... For God’s willingness that all should be saved, from 1 Tim. ii. 4 (to which a word is needlessly added to make a show, the text being quite to another purpose, from 1 Tim. i. 15), taking all men there for the universality of individuals, then I ask,—First, What act it is of God wherein this his willingness doth consist? Is it in the eternal purpose of his will that all should be saved? Why is it not accomplished? “Who hath resisted his will?” [Rom. 9:19] Is it in an antecedent desire that it should be so, though he fail in the end? Then is the blessed God most miserable, it being not in him to accomplish his just and holy desires. Is it some temporary act of his, whereby he hath declared himself unto them? Then, I say, Grant that salvation is only to be had in a Redeemer, in Jesus Christ, and give me an instance how God, in any act whatsoever, hath declared his mind and revealed himself to all men, of all times and places, concerning his willingness of their salvation by Jesus Christ, a Redeemer, and I will never more trouble you in this cause. Secondly, Doth this will equally respect the all intended, or doth it not? If it doth, why hath it not equal effects towards all? what reason can be assigned? If it doth not, whence shall that appear? There is nothing in the text to intimate any such diversity. For our parts, by all men we understand some of all sorts throughout the world, not doubting but that, to the equal reader, we have made it so appear from the context and circumstances of the place, the will of God there being that mentioned by our Saviour, John vi. 40.



Thomas Watson (c. 1620-1686)

[Source: A Body of Divinity (London: Banner, 1970), p. 101; italics his]

How does it consist with the truth of God, that he will have all to be saved, and yet some perish? I Tim ii 4. Augustine understands it, not of every individual person, but some of all sorts shall be saved. As in the ark, God saved all the living creatures; not every bird or fish was saved, for many perished in the flood; but all, that is, some of every kind were saved; so he will have all to be saved, that is, some of all nations.



Christopher Ness (1621-1705)

[Source: An Antidote Against Arminianism (USA: Still Waters Revival Books, 1988), pp. 73-74]

“All” in I Tim. 2:4 cannot be taken for every man individually, since it is not the will of God that all men in this large sense should be saved: for it is His will that some men should be damned, and that very justly, for their sins and transgressions. Unto some men it shall be said, “Depart, ye cursed, into everlasting fire.” If God willeth all men to be saved, then all men will be saved, for “He (God) doeth according to His will in the army of heaven, and among the inhabitants of the earth” (Dan. 4:35). God faileth not, He cannot be disappointed in His own will, for He worketh all things after the counsel thereof [Eph. 1:11].



Francis Turretin (1623-1687)

[Source: Institutes of Elenctic Theology, vol. 1 (Phillipsburg, NJ; P&R, 1992), pp. 408-409]

We may understand the will of good pleasure and of decree with Calvin and others. This seems more appropriate because the particle “all” is taken here not distributively (for the individuals of classes), but collectively (for classes of individuals), i.e., as Beza renders it “for all sorts” (Annotationum maiorum in Novum Testamentum [1594], Pars Altera, p. 444 on 1 Tim. 2:4) from every nation, condition, age and sex. In this sense, God wills not that all men individually, but some from every class or order of men should be saved. As Augustine explains it, “All the human race distributed through whatever differences, kings, primates, noble, ignoble, lofty, humble, learned, unlearned ... in all languages, in all manners, in all ages, in all professions, established in an innumerable variety of wills and consciences, and whatever other differences there may be among men.”



Wilhelmus à Brakel (1635-1711)


[Source: The Christian’s Reasonable Service, trans. Bartel Elshout, vol. 1 (Morgan, PA: Soli Deo Gloria, 1992), p. 227]

In I Timothy 2:4-6, the reference is to all sorts of men, which is evident in verse 2—all sorts of men rather than all men will come to the knowledge of the truth. Whatever God has decreed shall certainly come to pass and whatever does not occur is not according to the will of God’s decree. Thus, all men are not saved, but only those in whose stead Christ has been given as a ransom.


[Source: The Christian’s Reasonable Service, trans. Bartel Elshout, vol. 1 (Morgan, PA: Soli Deo Gloria, 1992), pp. 604-605]

Objection: “Who will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth. For there is one God, and one Mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave Himself a ransom for all” (I Tim. 2:4-6).  Answer: The text itself indicates that the word “all” does not refer to all men, head for head, but refers only to the elect from all nations, and all social ranks. (1) It is impossible to pray for every man, head for head, for one need not pray for someone who has sinned against the Holy Ghost (1 John 5:16), knowing that God will not be merciful to them. Christ did not pray for all (John 17:9), nor did Paul (cf. 2 Tim. 4:14; Gal. 5:12). (2) The mention of kings and those who are placed in authority confirms that “all” means “various” (cf. Mat. 4:23; Luke 11:42; Eph. 1:3; I Cor. 10:25). It is the apostle’s wish that as far as someone’s salvation is concerned we ought not to entertain any prejudice. (3) The text does say that God will have all men to be saved. If, however, all men are to be understood by this, then all of necessity should also be saved, for no one can resist God’s will as He always accomplishes it and no one is able to resist His hand. If one maintains that God wills when men are willing, we reply that this is not written anywhere, for salvation does not originate in the exercise of man’s will. God knew indeed that only a small minority would be willing, and thus it is not possible that He willed the salvation of all. (4) The apostle joins together salvation and the knowledge of the truth, and experience teaches that God is not willing that all men should come to the knowledge of the truth, for it is not revealed to all. (5) Christ gave Himself as a ransom (antilutron), that is, to put Himself in the place of another, to pay the debt, to bear the punishment, to set others free, and to make them partakers of this freedom. Christ, however, does not do this for all men, but only for those who believe in Him. From this it is evident that the word “all” does not refer to all men, head for head, but only to believers from every nation and every social rank.



Herman Witsius (1636-1708)


[Source: The Economy of the Covenant Between God and Man (Escondido, CA: den Dulk Christian Foundation, 1990), vol. 1, pp. 258-259]

Let us add that remarkable passage, I Tim. 2:4-6, “God will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the [acknowledgment] knowledge of the truth: Christ gave himself a ransom for all.” Where by all, we are not to understand all and every one in particular, but the elect of whatever nation and condition; which I make evidently to appear in this manner: 1st. They for whom Christ gave himself a ransom, are actually rescued from the dominion of Satan, are brought to perfect liberty, and can never be thrust into an eternal prison, in order to satisfy again for those debts which Christ paid to the utmost farthing. This we must certainly maintain, unless we would have Christ’s payment go for nothing. But all, and everyone in particular, are not set free from the dominion of Satan. Many are, and do still remain, “children of disobedience, in whom that impure spirit worketh,” (Eph. 2:2) and who are for ever held captive at his will, in the snare of the devil, and these shall be forced to satisfy for their own guilt. Christ therefore did not give himself a ransom for them. 2dly. Paul speaks of all those who have Christ for their Mediator. But he is Mediator, both by the offering of his body and blood, and by his powerful intercession. This latter part of his mediation can on no account be excluded here, when the apostle is treating concerning our prayers, of which we have a most perfect pattern in the prayers of Christ. Besides, the Remonstrants acknowledge that Christ’s intercession is not for all and every man in particular: therefore, he is not the perfect Mediator of all and every individual. 3dly. What is here spoken is concerning all those “whom God will have to be saved, and come to the [acknowledgment] knowledge of the truth.” But this is not his will concerning every man in particular, because he will have unbelievers condemned, John 3:36. And the acknowledgement of the truth, or faithis not the privilege of all, II Thess. 3:2, but of the elect, Tit. 1:1. Nor is it the will of God it should. He hardeneth whom he will, Rom. 9:18. Besides, it is unworthy of the divine majesty, to imagine that there is an incomplete, unresolved, and ineffectual volition in God, Ps. 115:3.


Witsius says that I Timothy 2:4 (God “wants all men to be saved and come to a knowledge of the truth”) does not mean “all and every one in particular, but the elect of whatever nation and condition.” It does not pertain to “his will concerning every man in particular, because he will have unbelievers condemned.” It is not God’s will that all should come to the knowledge of the truth because he hardens those whom he wills to harden. God cannot will the salvation of the reprobate, since “it would be unworthy of the divine majesty to imagine that there is an incomplete, unresolved, and ineffectual volition in God.” Witsius emphatically does not teach a well-meant offer of the gospel.



John Gill (1697-1771)

[Source: Comm. on I Timothy 2:4]

The salvation which God wills that all men should enjoy, is not a mere possibility of salvation, or a mere putting them into a salvable state; or an offer of salvation to them; or a proposal of sufficient means of it to all in his word; but a real, certain, and actual salvation, which he has determined they shall have; and is sure from his own appointment, from the provision of Christ as a Saviour for them, from the covenant of grace, in which everything is secured necessary for it, and from the mission of Christ to effect it, and from its being effected by him: wherefore the will of God, that all men should be saved, is not a conditional will, or what depends on the will of man, or on anything to be performed by him, for then none might be saved; and if any should, it would be of him that willeth, contrary to the express words of Scripture; but it is an absolute and unconditional will respecting their salvation, and which infallibly secures it: nor is it such a will as is distinguishable into antecedent and consequent; with the former of which it is said, God wills the salvation of all men, as they are his creatures, and the work of his hands; and with the latter he wills, or not wills it, according to their future conduct and behaviour; but the will of God concerning man’s salvation is entirely one, invariable, unalterable, and unchangeable: nor is it merely his will of approbation or complacency, which expresses only what would be grateful and well pleasing, should it be, and which is not always fulfilled; but it is his ordaining, purposing, and determining will, which is never resisted, so as to be frustrated, but is always accomplished: the will of God, the sovereign and unfrustrable will of God, has the governing sway and influence in the salvation of men; it rises from it, and is according to it; and all who are saved God wills they should be saved; nor are any saved, but whom he wills they should be saved: hence by all men, whom God would have saved, cannot be meant every individual of mankind, since it is not his will that all men, in this large sense, should be saved, unless there are two contrary wills in God; for there are some who were before ordained by him unto condemnation, and are vessels of wrath fitted for destruction; and it is his will concerning some, that they should believe a lie, that they all might be damned; nor is it fact that all are saved, as they would be, if it was his will they should; for who hath resisted his will? but there is a world of ungodly men that will be condemned, and who will go into everlasting punishment: rather therefore all sorts of men, agreeably to the use of the phrase in I Timothy 2:1 are here intended, kings and peasants, rich and poor, bond and free, male and female, young and old, greater and lesser sinners; and therefore all are to be prayed for, even all sorts of men, because God will have all men, or all sorts of men, saved; and particularly the Gentiles may be designed, who are sometimes called the world, the whole world, and every creature; whom God would have saved, as well as the Jews, and therefore Heathens, and Heathen magistrates, were to be prayed for as well as Jewish ones. Moreover, the same persons God would have saved, he would have also come to the knowledge of the truth: of Christ, who is the truth, and to faith in him, and of all the truth of the Gospel, as it is in Jesus; not merely to a notional knowledge of it, which persons may arrive unto, and not be saved, but a spiritual and experimental knowledge of it; and all that are saved are brought to such a knowledge, which is owing to the sovereign will and good pleasure of God, who hides the knowledge of Gospel truths from the wise and prudent, and reveals them to babes: whence it appears, that it is not his will with respect to every individual of mankind; that they should thus come to the knowledge of the truth; for was it his will they should, he would, no doubt, give to every man the means of it, which he has not, nor does he; he suffered all nations to walk in their own ways, and overlooked their times of ignorance, and sent no message nor messenger to inform them of his will; he gave his word to Jacob, and his statutes unto Israel only; and the Gospel is now sent into one part of the world, and not another; and where it does come, it is hid to the most; many are given up to strong delusions to believe a lie, and few are savingly and experimentally acquainted with the truths of the Gospel; though all that are saved are brought to the knowledge of such truths as are necessary to salvation; for they are chosen to it through sanctification of the Spirit, and belief of the truth.



Hendrik de Cock (1801-1842)

[Source: “A Defense of the True Reformed Doctrine and of True Reformed Believers, Fought against and Falsely Exposed by Two So-called Reformed Pastors, or The Sheepfold of Christ Attacked by Two Wolves and Defended by H. de Cock, Reformed Pastor at Ulrum,” quoted in Marvin Kamps, 1834: Hendrik de Cock's Return to the True Church (Jenison, MI; RFPA, 2014), pp. 340-341; cf. p. 305]

Yet, Brouwer [a pharisaical minister] claims, they [i.e., the Reformed whom de Cock is defending] will never advance the text “God our Savior, who will have all men to be saved and to come unto the knowledge of the truth” [1 Tim. 2:3-4]. Brouwer’s assertion is slander, and he explains the text in a completely wrong way. How thick-headed the Romish were at the time of the Reformation. They knew that text as well as Brouwer does, although they did not understand it. They constantly brought it up in opposition to the God-fearing saints of that day. But the Romish did not understand and did not want to understand that the word all is to be understood as meaning “of all kinds,” as is evident from verse 2, for which verses 3-4 give a ground. this also is evident from the word will, because if God wills that all men are saved, all will indeed be saved because God does all that he wills to do (Ps. 115:3; Rom. 9:19; Eph. 1:11). The same is proven from what the apostle adds: God wills that they all should come to the knowledge of the truth, because the Bible testifies that coming to Christ is a privilege of God’s people (Ps. 147:19-20; Matt. 11:25; John 6:45; Eph. 2:12).



William Cunningham (1805-1861)

[Source: Historical Theology (London: Banner, 1969), vol. 2, pp. 339-340; italics Cunningham’s]

A favourite passage of our opponents is, “Who will have all men to be saved, and to come to the knowledge of the truth;” and again, “Who gave Himself a ransom for all” [I Tim. 2:4, 6]. Now, independently altogether of the clear evidence which the context furnishes,—that the “all men” must mean men of all sorts, without any distinction of kinds or classes, and not all men, the whole human race, singly and individually,—it is plain that God will have all men to be saved, in the same sense, and with the same limitations and modifications, under which Christ gave Himself a ransom for all, and vice versa. And it is further evident, that God will have all men to be saved, in the same sense, and to the same extent only, in which “He will have all men to come to the knowledge of the truth.” Now, we know that God does not, in any strict and proper sense, will all men (omnes et singulos) to come to the knowledge of the truth, though He has imposed upon all men who hear the truth an obligation to receive it; and it is proof sufficient that He does not will all men,—that is, understanding thereby all the individuals of the human race,—to come to the knowledge of the truth, that there are, and have always been, very many of the human race from whom He has withheld the means and opportunity of knowing it. And from all this taken together, it plainly follows, that these statements contain no warrant whatever for the doctrine, that God desired and intended the salvation of all the individuals of our race, or that Christ gave Himself a ransom for them all.



George Smeaton (1814-1889)

[Source: Atonement According to Christ and His Apostles (Grand Rapids, MI; Sovereign Grace Publishers, n.d.), II:152-153]

As to the expression “a ransom for all,” the meaning may be collected from the context. It is not all men numerically, but all conditions, ranks, classes, and nationalities, without distinction. This is so evident, that if we follow the rule of interpreting by the context, no doubt can remain on any mind. At the commencement of the chapter [i.e., I Timothy 2] the apostle mentioned all men; and immediately adds, as an explanation of this use of the expression, “kings and all in authority,”—a superfluous addition, if we apprehend the terms as denoting absolute universality. When the apostle directs Christians to pray for all men, the allusion is to be understood as pointing out ranks, conditions, and classes of men. This is evident, partly because they did not know all men numerically, partly because, among men in the wide sense, there are some for whom we are not to pray, viz. those who have sinned unto death (I John 5:16). That the allusion is not to all men numerically, may be proved, too, from the announcement that God will have all men to be saved (ver. 4), which refers to ranks and conditions, not to individuals; for God’s will would be effectual on all men, if the other meaning were intended. Still further to show the sense in which Paul uses the expression “all men,” we may notice his mode of describing locality: “I will that men pray everywhere,” literally, in every place (ver. 8); which clearly means “wherever” they may be. This examination of the immediate context makes it evident how we are to understand the expression “a ransom for all.” We cannot put a different sense upon the terms than the apostle employs throughout the context; that is, all ranks, conditions, and classes of men. He died for men of all conditions, high or low; for all nationalities, Jew and Gentile equally. But the text does not affirm that He gave Himself for all men numerically. The allusion is to all classes indiscriminately—the elect of every rank, and tribe, and people. More particularly, “the all” for whom He gave Himself a ransom, were they for whom He acted as a mediator in atonement and intercession; “the all” of whom it is said, God will have all men to be saved, and come to the knowledge of the truth (ver. 4); the class undoubtedly coincident and identical with the elect; “the all” for whom the ransom was offered—and it is never ineffectual or inoperative; “the all” who are ushered into actual liberty, because their sins were borne, their guilt expiated, their curse reversed, and of whom not one shall finally be lost, but all shall be raised up at the last day (John 6:39). The passage was introduced in connection with prayer, and as a motive to prayer ... See Augustine, who expounds the passage in this way: also the anti-Arminian writers—Ames, Coronis and Antisynodalia Scripta; Trigland; Turretin; Honert, de Gratia; Brakel; De Moor’s Perpetuus Commentarius in Marckium.



John Kennedy of Dingwall (1819-1884)

[Source: Signs of the Times (Scotland: The James Begg Society, 2003), pp. 29-31]

The second paragraph in the “proposed Declaratory statement” is as follows:– “That the doctrine of the divine decrees, including the doctrine of Election to Eternal Life, is held in connection, and harmony with, the truth that “God will have all men to be saved,” and has provided a salvation sufficient for all, adapted to all, and offered to all with the grace of His Spirit in the gospel; and also with the responsibility of every man for his dealing with the free and unrestricted offer of Eternal Life.” It seems a strange thing to tell us “that the doctrine of the divine decrees, including the doctrine of Election to Eternal Life, is held in connection and harmony with” a certain passage of Scripture. One would have supposed that if they retained, in the Confession, the doctrine referred to, that of itself sufficed to show that they regarded it as in harmony with all Scripture. And if they quoted any particular passage of Scripture, they ought surely to have given it entire. If it is said, in the passage referred to, that “God will have all men to be saved,” it is added, “and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” As He wills the one, so He wills the other. But not only have they broken off a fragment of the passage, and given this as if it were all, but they offer no exposition of that which they have given. The Statement, therefore, in its second article, declares nothing except that while its authors can maim, they do not expound, Scripture—a rather unseemly exhibition for the representatives of a Church to make. What can be the design for which only a fragment of this text is quoted? Is it in order to insinuate, what the authors dare not openly affirm, that the same love, expressed in Election, bears on all without exception? Of course it must, in this case, be the same love to which they refer, because it is a love that wills the salvation of its objects. If so, how can they account for its Election to Eternal Life, of some—an Election infallibly resulting in Eternal Life—while the same love, willing the salvation of others, allows them to perish in their sins? This is a question to which we challenge an answer. But do they merely intend to say, that God has so revealed His character, through the cross, that all who hear the gospel are encouraged to come to Him? If so, this part of the Declaratory Statement was very unnecessary, for there is no one holding the doctrine of the Confession who can be disposed to dispute this—yea, anyone who subscribes the Confession is bound to avow this as his belief. But why is the second part of the Scripture passage omitted? Why do they refrain from referring to God’s willing all men “to come to the knowledge of the truth”? Would the quoting of these words have interfered with the purpose for which they quoted those which precede? If that was the reason, I refrain from characterising the conduct of those who are responsible for the suppression. I know that it is only by fragmentary quotations from Scripture, and by one-sided views of truth, the doctrine, which they are anxious to append to the Confession, can possibly be supported. An instance of this mode of upholding it is surely before us here. According to the passage of Scripture referred to, God wills the salvation of no one without at the same time willing that he should “come to the knowledge of the truth.” It is only through the fulfilment of the latter volition, the former can take effect. But to take this into account would seem to limit the saving regard of God to those who actually come to the knowledge of the truth; and to avoid this, the latter clause of the passage is ignored. Looking at this passage, in connection with the context, there can be no great difficulty in determining its meaning. In the first two verses of the chapter, the Apostle is urging Christians to pray “for all men,” and specially “for kings and for all that are in authority.” In order to persuade them to gather all classes of men into their regards, he declares that this would be “acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour, who will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth.” This is followed by the two grand statements—“there is one God, and one Mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus.” In relation to the “one God” through the “one Mediator” who is “the man Christ Jesus,” all outward distinctions of classes of men are blotted out. There is no longer “Jew or Gentile, Barbarian, Scythian, Bond nor Free.” There is no limiting peculiarity of nation, rank, character, sex, or age. Men as men, sinners as sinners, are equally addressed by God, within the area on which the light of the gospel shines; and out of all classes and nations God will gather a people to Himself. And as all classes are represented by those for whom Christ gave Himself a ransom, He is to be preached to all without exception. It is the catholicity of the gospel dispensation that is here declared—that dispensation under which Paul himself “an Hebrew of the Hebrews, was ordained a teacher of the Gentiles in faith and verity.” A passage, then, in which the catholicity of the dispensation of the gospel of grace is declared, is that which is quoted as in harmony with the doctrine of election. Why was this deemed necessary? What interest could such a declaratory statement serve? How awkward are the movements of a lapsing Church, which, till it parts with the timidity natural to it in its new position, attempts to keep hold of two things which are quite inconsistent. If United Presbyterian divines are determined to cherish their bantling [i.e., brat], they must shelter it elsewhere, than under the wing, either of the Confession, or of Scripture.



Abraham Kuyper (1837-1920)


[Source: Particular Grace (Grandville, MI; RFPA, 2001), pp. 34, 37, 39, 40]

This text ... appears to be so decisive and conclusive, and the adversaries of particular grace are so convinced of it themselves, that for them a mere reciting of this Bible passage proves the truth of “general grace” better than a lengthy argument ... as a rule, the pronouns “all” neither may nor can be conceived in the sense of a numeral so that what would be meant is the sum of all the individual parts. As a rule, “all” is used hyperbolically for all the different kinds, stations, and positions or all of a specific category, as the context indicates [I Tim. 4:4, 10; 5:20; 6:13-14; II Tim. 1:15; 2:7; 3:12; 4:17; Titus 2:11; 3:2] ... There we read, “I exhort, therefore, that for all things (here, again, this does not mean for all things possible, but only for all the other things that I, Paul, am going to tell you about in this letter), supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks be made for all men; For kings, and for all that are in authority; that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty. For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth” ... Paul says, “We are to pray and give thanks for all peoples among men and specifically for the heads of state of these peoples, whether they are called kings or chief magistrates, and not just for our own little part of the globe; for the Lord God wants it that way. He wills that not a few nations, but that every people among mankind be saved. For all nations have but one and the same God and between that God and every people among mankind there is but one mediator, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself for all nations, whereunto I am appointed a preacher and an apostle. Oh, carefully consider this, because I speak the truth in Christ; I lie not. I am a preacher unto the Gentiles.”


[Source: Particular Grace (Grandville, MI; RFPA, 2001), pp. 308-309]

If Paul’s statement, that “God ... will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth” should and would refer to every human individual, then this same Paul, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, would not have been able to write anywhere about even one human person that God had not included him in the plan of salvation. In contradiction to that, we read in Romans 9:13 that God had already said of Esau, even before Rebecca had given birth, “Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated.” The Lord had said about Pharaoh, as we read in Romans 9:17, “Even for this same purpose have I raised thee up, that I might shew my power in thee.” Finally, in Romans 11 verses 7 and 8 we read, “Israel hath not obtained that which he seeketh for; but the election hath obtained it, and the rest were blinded (according as it is written, God hath given them the spirit of slumber, eyes that they should not see, and ears that they should not hear).” From this it is evident, consequently, that Paul was aware of God’s act, for us incomprehensible but no less dreadful, by which he purposely brought into being a savour of death unto death for a few individuals with specific names and even for a whole group of men. And since it cannot be said of a person that he wills something that he refuses and resists rather than promotes, so it is firmly established, according to the plain statements of Paul, that the personal salvation of Pharaoh, Esau, and the Jews in question in Romans 11:7 could not have been willed by God with an active will. However broadly one should extend the multitude to whom salvation comes according to God’s will (and we, too, prefer to do this as broadly as possible), it is firmly established in the light of Romans 9 and 11 that it may not be said God has willed the salvation of every human individual without distinction or exception. Is that fact not what we had to prove, and did prove?



Herman Bavinck (1854-1921)

[Source: The Doctrine of God (Edinburgh: Banner, 1978), p. 240]

And even according to the preceptive will God does not will the salvation of every individual. History very plainly gives the lie to the idea that God wills to save every individual: the word “all” in 1 Tim. 2:4 (“who would have all men to be saved ...”) is given a restricted meaning by every interpreter.



A. W. Pink (1886-1952)

[Source: The Sovereignty of God (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2008), pp. 102-103]

Again, we are asked, if God has “ordained” only certain ones unto eternal life, then why do we read that He “will have all men to be saved, and come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Tim. 2:4)? The reply is, that the words “all” and “all men,” like the term “world,” are often used in a general and relative sense. Let the reader carefully examine the following passages: Mark 1:5; John 6:45; 8:2; Acts 21:28; 22:15; 2 Corinthians 3:2 etc., and he will find full proof of our assertion. 1 Timothy 2:4 cannot teach that God wills the salvation of all mankind, or otherwise all mankind would be saved—“What His soul desireth even that He doeth” (Job 23:13)!



Lorraine Boettner (1901-1990)

[Source: The Reformed Doctrine of Predestination (Phillipsburg, NJ: P & R, 1932), pp. 294-295]

If the words of I Tim. 2:4, that God “would have all men to be saved, and come to the knowledge of the truth,” be taken in the Arminian sense it follows either that God is disappointed in His wishes, or that all men without exception are saved. Furthermore, the doctrine which imputes disappointment to Deity contradicts that class of Scripture passages which teach the sovereignty of God. His will in this respect has been the same through the centuries. And if He had willed that the Gentiles should be saved, why was it that He confined the knowledge of the way of salvation to the narrow limits of Judea? Surely no one will deny that He might as easily have made known His Gospel to the Gentiles as to the Jews. Where He has not provided the means we may be sure that He has not designed the ends. The reply of Augustine to those who advanced this objection in his day is worth quoting: “When our Lord complains that though he wished to gather the children of Jerusalem as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, but she would not [Matt. 23:37], are we to consider that the will of God was overpowered by a number of weak men, so that He who was Almighty God could not do what He wished or willed to do? If so, what is to become of that omnipotence by which He did whatsoever pleased Him in Heaven and in earth? Moreover, who will be found so unreasonble as to say that God cannot convert the evil wills of men, which He pleases, when He pleases, and as He pleases, to good? Now, when He does this, He does it in mercy; and when He doeth it not, in judgment He doeth it not.”



Gordon H. Clark (1902-1985)

[Source: The Pastoral Epistles (Jefferson, MD: Trinity Foundation, 1983), pp. 31-32, 34]

If God wills the salvation of all men, and if some are not saved, then God is not omnipotent. Something thwarts his will. Since the New Testament clearly indicates that in fact some men are eternally lost, we either must say that the Bible contradicts itself or face the difficulty with omnipotence. One evangelist, on several occasions, told his audience, as many had come to the front at his invitation, that not even God could help them now. They were on their own ... the problem involves the self-consistency of the Bible, the reality of hell, as well as the nature of God ... [Quoting John Gill] “The all men whom God would have to be saved are such whom he would also have to come to the knowledge of the truth .... By all men whom God would have to be saved, we are not to understand every individual of mankind, ... for it is his will that some men should be damned ... Moreover, if it was the will of God that every individual of mankind should be saved, then everyone would be saved; for who hath resisted his will? ... It is better by all men to understand some of all sorts, as Austin [Augustine] did long ago, and is the sense in which the word all is to be taken in many places; as in Gen. 7:14; Matt. 4:23, 24; Joel 2:28; and is the meaning of it in ver. 1, and well agrees with the matter of fact; since Christ has redeemed some of all nations”



William Young (1918-)

The desire to avoid extremes in declaring the truth is no doubt commendable, but yielding to the tempting claims of the opposite extreme even in minor matters has proved repeatedly in the history of the Church to be a step in the downward path to apostasy. The rampant evils of Arminianism among Evangelicals and Amyraldianism among Calvinists are only encouraged by adopting and even stressing the pet slogans with which they attack or obscure the doctrines of grace. Strangely, one favorite text of those who have throughout the history of Christianity insisted that God wants all men to be saved is not appealed to at present by Calvinists [such as John Murray and Ned Stonehouse] who use such expressions. Can it be that they realize that to take 1 Timothy 2:4 in a universalistic sense requires understanding verses 5 and 6 to teach a universal atonement, even if the will in 2:4 were taken as simply the will of command? Exegetically, as well as systematically, the thesis of Amyraldian universal grace issues in the assertion of universal redemption.



John W. Robbins (1959-2008)

[Source: “Healing the Mortal Wound,” The Trinity Review (March, April, May 1998), p. 10]

In paragraph 4, the Group [i.e., the ecumenical signers of “The Gift of Salvation”] unequivocally asserts its universalist position on salvation, and they do it by cleverly misquoting Scripture: “God the Creator is also God the Redeemer, offering salvation to the world. ‘God desires all to be saved and come to a knowledge of the truth.’ (1 Timothy 2:4).” If one reads the context of the quotation, it is clear that Paul wrote that God desires the salvation of all his people, the sheep of his pasture, not of the goats, who are condemned to everlasting punishment. If God desires the salvation of all men without exception, as the Cassidy-Colson-Neuhaus Group asserts, then his desires are clearly frustrated, and he is not God. In fact, Roman/Arminian theology requires us to say that Hell is populated with people whom God loves. The Arminian-Universalist view contradicts both the love and the sovereignty of God, and removes all grounds of confidence in God.



Robert L. Reymond

[Source: A New Systematic Theology of the Christian Faith (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1998), pp. 692-693]

Paul’s statement “Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all,” must be interpreted in harmony with his earlier statement, “God our Savior, who wills all men to be saved” (2:3-4). Paul’s earlier statement cannot possibly be construed to mean that God decretally wills the salvation of all men without exception, not only because such an interpretation would require the necessary implicate that all men without exception will in fact then be saved, which is denied by such verses as Matthew 7:23 and Matthew 25:46, but also because such an interpretation conflicts with the several Pauline and other New Testament declarations to the effect that before the creation of the world God chose only some men to salvation (see again Rom. 8:28-30; 9:11-23; 11:6-7, 28; Eph. 1:4-5, 11; 2 Thess. 2:13; 2 Tim. 1:9). Nor is it likely that Paul means that God wishes or desires the salvation of all men without exception, for surely what God desires to come to pass, he would have decreed to come to pass. Therefore, Paul’s earlier statement is best understood to mean that God wills (that is, decrees) to save (some from) all categories of men but not all men without exception. This interpretation receives support both from the later “all kinds of evil” in 6:10 which we have already considered and from Paul’s earlier usage of “all men” in 2:1, which is also best taken this way. Not only would “prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings” in behalf of all men without exception be positively evil, for such prayers would then need to be offered for the dead and also for the one who has committed the “sin unto death” which John does not encourage (I John 5:16), but also Paul’s following phrase in 2:2a, “for kings and all those who are in authority,” indicates that he was thinking in terms of categories of men—that is, all kinds of men—when he urges “prayers intercessions, and thanksgivings to be made in behalf of all men.” In sum, Paul urges that prayers be offered in behalf of all classes of men—even kings and governors—because God has willed all classes of men—even kings and governors—to be saved. When Paul then declares in 2:5-6 that Christ “gave himself as a ransom for all,” he doubtless presumes that he will be understood, against the earlier contextual background, to mean that Christ dies for particular men in all those categories of men whom God wills to save.



Peter Barnes

[Source: The Milk of the Word: An Introduction to the Christian Faith (Edinburgh: Banner, 1985), pp. 62-63]

1 Timothy 2:4 says that God “desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” This passage is concerned with prayer and the offer of salvation, not with the extent of the atonement. The meaning is that all kinds of men may be saved, even ungodly kings. A Christian should pray for them for God may be gracious to them (1 Tim. 2:1-4). Similarly, in Acts 2:17 where God pours out His Spirit upon “all flesh,” the meaning is that all kinds of people received the Spirit.



John Bolt

[Source: “Herman Hoeksema Was Right (On the Three Points That Really Matter)” in Arie C. Leder and Richard A. Muller (eds.), Biblical Interpretation and Doctrinal Formulation in the Reformed Tradition (Grand Rapids, MI: Reformation Heritage Books, 2014), pp. 298-299; italics Bolt’s]

The first section of this four-part set of reflections [in Abraham Kuyper’s Particular Grace] is headed, Geen Christus pro omnibus (No Christ for All), and in it Kuyper takes a close look at three biblical passages used by defenders of universal or common grace in a soteriological sense [including the well-meant offer]: 1 John 2:2; 1 Timothy 2:4; and 2 Peter 3:9. He begins by addressing a presumption he finds in many allegedly “orthodox” circles in the Dutch Reformed Church that the expression Christus pro omnibus  expresses evangelical truth. Lest there be any doubt about the matter, Kuyper explains that “By ‘Christ for all’ is meant that Christ, according to the purpose and extent of his self-sacrifice, died for all men without exception.” What is chilling about Kuyper’s opening gambit in this first meditation is the fierce evangelical passion with which the proponents of this “Christ for all” proclaim it. Kuyper describes one of them “shouting shamelessly” from the pulpit, “Whoever preaches another gospel is accursed!” The slogan was so prevalent at the time, says Kuyper, that “whoever does not yield to that notion is cast out of the synagogue.” Kuyper explains further that, try as he may, he “could not live with the pro omnibus” and received the courage to “venture at least a feeble attempt at a counter defense” from “a whole cloud of glorious witnesses who were uniquely gifted by God’s Holy Spirit.” It is his intention, he adds, “to demonstrate briefly that this cloud of witnesses actually did not know a grace that would not be particular.” For our purposes in this essay, we need not follow Kuyper’s extended exposition of the three passages mentioned above; we need only take note of his conclusion: “The three major texts with which people usually attempt to terrify the one who confesses particular grace have been tested and examined so thoroughly that in that examination those arguments completely collapsed. There is nothing in these texts which provides proof for general grace [including a well-meant offer]” ... Kuyper mines Scripture and the history of the church in order to build an overwhelming cumulative case for the preposition that grace must be particular.



James R. White

[Source: The Potter’s Freedom (Amityville, NY: Calvary Press, 2000), pp. 140, 141, 143; italics White’s]

The first appearance of the phrase “all men” comes at the end of verse 1 [of I Timothy 2], and its meaning is unambiguous. Paul is not instructing Timothy to initiate never-ending prayer meetings where the Ephesian phone book would be opened and every single person listed therein would become the object of prayer. The very next phrase of the sentence explains Paul’s meaning “for kings and all who are in authority.” Why would Paul have to give such instructions? We must remember that the early Christians were a persecuted people, and normally the persecution came from those in positions of power and authority. It is easy to understand why there would have to be apostolic commandments given to pray for the very ones who were using their power and authority to persecute these Christians ... If we are consistent with the preceding context we will see “all men” here in the same manner as “all men” of the preceding verses: all kinds of men, whether rulers or kings (yes, God even saves people who used to persecute Christians, a fact Paul knew all too well) ... Charles Spurgeon ... did not take the Reformed view of the passage ... [but] Augustine held the same view as we have presented above ... Spurgeon’s argumentation is uncharacteristically shallow.



Sean Gerety

[Source: “Janus Alive and Well: Dr. R. Scott Clark and the Well-Meant Offer of the Gospel,” The Trinity Review [June-July 2011], Number 300, p. 6]

Thankfully, and by Gods grace, what I learned from reading the likes of Calvin, Luther, Owen, Edwards, Pink, (Gordon) Clark, Boettner, Reymond, Hoeksema and others is that there are no “Arminian verses” in Scripture. For example, 1 Timothy 2:4 is a reference to all classes or strata of men and not all men universally considered.



Arthur van Delden

[Source: Lest Any Man Should Boast (Pro Ecclesia Publishers, 2004), p. 338]

So what does Paul mean when he writes in 1 Timothy 2 that we must pray for all men? That we must pray for every single individual on earth? That is clearly against Christ’s own example. For Christ specifically mentioned, “I do not pray for the world but for those whom You have given Me, for they are Yours. ... I do not pray for these alone, but also for those who will believe in Me through their word.” (John 17:9, 20). Christ prays only for his disciples and for the believers. From the context it becomes clear that all here means people of all different rank and station, whether it be paupers or kings, rich or poor. This is clear from the context, where Paul speaks about kings and those in positions of honour and authority. The same is true when Paul says that God desires all men to be saved. It does not mean every single individual, for if that was truly God’s desire, he would have chosen every single individual. What Paul means is that God wants His church to be a catholic church, that is, gathered from all peoples, nations, tribes and tongues, and not just from the Jews. He wants His church to include people from all stations of life, not just the lower stations, as many of the Christians were at that time (cf. 1 Corinthians 1:26).



Others …

Likewise, Students of Cassiodorus (sixth century), an old Irish gloss (c. 700), Sedulius Scottus (fl. 840-860) (Francis X. Gumerlock, Fulgentius of Ruspe on the Saving Will of God: The Development of a Sixth-Century African Bishop’s Interpretation of I Timothy 2:4 During the Semi-Pelagian Controversy [Lewiston, NY: Edwin Mellen Press, 2009], pp. 137-138); Florus of Lyon (d.c. 860), Servatus Lupus (c. 805-c. 862) (Jaroslav Pelikan, The Christian Tradition: A History of the Development of Doctrine, vol. 3 [Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 1978], p. 90); Ratramnus of Corbie (d.c. 870) (On the Predestination of God, Book 1, in Patrologia Latina, vol. 121, col. 37, and Timothy Roland Roberts, "A Translation and Critical Edition of Ratramnus of Corbie's De Predestinatione Dei" [a doctoral dissertation at the University of Missouri in Columbia, MO], p. 162); Thomas Bradwardine (c. 1290-1349), Laurenzo Valla (c. 1407-1457) (Pelikan, The Christian Tradition: A History of the Development of Doctrine, vol. 4 [Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 1984], p. 34); John Bridges (1536–1618), Jeremias Bastingius (1551-1595), William Perkins (1558-1602), John Dove (1561-1618) (Jonathan Moore, English Hypothetical Universalism: John Preston and the Softening of Reformed Theology [Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2007], pp. 47-68); Daniel Tossanus (1541-1602) (Pelikan, The Christian Tradition: A History of the Development of Doctrine, vol. 4, p. 237); Herman Hoeksema (1886-1965) (The Clark-Van Til Controversy [Unicoi, TN: The Trinity Foundation, 1995, 2005], pp. 49, 65, 70-72); John H. Gerstner (1914-1996) (Wrongly Dividing the Word of Truth: A Critique of Dispensationalism [Morgan, PA: Soli Deo Gloria Publications, 2000], pp. 142-145); the Evangelical Presbyterian Church of Australia ("Universalism and the Reformed Churches: A Defense of Calvin's Calvinism" [Youngtown, Tasmania: The Magazine and Literature Committee of the Evangelical Presbyterian Church of Australia, 1997], pp. 14-15, 31-32); and David J. Engelsma (Hyper-Calvinism and the Call of the Gospel [Jenison, MI: RFPA, 2014], pp. 147-148) do not agree with and/or oppose that exegesis of I Timothy 2:4 that proposes the notion of an unrealized or unfulfilled desire in God to save the reprobate.

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