A Candid Confession of the Character of a Conditional Covenant (6)

The third text that the defender of the conditional covenant appeals to is I Timothy 2:3, 4. He is contending for a doctrine that holds that God loves all the physical children of believers with His covenant love, and that God desires to save them all. In support of this doctrine, he appeals to a passage of Scripture which he supposes to teach a desire of God to save all men without exception. It is no longer a matter only of God's desiring to save all the physical children of believing parents. It is now a matter of God's desiring to save every human without exception. 

Here again, it is evident that the doctrine of a conditional covenant with all the physical children of believers is essentially the same as the teaching of a grace of God in the gospel toward all who hear. Both appeal to the same texts. Rev. Cecil Tuininga appeals to I Timothy 2:3, 4 in support of a covenant love of God for all children of believers. In his recent book advocating that God loves and desires to save all who hear the gospel, Iain H. Murray of the Banner of Truth makes I Timothy 2:3, 4 a main biblical proof of his doctrine. He calls I Timothy 2:3, 4 "a crucial text" on behalf of his view of universal, conditional grace in the gospel (see Spurgeon v. Hyper-Calvinism, Banner of Truth, 1995, pp. 149-154). 

This is Rev. Tuininga's appeal to the text:

And in this connection, does God not desire the salvation of all men? If not, how do you interpret I Timothy 2:3, 4? . . . If this is not the clear message of Scripture, that God desires all men to be saved, then what does it say? (See the Standard Bearer, Jan. 1, 1997, p. 150.)

I Timothy 2:3, 4 reads: "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." 

Rev. Tuininga understands the apostle to teach that God desires to save every human without exception, by having every human come to the knowledge of the truth. He appeaIs to this text in support of his doctrine of a conditional covenant. His explanation of the text, therefore, must be that God's desire depends for its realization on the sinner's performance of the condition of faith. Just as in the covenant the promise, which (according to him) is given to every child alike, depends upon the child's faith, so in the general preaching of the gospel God's desire to save all, which is expressed to every hearer by the "well-meant offer," depends upon the sinner's faith.

The Word "All" in I Timothy 2:4

Rev. Tuininga stumbles, seriously, over the word "all." He assumes that the word "all" means "every human without exception." He is wrong. Seldom in Scripture does "all" mean "every person without exception." Often it means "all kinds or classes of persons," or "all men and women who make up a certain, definite group." 

"All" does not mean "every person without exception" in Romans 5:18b: "even so by the righteousness of one (Jesus Christ) the free gift came upon all men unto justification of life." The righteousness of Christ does not justify and give life to "every person without exception." 

"All" does not mean "every person without exception" in John 12:32: "And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me." The crucified Christ does not draw "every person without exception" to Himself. 

"All" does not mean "every person without exception" in I Corinthians 15:22b: "even so in Christ shall all be made alive." Christ will not raise "every person without exception" unto eternal life in the last day. "All" does not mean "every human without exception" in I Timothy 2:3, 4. The words "all men" occur first in the passage in verse 1. There, they refer to "all classes of men," as verse 2 shows. Christians must pray for "all men." The ruling class ("kings . . . and all that are in authority") may not be excluded from their prayers. Verses 3 and 4 give the ground for this exhortation: God wills that all classes and kinds of men be saved. 

That "all men" in verse 4 does not refer to "every human without exception" is proved beyond all doubt to every Reformed student of Scripture from verse 6. In verse 6 we read of "all" once more. But this time the word describes those for whom Christ died: "(Christ Jesus) gave himself a ransom for all, to be testified in due time. "

If "all" in verse 4 refers to "every human, without exception," this is what "all" means also in verse 6. In this case, Jesus died as a ransom for every man without exception. 

T h e connection between explaining "all" in verse 4 as "every man without exception" and explaining "all" in verse 6 as "every man without exception" is inescapable exegetically. Those who explain "all" in verse 4 as "every man without exception" cannot avoid universal atonement in verse 6.

It is also inescapable theologically. If God does indeed love every man without exception, so that He wills the salvation of every man without exception, Jesus certainly died as a ransom for every man without exception. For Jesus carried out the will of God.

Implications of Taking "All" Universally

Have Rev. Tuininga and, to be fair, the many other professing Calvinists who appeal to I Timothy 2 in support of a doctrine of God's loving desire to save all without exception considered the implications of their explanation of the text? 

1) There is in God a real will that all without exception be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth, which will goes unfulfilled and is everlastingly frustrated. The text does not speak of a vague "desire" or superficial "wish" (as though this were possible in God), but of God's "will" (Greek: theloo). The salvation of' all without exception is God's well-thought-out and firm purpose. He may have other purposes. One of them may be the very opposite of this one. But it .is the will of God to save every human without exception. This is not the will of God about a minor matter. This is the will of God about the salvation and damnation of human beings. And this purpose is not accomplished. This is a will of God that is frustrated. 

2); God is a God of sheer self-contradiction. He Himself has ordained that the only way of salvation is one's coming to the knowledge of the truth, as verse 4 teaches: "I... and to come unto the knowledge of the truth." Even though He wills the salvation of all, He Himself, withholds the knowledge of the truth from many (as in the time of the old covenant); hides the truth from others (Matt. 11:25, 26); and employs the truth to blind and harden others (Rom. 9:18; 11:7-10), thus assuring that they will not be saved. 

3) Jesus Christ died as a ransom for every human without exception. Both exegetically and theologically, it is certain that if "all" in I Timothy 2:3, 4 means "every man without exception," this is what "all" means two verses later. All who explain the text as teaching a desire of God to save all are committed, willy-nilly, to universal atonement.

The Logic of Hyper-Calvinism?

Rev. Tuininga dismisses my interpretation of the text as mere hyper-Calvinistic logic-chopping before I give it.

Shall we do a little revising and say that by "all" God meant the elect? But then the Word of God would have said so! Shall we say that it means, "all different kinds of people"? If that was the intention of the Holy Spirit, it would have been clearly stated. . . . Hyper-Calvinists, in applying logic to Scripture, come to exactly the opposite conclusion. . . . and so . . . proceed to reject clear teachings of Scripture.

He should be more careful. 

The interpretation that I have given was that of John Calvin. 

In his commentary on I Timothy 2:4, the Reformer responded to "those who represent this passage to be opposed to predestination." Their argument was that the text contradicts and overthrows the teaching that "some are predestinated by His eternal purpose to salvation, and others to perdition." Calvin's explanation was that "the Apostle simply means that there is no people and no rank in the world that is excluded from salvation.... The present discourse relates to classes of men, and not to individual persons" (Commentaries on the Epistles to Timothy; Titus, and Philemon, Eerdmans, 1959, pp. 54, 55). 

Calvin also explained the text in his treatise, "A Defence of the Secret Providence of God." An enemy of the truth of God's sovereign predestination had appealed against Calvin's defense of the doctrine to I Timothy 2:4. Wrote Calvin:

And as to your usual way of citing that passage of the apostle Paul, "That 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 already, 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 at all, 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 and others in authority, and for all who held magisterial offices, of what kind and degree soever 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 up for them; the apostle meets all objections, so very natural, by admonishing the Church to pray even for them also, and to supplicate God' to extend His grace and favour even to them, for the Church's quiet, peace and safety (Calvin's Calvinism, RFPA, pp. 275, 276 ).

Concerning the word "all" in Scripture over which so many stumble and which is eagerly used by so many to oppose the Reformed doctrine of sovereign, particular grace, John Calvin made a sharp, important comment in his explanation of Daniel 7:27. The text promises that "all dominions shall serve and obey him (Messiah)."

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.... Some persons foolishly press beyond their meaning words of universal import, as when Paul says, God wishes all to be saved. Hence, they say, no one is predetermined for destruction, but all are elect, that is, God is not God (I Tim. 2:4). 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 (Commentaries on the Book of the Prophet Daniel, vol. 2, Eerdmans, 1948, p. 78).

Will the advocates of universal, conditional grace, whether in the sphere of the covenant or in the wide world, who love to appeal to I Timothy 2:3, 4 now call John Calvin a hyper-Calvinist?

It is easy, and even popular in Reformed circles, to call the Protestant Reformed Churches hyper-Calvinists.

Dare they say this about John Calvin, from whose interpretation of I Timothy 2:3, 4 and doctrine of sovereign, particular grace grounded in God's will of predestination we do not differ?

John Calvin: hyper-Calvinist?