I refer to your editorial, “A Candid Confession of the Character of a Conditional Covenant” (Standard Bearer, March 15, 1997).
Laying aside all prejudices, I believe that I Timothy 2:3, 4 means exactly what it says. “All” means all (cf. Isaiah 53:6: “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the Lord hath laid on him the iniquity of us all”), and “will” may mean wish or desire. That all will not be saved is supported by Scripture in many places, but, I believe, Scripture states that while God desires the salvation of all, the vast, overwhelming majority reject. Thus, while we correctly say, “Man proposes but God disposes,” it can also be said, “God proposes but man disposes.” This in no way detracts from the absolute sovereignty of God, for this is the way God has designed man in His own image with the power of choice. Before I give my supporting Scriptures, I thoroughly believe that all men left to their own choice would refuse salvation, and only but for the grace of God and His foreordained counsel to choose whom He will to be saved, no one would enter into His Kingdom.
Could you please consider the following Scriptures which indicate to me God’s desire to save all mankind?
Genesis 4:7a: “If thou doest well, shalt thou not be accepted? and if thou doest not well, sin lieth at the door.”
Matthew 22:9: “Go ye therefore into the highways and as many as ye shall find, bid to the marriage.”
Matthew 22:12: “And he saith unto him, Friend, how camest thou in hither not having a wedding garment? And he was speechless.”
John 6:64: “But there are some of you that believe not. For Jesus knew from the beginning who they were that believed not, and who should betray him.”
Acts 10:34, 35: “Then Peter opened his mouth, and said, Of a truth I perceive that God is no respecter of persons: But in every nation he that feareth him, and worketh righteousness, is accepted with him.”
Romans 10:21: “But to Israel he saith, All day long I have stretched forth my hands unto a disobedient and gainsaying people.”
In all fairness, however, there is one Scripture which prevents all men from being saved (as far as I know), and that is Isaiah 53:1, quoted in John 12:38. Otherwise, it is because of the hardness of their heart, because they will not come to Christ, because they reject the light that they already have and plunge themselves into greater darkness. Also in Matthew 25:34 and 25:41 is there not a contrast between “the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world” and “everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels”?
Clearly, the apostle Paul, through whom the Holy Spirit gave the words of Ephesians 1:4 and Romans 8:28-30, said in Romans 9:3: “For I could wish that myself were accursed from Christ for my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh.”
Did not our Lord preach in Luke 13:24, in answer to the question, “Lord, are there few that be saved?” “Strive to enter in at the strait gate: for many I say unto you, will seek to enter in, and shall not be able.”
The word “strive” in the Greek is agonizomai and according to Bauer’s Greek-English Lexicon means “to fight, struggle.” He translates it “strain every nerve to enter” (p. 15).
I love the great doctrines of election, predestination, the counsel of God and place these foremost in my thinking and believing, but I also believe that the venerable John Calvin went too far in his doctrine in not allowing the Lord to weep for sinners who reject the claims of Christ.
Charles B. Gross
Your comments are helpful. They illustrate the truth of two important assertions that I made in the series of editorials, “A Candid Confession of the Character of a Conditional Covenant” (Standard Bearer, Jan. 1-April 1, 1997). The first was that everyone who explains “all” in I Timothy 2:4 as meaning ‘every human without exception’ is thereby committed to the heresy of universal atonement. I grounded this assertion in the obvious fact that two verses later the apostle declares that Christ Jesus “gave himself a ransom for all.” If “all” in verse 4 means ‘every human without exception,’ so also does “all” in verse 6 mean ‘every human without exception.’
You acknowledge the truth of my assertion when you quote Isaiah 53:6 in support of your contention that “all” in I Timothy 2:4 means ‘every human without exception.’ Isaiah 53:6 states that the Lord laid on Christ “the iniquity of us all.” According to you, the Messiah bore the iniquity of ‘every human without exception.’ Jesus the Christ, on your view, suffered and died to atone for the sins of ‘every human without exception.’ This is the necessary implication of your view that “all” in I Timothy 2:4 means ‘every human without exception.’ This is the necessary implication of your view that God desires to save ‘every human without exception.’
But the doctrine that Jesus died for ‘every human without exception,’ many of whom perish nevertheless, is a denial of the cross of Christ and the overthrow of Christianity. I remind you that the Reformed confession teaches that “it was the will of God that Christ by the blood of the cross, whereby He confirmed the new covenant, should effectually redeem out of every people, tribe, nation, and language, all those, and those only, who were from eternity chosen to salvation and given to Him by the Father” (Canons of Dordt, II/8).
The second assertion in the editorials that you explicitly corroborate was that the teaching, now rampant in supposedly Calvinistic circles, that God desires to save ‘every human without exception’ is the denial of the sovereignty of God. The doctrine that God desires to save ‘every human without exception’ denies the sovereignty of God in His greatest, grandest, most glorious work: the salvation of sinners. God is frustrated and defeated in multitudes of instances: many whom He wishes to save go lost. By clear and necessary implication those who are saved are not saved by the gracious will of God (for He wishes to save all alike), but by what you call their own “power of choice.”
You acknowledge the truth of my assertion that the teaching of a desire of God for the salvation of ‘every human without exception’ denies the sovereignty of God when you boldly declare, “It can also be said, ‘God proposes but man disposes.'” That is, man is sovereign in his own salvation, and God is dependent upon sovereign man. Or, to put it differently, man is God.
But Christianity damns idolatry. If you call my attention to the fact that you also want to maintain that “man proposes but God disposes,” that is, that God is God, I observe that you have two Gods, man and God. But the first commandment of the law forbids having any god in addition to God, as well as having a god instead of God.
I do appreciate your forthrightness, your honesty. Many of greater reputation who fully share your explanation of I Timothy 2:4 and your view that God desires to save ‘every human without exception’ hedge, dodge, twist, obfuscate, or take refuge in politic silence when it comes to the clear, inescapable implications of this explanation and view: universal atonement and the sovereignty of man in his own salvation.
I will be happy to explain the texts that you list when you provide your own explanation of them showing how they are supposed to teach “God’s desire to save all mankind.” Not one of the texts mentions any desire of God for the salvation of ‘every human without exception’ or any grace of God in the preaching for every hearer.
As regards your profession of love for “the great doctrines of election, predestination, (and) the counsel of God,” God alone is judge of the heart. But I assure you of this: holding and publicly defending the doctrine that God desires to save ‘every human without exception,’ with its implications of universal atonement and the sovereignty of man in salvation, you are no friend of the great doctrines of election and predestination, but an enemy.
I was pleasantly surprised to open my mailbox recently and see the July, 1997 issue of the Standard Bearer. I read it cover to cover immediately.
I wish to state an opinion concerning the Protestant Reformed Churches being labeled as “hyper-Calvinist” by Iain Murray of the Banner of Truth recently.
I have read Spurgeon vs. Hyper-Calvinism (The Banner of Truth Trust, 1995) by Murray. It is so sad to realize more fully what I had already known: that Spurgeon and many “Puritans” were not orthodox Calvinists, but “hypo-Calvinists” (“hypo” meaning below or beneath). Anyone who believes that God in the preaching of the gospel desires the salvation of all who hear it or “all men” (“hypo-Calvinism”) are closer to the Arminian camp than the true Calvinist camp.
I am also sad in realizing that many of our “Reformed revivals” in history were brought about through anti-particular grace “marrow men,” who preached the same message that Murray promulgates today.
Now for some truth. The Protestant Reformed Churches, the Evangelical Presbyterian Church of Australia, and a few congregations in America and elsewhere hold to the true, orthodox, confessional, Reformed gospel of sovereign, particular grace. Those who do not hold to sovereign, particular grace are not in the truth. It is surprising to read Murray’s book in which he correctly sheds light on the error of “hyper-Calvinism” only falsely to label the Protestant Reformed Churches as such!
I encourage anyone to read Professor Engelsma’s Hyper-Calvinism & the Call of the Gospel, revised (RFPA, 1994). Therein is revealed the truth about gospel preaching. Read the Trinity Review of May and June, 1997 in which two articles, “The Banner of Truth versus Calvinism,” refute Murray and the “marrow men.”
Praise God for the three seminarians available for call in the Protestant Reformed Churches. Is there another seminary which holds to sovereign, particular grace?
I have been blessed for some time through the tape ministry of the Protestant Reformed Church in Lynden, Washington. I also have been blessed through other Protestant Reformed Churches’ tapes and periodicals. I believe God has chosen the Protestant Reformed Churches as a denomination to carry forth His truth in these days.
Coos Bay, Oregon
The issues of Trinity Review referred to above are available from Dr. John W. Robbins, 1705 West Alabama, Hobbs, New Mexico 88242.