The Salvation of All Men, by John Calvin


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. For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus.
1 Timothy 2:3-5

When read out of its context, 1 Timothy 2:2-5 is an Arminian manifesto. But here Calvin clearly puts it into some context for us – its all types of men – not just the one chosen people (the jews) that the then Church was familiar with. It puts a smile on my face when I read about the great hope we have in reaching out to all sorts of people – even elderly people that might be as tough as an old boot; yes even this sort of person can, with God’s regenerating work, respond to the gospel. There is hope that all sorts of people will respond to the gospel. 

When we despise those whom God would have honored, it is as much as if we should despise Him: so it is, if we make no account of the salvation of those whom God calleth to Himself. For it seemeth thereby that we would stay Him from showing His mercy to poor sinners, who are in the way to ruin. The reason why St. Paul useth this argument, that God will have all the world to be saved, is that we may, as much as lieth in us, also seek the salvation of those who seem to be banished from the kingdom of God; especially while they are unbelievers.

We must always observe what the condition of the world was in the days of St. Paul. It was something new and strange to have the gospel published to the world in those days: for it appeared that God had chosen the stock of Abraham, and that the rest of the world would be deprived of all hope of salvation. And indeed we see how Holy Writ setteth forth the adoption of this people: but St. Paul commandeth us to pray for all the world; and not without cause, for he addeth the reason, which is here mentioned: to wit, because God will have all men to be saved. As if he should say, my friends, it is reasonable that we should observe what the will of God is, and at what He aimeth; that every one of us may employ himself to serve Him aright.

Therefore, seeing it is the will of God that all men should be partakers of that salvation which He hath sent in the person of His only begotten Son, we must endeavor to draw poor, silly, ignorant creatures to us, that we may all come together to this inheritance of the kingdom of heaven, which hath been promised us. But we must observe that St. Paul speaketh not of every particular man, but of all sorts of men, and of all people. Therefore, when he saith that God will have all men to be saved, we must not think that he speaketh of them individually, but his meaning is this: that whereas in times past He chose a certain people to Himself, He meaneth now to show mercy to all the world: yea, even to them that seemed to be shut out from the hope of salvation…. (Extract from The salvation of all men, by John Calvin)

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6 Responses to The Salvation of All Men, by John Calvin

  1. Daniel said:

    …yes even this sort of person can, with God’s regenerating work, respond to the gospel.

    Absolutely. When we understand clearly what the Scriptures teach in this regard, it certainly takes the pressure of us in evangelism, and gives us great confidence in Him…where our confidence and trust should always be.

    Our success therefore is not measured by whether or not a person responds, but by how faithfully we proclaim His all-sufficient Word.

  2. Daniel says:

    Funny you say that Nathan. Just last week I spoke to a brother who felt that the true mark of fruitful ministry was the number of ‘disciples’ you have made. In justifying his position he said, “God is interested in numbers – he counted 3000 who were saved under Peter’s early sermon in acts.” For this brother, numbers mattered and were the only true mark of fruitful ministry.

  3. Just to let you know, this edition–the extract you reference–of the sermon is corrupted. The original French and English translation do not have the phrase ‘some of all….’ That is an addition by the 19thC editor.

    There is good reason to believe that when Calvin means “not individuals” he means “this man, but not that man….” its probably idiomatic language.

    What is more, the “will” here of for Calvin is the revealed will, so he has no need to adopt the some of all kinds position. And in his commentary, he uses the phrases ‘all without distinction’ interchangeably with ‘all without exception.’

    Some of Calvin on 1 Tim 2:4: Calvin on 1 Timothy 2:4-6

    Thanks for your time.
    David
    Calvin and Calvinism

  4. Daniel says:

    Thanks David

    Gotta watch out for those 19thC editors.

    Thanks for the link to your blog – I’m adding it to my reading list. Its pretty heavy going for me (digging into theology) but its very rewarding. Often we get in to seeing scriptures incorrectly by being lazy and just assuming we know what a verse is saying or just making easy leaps of logic, etc.

    So i think this issue is this bit of translation:

    But we must observe that St. Paul speaketh not of every particular man, but of all sorts of men, and of all people. Therefore, when he saith that God will have all men to be saved, we must not think that he speaketh of them individually, but his meaning is this: that whereas in times past He chose a certain people to Himself, He meaneth now to show mercy to all the world: yea, even to them that seemed to be shut out from the hope of salvation….

    I get what you mean by the particular ‘will’ being God’s ‘revealed will’. So when we say this, are we saying “its a mystery that we happily accept- God’s will is that none should perish but we also know from scripture there are people who will perish.”

    This is a clunky way of dealing with it (and possibly erroneous). Have you go a good ‘everyman’ explanation on this point?

    Thanks for the post

    Daniel

  5. David says:

    Hey Daniel,

    You say; Gotta watch out for those 19thC editors.

    David: Seriously tho, a lot of stuff pumped out during the 19thC is dodgy.

    You say: Thanks for the link to your blog – I’m adding it to my reading list. Its pretty heavy going for me (digging into theology) but its very rewarding. Often we get in to seeing scriptures incorrectly by being lazy and just assuming we know what a verse is saying or just making easy leaps of logic, etc.

    David: Yes. We pick up assumptions from our theological community and then run with them without thinking critically about them.

    You:

    I get what you mean by the particular ‘will’ being God’s ‘revealed will’. So when we say this, are we saying “its a mystery that we happily accept- God’s will is that none should perish but we also know from scripture there are people who will perish.”

    This is a clunky way of dealing with it (and possibly erroneous). Have you go a good ‘everyman’ explanation on this point?

    Well it all depends on what one believes regarding the will of God. If you agree that we can describe God’s will as having a two-fold aspect as we see it, and if you accept that the will under view here is the revealed, then what Calvin is saying, following Paul, is that God wills all men of every kind, of every class, state, rank, etc.

    And so back to your broader question, Calvin held that God wills the salvation of all by will revealed, even tho he wills not to effectually save all by will decreed. Calvin takes this reading on Jn 3:16, Matt 23:37, Ps 81:13, 1 Tim 2:4, 2 Peter 3:9. The only time he deviates on this is on 1 Jn 2:2, but here there are good reasons to explain why he did so.

    Feel free to scope out the index, blog and/or post questions etc. I try to keep all the posts clean of commentary. Most blogs lose all their best material under a weight of personal comments and unorganized subject categories. You might not agree with some of the documentation, but then its either you disagree with the author (and so not me) or you disagree with my interpretation, which is fine. My encouragement is tho, just be driven by the primary sources.

    Thanks and take care,
    David

  6. bloonsterific says:

    Just wanted to tell you all know how much I appreciate your postings guys.
    Found you though google!

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