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NPNF1-03. On the Holy Trinity; Doctrinal Treatises; Moral Treatises
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Chapter 103.—Interpretation of the Expression in I Tim. II. 4: “Who Will Have All Men to Be Saved.”

Accordingly, when we hear and read in Scripture that He “will have all men to be saved,”12941294    1 Tim. ii. 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. And on the same principle we interpret the expression in the Gospel: “The true light which lighteth every man that cometh into the world:”12951295    John i. 9 not that there is no man who is not enlightened, but that no man is enlightened except by Him. 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.”12961296    1 Tim. ii. 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.”12971297    Luke xi. 42. [“All manner of herbs.” A.V.] 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,”12981298    Ps cxv. 3. [“Our God is in the heavens: He hath done whatsoever He hath pleased.” A.V.] as the psalmist sings of Him, He certainly did not will to do anything that He hath not done.


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