Rev. Kuiper is pastor of Southeast Protestant Reformed Church in Grand Rapids, Michigan.
The Reformed believer is intensely interested in the use of the word “all” in Holy Scripture. He finds the chief, doctrinal use of this word in connection with God Himself, with God’s works outside of Himself, and especially with God’s salvation. Because the honor and glory of God are at stake according as we interpret the word “all,” the Reformed believer wants to get it right!
The all-ness that is in God refers to the infinite goodness and limitless perfections. No limits can be placed upon God’s Being or virtues. It belongs to God’s sovereign greatness that He is all mighty (Gen. 17:1), so that He is the source of all power, force, and movement; that He is all-knowing having perfect understanding of Himself (I Cor. 2:10), our words and activities before they take place (Ps. 139:1-6), even all His works from the beginning of the world (Acts 15:18); that He is all (omni) present so that He is near to everyone of us (Acts 17:27) and simply cannot be eluded (Ps. 139:7-12); that He is the God of all grace (I Pet. 5:10), the God of loveliness and beauty who is to be desired above every earthly thing (Ps. 73:25); that He is the only wise God (Rom. 16:27) and therefore the all-wise, God; that His mercy is abundant (I Pet. 1:3) and rich (Eph. 2:4) because He is the God of all mercy.
The all-ness that is in God Himself implies, even requires, that He reveals this all-ness in His works in time. God does not do things in a corner (Acts 27:27), nor does He employ half measures; rather, He works extensively and all-embracingly. God works, in Christ, all things after the counsel of His own will (Eph. 1:11). All things are of Him, through Him, and unto Him, to whom be glory forever (Rom. 11:36). His purpose is to gather together all things in Christ, put all things under Christ’s feet, that the fullness of Christ might fill all in all (Eph. 1:10, 22, 23). Accordingly, God has concluded all in unbelief that He might have mercy on all (Rom. 11:32). God created the human race to be represented by Adam so that “by one man sin entered the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned” (Rom. 5:12). By Adam’s offence judgment came upon all men to condemnation; by the righteous One the free gift of justification came upon all men (Rom. 5:18). Understanding the headships of both Adam and Christ we can appreciate I Corinthians 15:22, “For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive.”
Who are the “all” in Christ? When we come to the “all” passages which speak of God’s desire to save, and of those who are saved, there are two rules which must guide our understanding and faith. First, the word “all” does not mean “every.” Second, the exact meaning and scope of the word “all” is to be derived from the context. Unless these rules are followed, a Bible reader ends up in universalism, or in the free-will waters of Arminianism, which posits two, paradoxical, contradictory wills in God: a desire to save only the elect, and a desire to save all men in general, or at least those who hear the gospel preached. In John 3:16, “whosoever” does not hint that faith is a possibility for everyone if he applies himself a bit, but literally states “all the ones believing.” In I Timothy 2:1, Christians are not exhorted to pray for every living soul (how could we ever do that?) but for all kinds of men, also those in eminent positions, for God’s people are sometimes to be found among them. We are to, pray also for them, because “God will have all men to be saved and to come unto the knowledge of the truth,” and Christ “gave himself a ransom for all” (I Tim. 2:4, 6). The all-ness of God Himself, the all-ness of His counsel which God works unfailingly, requires that His gracious salvation includes all kinds, categories, and types of people: male and female, bond and free, rich and poor, Jew and Gentile.
One further example of allowing the context to speak to the meaning of the word “all” is II Peter 3:9. Not only is this a favorite text of the Arminians, not only is this text badly twisted by those who claim to be Reformed, but this passage is also a favorite of the true, five-point Calvinist in that it explains the seeming delay of Christ’s second coming, and comforts the believer with the truth that not a single elect shall fail to be saved. The Lord Jesus will not return in glory prematurely because he is “not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.” If “all” refers to every individual we are left to several dismal choices: Christ will never return; there will be opportunity for some to believe after death; the will of the Lord is weak and is not accomplished; or, the text is giving us just one of the wills of the Lord. But God, who has but one will and does not reveal that will by speaking out of two sides of His mouth, comforts us in this wonderful passage by assuring us that there is great reason to trust His promise to send Christ, and there is no reason to grow faint in waiting for Him, for a premature return of Christ would result in some unborn, or unconverted, elect perishing, an intolerable thought in the light of all the Scriptures. So we comfort ourselves and one another with the truth that the second advent of Christ awaits the salvation of the last, precious elect of God. For the Lord is longsuffering to usward! God’s promises in Christ are particular to usward! In that glad day the Father of Jesus Christ will have all the glory; and He will be all in all!