Now that we have shown that there is a legitimate biblical perspective of history that establishes that the fundamental purposes of God relate primarily to the individuals who are His elect, we must go on into another problem that some men have with this doctrine. This problem is one which we touched upon briefly in our last chapter: the issue of whether God's offer of life to the non-elect is genuine and whether it springs from an honest willingness on God's part to see them come to the knowledge of the Truth and possess salvation. More specifically, how can Paul say that "God ... will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth..." (I Timothy 2:4; KJV) and how is it that Peter says that the Lord is "...not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance..." (II Peter 3:9; KJV) if, in fact, the eternal destinies of men have been established from the foundation of the world? Is it not a contradiction to claim that God wants all men to be saved while at the same time claiming that God has already established that only some will be saved?
In order to deal fairly with this question, we must acquaint ourselves with several facts of the Scriptures that touch upon this matter. In order to do that, we want to first address ourselves to those facts which touch upon Peter's statement:
"The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance" (II Peter 3:9; KJV).
First, let it be clearly recognized that Peter's context and his choice of words in this verse do not establish that all men will be saved. Those who like to use this verse to contradict individual election are in contradiction to both the meaning of the verse and their own rationale. They have to realize that the statement of this verse does not establish that all will be saved, which fact indicates that God has some desires that are greater than His desire that all men be saved. For instance, the advocates of corporate election have already been shown to believe that God 'wills' that salvation be tied to the volitional responses of men EVEN IF that 'WILL' means that those men perish. Thus, in their own rationale, men perish by divine decree. So, to use this verse in order to attempt to establish that God's desire that all men be saved eliminates His prerogative to establish, by decree, the principles which will result in the salvation of some and the destruction of others, is a distortion of the verse and a contradiction of their own logic.
However, there are even more important facts that we need to recognize. First, the identity of the "any" and the "all" is crucial to the understanding of the verse. It is indisputable that these two words are grammatically tied to their antecedent, "us-ward". The area of dispute centers upon to whom the word "us-ward" refers. Though there is a textual dispute here (some texts read "us" while others read "you") it will not significantly alter the identity of the "any" and "all" as we shall see. Those who take the verse to mean that God is not willing that any men of any kind should perish do so because of their arbitrary and eis-egetical assumption that the "us-ward" refers to humankind generally -- which assumption is in clear contradiction of their own position that God does will the destruction of those who reject Him. Therefore, their own theology establishes a limitation to the "any" and "all" of the verse. And, besides that, there is absolutely no contextual evidence that this assumption will stand.
When an author writes to a group of people, his use of "us" is automatically limited to either himself (making the "us" an editorial reference to himself -- something this author has done many times in this book), or to himself and those who are with him who are linked together in some kind of unified category of persons (for instance, a category of those who are in agreement with the intent and content of his letter), or to himself and those to whom we writes as they are linked together with him in some common characteristic. To assume that the 'linkage' is a common participation in humanity, without any contextual support, is eis-egesis and prejudicial theologizing. The task of the Bible student is to legitimately define to whom the author is referring with his "us-ward" by looking at his context.
The first thing that such a look will establish is that Peter does not identify any who may have been with him at the writing of this second epistle. This does not mean that there were none, but we cannot assume that there were. Thus, unless Peter is using the "us" editorially, it must mean something besides 'me and those with me'. Therefore, it is highly likely that the "us" refers to Peter and those to whom he writes. That this is true is clear from a similar "we" just a few verses further where he says...
"Nevertheless, We ... look for new heavens and a new earth..." (vs. 13; KJV).
This "we", like the "us" of verse nine, refers to Peter and his readers. This limitation is clear from the fact that humanity, in general, does NOT look for such a glory to come. And, the common 'link' of the "we" is the mutual expectation of new heavens and earth. Therefore, the most logical, exegetical, and supportable definition of the "us" to whom God is longsuffering is Peter and his readers as they share some commonalty.
That raises the question of what it is that they have in common that makes them an "us". The answer to that question is found as we look at Peter's identification of himself with them in chapter one, verse one. He says that they are 'linked' by a common possession of "like precious faith". However, it is not simply THAT they possess a common faith that is critical to Peter's mind. It is, rather, HOW they came to possess it. This is seen from the fact that he says:
"Simon Peter, a servant and an apostle of Jesus Christ, to them that HAVE OBTAINED like precious faith with us..." (II Peter 1:1; KJV).
The "us" of this verse refers to Peter and those who are 'linked' together in servitude and apostleship in respect to Jesus Christ. The word which he uses, that is translated "have obtained", is 'lachousin'. It is a form of 'lagchano', which is only used in the New Testament to refer to the obtaining of something by the casting of lots. Now, when we recognize that the casting of lots is a thing that is controlled only by the sovereignty of God (Proverbs 16:33 -- "the lot is cast into the lap; but the WHOLE DISPOSING thereof is OF THE LORD" KJV) and when we recognize that this was understood and practiced by the apostle Peter (Acts 1:23-26), it becomes apparent that Peter considered that both he and his readers had "obtained like precious faith" by divinely controlled 'lot'. This he plainly sees as that which 'links' him with his readers because, in his first epistle to them, he previously referred to the same truth with the words:
"Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, to the ... elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father..." (I Peter 1:1-2; KJV).
Thus, the commonalty of the "us" in the verse under dispute is found in the mutual possession of divinely allotted faith.
Since this is so, the word "us-ward" refers to the author and his readers, whom he has defined as the elect of God. Thus, the statement that the Lord is not willing that any should perish means that the Lord is not willing for any of His elect to perish. The statement, likewise, that He is willing that all should come to repentance means that He wills that all of His elect should come to repentance. This is in perfect accord with the grammar, context, and Petrine theology of individual election, found in II Peter.
And, if perchance (and it seems very likely) the word "us" is actually "you" in the inspired autograph, our case is even further strengthened in that "you" would CLEARLY indicate a limitation to his readers as the elect of God.
Some might, at this point, object that this cannot be Peter's meaning because those to whom he is writing have already come to repentance. But, that objection ignores the fact that the "us" is not limited to just those first readers, for it is inclusive of all who, with them, share the category of that "us". Peter is merely using this truth to establish why the Lord has not yet fulfilled His promise to come again. Peter's argument is that the Lord has not come yet because He is not going to come until all of the elect of this divine economy come to repentance.
Therefore, the "all" and the "any" of II Peter 3:9 refer to the elect of God. And, that this is so is easily seen from another overlooked detail of the text. That detail is Peter's use of the word 'boulomenos' -- which is the word translated "willing". A careful examination of the word as it is used in the New Testament will reveal that it is the word that men used when they wanted to communicate the idea of a fixed purpose. Sometimes, when used of the 'fixed purposes' of men, the idea of fixedness is somewhat tenuous because men do not always have the power required to ensure the outcome of their firm resolutions. However, when the word is used of God, the outcome is assumed to be without doubt. It is this that caused Paul to use the word in reference to the sovereign and unalterable will of God in Romans 9:19. It is this also that caused Gamaliel to use a form of this word in Acts 5:38-39 in his warning that men might be found to be opposing God's unconquerable will. Thus, Peter's use of this word in his phrase "...the Lord is not willing that any..." of His elect should perish, though it does not mean that all men will be saved, emphatically means that none of His elect will perish. Their salvation is unalterably fixed and nothing in heaven or upon the earth can keep them from it.
In conclusion, to argue that this verse means that God wants all men to be saved is to totally ignore the details of the text. The text pointedly declares that this thing that is "willed" of God is absolutely sure to come to pass because it is a thing comprehended within the 'boule' of God -- His 'irresistible' will that men oppose to no avail (Romans 9:19). The linkage of the words 'any' and 'all' to their proper antecedent ("us"), in conjunction with the contextual definition of the "us" (the ones given faith by divine lot through divine election), shows that what God is going to bring to pass, regardless of obstacles, is the salvation of His elect. This is the reason that He has not yet sent the Son from heaven -- because He is not willing that any of His elect should perish. We may be sure, however, that once His elect have come to His salvation, the Son will come! [Amen! Even so, come, Lord Jesus!]
This brings us to Paul's statement in I Timothy 2:4:
"Who will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth" (KJV).
A proper understanding of this verse also does not alter the truth of the individual election of certain men from the foundation of the world. That this is so, is the reason that we want to address ourselves to this verse.
First, let us admit freely that the verse says that God "will have all men to be saved". Let us also admit that the contrived interpretation that makes the phrase "all men" mean only some men of every kind of man is just that -- contrived. The truth of this we will show shortly. Let us also declare that our objection to the use of II Peter 3:9 to teach that the Lord is not willing for any men of any kind to perish is not motivated by a desire to be able to show that God is not really willing to have all men to be saved. Our objections with the collective electionists' interpretation of that verse have to do with the fact that the context and the choice of words which Peter used require us to understand that Peter was dealing with the 'irresistible' will of God and that he was showing that the second coming of Jesus Christ was being delayed until all of God's elect are brought to repentance. Thus, by these admissions and this declaration, we hope to have cleared the way for the consideration of Paul's declaration in I Timothy.
In the paragraph just above we said that we would show that the interpretation of Paul's statement to mean 'some of every kind' is a contrived interpretation. Now we want to attempt to do that.
First, it is a fundamental truism that all men approach the Scriptures with certain preconceived notions. This is true regardless of the man. Even for those who have had no 'formal' theological training, it is true. No one can study the Scriptures without some kind of educational background (they must be able to read, know how to define the words that they read, and know how to do some legitimate thinking). Every man's background forms for him a certain world view. His world view invariably contains untested and unproved assumptions that he has accepted simply because someone told him they were so and he saw enough supporting 'evidence' that he accepted them. Every man's background has also formed for him a theology of sorts. No one grows up without some kind of concept of God -- even if it is only that He goes around damning everything that frustrates the person who holds the concept in his mind. No one is free from 'theological prejudices'.
Because of the fact of theological prejudice, it behooves all men to be aware that they are not simply LIKELY to approach the Scriptures with prejudice, but that they DO approach them prejudicially. And, we freely admitted that we are not an exception at the beginning. However, if we are aware that we think 'theologically', and that such thinking will likely cause us to see only the parts of the verses and phrases that support our theology, we can at least seek God's aid in setting aside undue prejudice and attempt to be fair with the words that we find. It is our contention that I Timothy 2:4 has been victimized by theologians whose commitment to doctrines such as limited atonement, and whose understanding of God is (like that of the rest of us) somewhat clouded, forced them to find some way around the idea that God wants all men to be saved. It is also, however, our contention that the verse has been illegitimately used by other theologians who want to use it to deny doctrines which are categorically established in other parts of the Scriptures -- such as individual election. Each debates the other -- and there is error on both sides. Thoughtless prejudices and overconfidence in the ability to reason logically and consistently (in a word, pride) have generated this confusion.
Now, as we approach I Timothy 2:4, knowing that we have some tenaciously held, but potentially erroneous theological notions, what do we find?
First, we find a blunt declaration that God is willing for all men to be saved. Then, we find that we must harmonize that statement with other statements of Scripture. HOW we go about that is critical. First, we must be depending upon God for insight. Then, we must look at the context of the words. Then, we must look for the harmony that surely exists between the concepts that those words teach and the concepts which other words of Scripture also teach.
So, we must attempt to define what Paul meant by his words. We will begin with the phrase "all men". In the Scriptures, as in everyday life, "all" is almost never absolute and all-inclusive. Most often, it is limited to a previously defined category. For instance, when a person has been to a meeting and is the only one remaining when his ride comes for him, he may respond to a question such as, "Where is everyone?", with an answer like, "All of them went home". His use of 'all' is defined by the context of his experience and conversation. It does not mean all of the people of the whole world, it simply means all of the people with whom he met. In Scripture, the same reality exists. Seldom, if ever, does an "all" of holy writ mean 'absolutely all without exception'. It always means 'all', but it only means 'all' of the group or category that is defined by its context. Therefore, in order for us to be able to define Paul's meaning in his use of "all men", we must appeal to his context.
There are those today who might define Paul's "all" as being inclusive of all men without exception of any kind. They would do this primarily from their theology and secondarily from one fact of the context -- that Paul used the same phrase, "all men", previously in verse one of I Timothy 2. Their theology is that prayers for the dead are commanded and effective. With that theological notion, plus the fact that Paul tells Timothy that...
"...first of all, supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks, be made for all men..." (KJV)
...they would be comfortably able to declare that Paul taught that prayers for the dead were necessary and, thus, logically, effective. For, they would say, it is very plain that Paul commanded prayers for "ALL MEN" -- and that 'all' is totally inclusive of every man who ever lived. And, to be consistent, they would have to claim that God wants men who are already in Hell to be saved -- because they are defining the "all" as a 'no-exception' "all," both in verse one and in verse four. And, not only that, they would have to also claim that God wants us to pray for Jesus Christ, and that He wants Jesus Christ to be saved (indicating that He was once lost) because He is a man and within the scope of a 'no-exception' reference to "all men".
My point is that theology, plus one or two particular details in isolation from the others within the context, easily leads to faulty conclusions.
So, how do we define Paul's "all men" of verse four? First, it IS noteworthy that he did use exactly the same terminology in verse one. There he uses the words to define the objects of supplications, prayers, etc.. It is not within the scope of this paper to debate the point of whether prayers for the dead are commanded or effective. We will simply declare to you that they are not. IF you can agree with us with that simple affirmation, then it is clear that a 'theological consideration' allows us to restrict the meaning of the "all men" to those men who are living in the fleshly body. That this is not contrary to the context is shown by the fact that the 'examples' of the 'men' for whom we are to pray, as given in verse two, are living-in-the-flesh human beings. This restriction does two things simultaneously: first, it alleviates the necessity of arguing for the need for prayer for our risen and resurrected Lord; and second, it establishes that there is, indeed, a restriction to the meaning of "all men" as it is used here.
Then, if it is fair to restrict the "all men" in verse one to those men who are living, it is highly likely that such a restriction continues in Paul's meaning when he gets to the "all men" of verse four. And, that likelihood becomes a fairly ironclad and indisputable fact when it is recognized that verses 3-4 are the justification for the command of verses 1-2. [The 'for' which begins verse 3 shows that a reason for the content of verses 1-2 is upcoming].
Now, since the "all men" IS restricted to those living in their physical flesh in both verses, Paul's statement about God's willingness to have "all men" to be saved IS a statement of LIMITED WILLINGNESS.
Next, there are those who, agreeing with our argument for a restriction upon the meaning of "all", would go further and say that the "all" in both verses is restricted even further. They would say that verse two establishes that the "all" is a use of the term in a way that really only means 'some'. And, this is at the heart of the interpretation of the verse that we have previously called 'contrived'.
What is the rationale behind the idea that "all" can mean "some"? It is found in the way these who hold this meaning claim "all" is used in Scripture. They say that "all" is used either 'absolutely' (meaning that it is exhaustively inclusive and without exception), or 'relatively' (meaning that it is limitedly inclusive and simply means there are no distinctions made on the basis of classes or conditions). One such individual appeals to Mark 1:5 for support of this method of defining "all". There we read...
"And there went out unto him all the land of Judea, and they of Jerusalem, and were all baptised of him in the river of Jordan, confessing their sins" (KJV).
The claim is that Luke 7:30, by pointedly declaring that many of the religious leaders were NOT baptised by John, means that we must take the "all" in the phrases "all the land of Judea" and "and were all baptised of him" to mean that there was no distinction of class or condition between the 'some' of the land who were baptised by John. Thus, say these, there were "SOME of ALL CLASSES and KINDS of men" who were baptised of John.
Now, it is obvious that Luke 7:30 contradicts the idea that every single person in Judea was baptised by John. However, defining "all" to mean "some of all classes and kinds without distinction" leaves us somewhat cold. First, because that definition will not hold up to a careful examination of the use of "all", and second, because it obviously alters the meaning of "all" arbitrarily BEFORE we ever get to any specific text. By so defining the use of "all" we assume, before we ever see it used, that it will either mean 'all without exception' or 'all without distinction on the basis of class or condition'.
"All" always means "all" in Scripture, BUT, it always only means "all in respect to the contextually defined category". Look again at Mark 1:5. The first use of "all" is found in a figure of speech -- "all of the land of Judea". Mark does not mean the 'land' went to John. He obviously means people. It should be obvious, then, that Mark meant that all of the inhabited parts of the land of Judea were represented by those who went out to be baptised of John. In a sense, then, "all" does seem to mean only "some". But not really. "All the land" means ALL the land. That it only takes some of the people of the land to represent all of the land does not change the fact that the figure of speech "all the land" yet means "all" of the land. It is the fact that the phrase "all the land" is a figure of speech, that makes the entire figure of speech result in meaning 'some of the people of the land'. It is not the "all" that means "some"; it is the figure of speech in its totality that allows the meaning to come down to 'some'.
Therefore, the arbitrary definition of "all" before we ever get into a context, is not to be preferred. "All" means 'all' -- it simply means 'all of the contextually defined group'.
Therefore, in I Timothy 2:4, what is the contextually defined group? There are several indicators within the context. First, it is a group which is legitimately an object of supplications, prayers, etc.. Second, it is a group which, though not limited to rulers, includes "kings, and ... all that are in authority". Third, it is a group which is defined as "men" (anthropos -- generic man, not sexual male). Fourth, it is a group that, as men, are lost and ignorant of the truth, at least for a part of their lives. Now, what do these indicators tell us? Primarily, they tell us that God would have us to pray for "all men" because He is willing for "all men" to be saved. To attempt to limit the "all men" of verse four, without also limiting the "all men" of verse one, takes all of the meaning out of the entire passage. The two "all men" references stand together and share the same contextually defined category. This means, then, that, since we cannot pray only for the elect (God has not passed out the list as of yet), our prayers are to be made for all living men. And, likewise, since we are to pray for all living men, we must understand that the reason is that God would have all living men to be saved.
What! Why would God have us to pray for something that is not going to happen?! Put this question on hold for now, and the answer will be seen clearly later.
Let's go, rather, to a more fundamental question. How is it that the text tells us that God would have "all men" to be saved, when we already know that the names of those who are to be saved have been written in the Book of Life from the foundation of the world? How can this be?
It can be, and is -- but you will have to bear with us a bit longer to see how. First, it is noteworthy that even those who argue that individual election cannot be the truth because God wants all men to be saved, do not argue with the fact that most men will not be saved. The kings and authorities, of which Paul spoke, were not all saved even though, by him, many prayers were encouraged on their account. These will not argue that it is even GOD, Himself, who deliberately prevents some men from being saved as John 12:39-40 tells us:
"Therefore they COULD NOT believe, because ... HE hath blinded their eyes, and hardened their heart; that they SHOULD NOT SEE with their eyes, nor understand with their heart, and be converted, and I should heal them" (KJV).
Thus, they will agree that the verse is saying that GOD is blocking the possibility of conversion for those being discussed. The argument that God is doing this BECAUSE of their continued rejection of Him is beside the point. The fact stands that God, though He is willing for all men to be saved, Himself actually frustrates that 'willingness' in the case of some men who, admittedly, have continued to pursue sin.
These who disagree with individual election will also admit that Matthew wrote this which Jesus said:
"And whosoever speaketh a word against the Son of Man, it shall be forgiven him: but whosoever speaketh against the Holy Ghost, it shall not be forgiven him, neither in this world, neither in the world to come" (Matthew 12:32; KJV).
Here it is very clear that though God is willing for all men to be saved, IT IS BY HIS CHOICE that those who blaspheme the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven in any case. Those who speak a word against the Son of Man are not automatically forgiven. The sin is forgivable, but they must seek forgiveness for it to be granted. Likewise, the warning that they who speak against the Holy Spirit will never be forgiven is not a warning that God will not simply override their blasphemy; rather, it is a warning that such a sin is not going to be forgiven. The import of such a warning is that EVEN IF THEY SEEK FORGIVENESS, they will not be forgiven. Now, it should be clear from this that God, HIMSELF, has decided to frustrate His own desire to have all men saved, in the case of those men who blaspheme the Spirit, by refusal to extend forgiveness EVEN IF THEY SHOULD DESIRE IT (which they will not do because of their loyalty to sin).
And, these objectors will also not deny that Paul said...
"And for this cause God shall send them strong delusion, that they should believe a lie; that they all might be damned who believed not the truth, but had pleasure in unrighteousness" (II Thess. 2:11-12; KJV).
And, again, these words tell us plainly that it will be the action of God, himself, that will produce the delusion that will kill the ability of those (who received not the truth) to believe in the truth at this later point when the truth will be more clearly manifest. This is another fact of the Scriptures that shows that God is willing to frustrate His desire for "all men" to be saved.
The point of the above illustrations (and there are multitudes of them in the Scriptures) is that Paul's statement about God's willingness for all men to be saved in I Timothy 2:4 is tempered (not contradicted) by some other statements of his own and of others who, like him, were inspired by the Spirit of God. The net result is that we must conclude that though God is willing that all men be saved, that desire is NOT one which He will fulfill regardless of any and all other considerations. And, as we have already shown (p. 52), even the objectors to individual election have to admit that their position is that God's willingness to have every man saved is tempered by His greater desire to make the volitional response of man determinative -- so that, even by this method of reasoning (though we cannot agree that it is biblical), it is yet a fact that GOD HIMSELF frustrates His desire to save all men by determining that something else is ultimately more important.
Therefore, it is not individual electionists alone who must harmonize the idea of God's willingness to save all men with the fact that it is His decisions that keep that from happening. There is a biblical and reasonable explanation to this apparent conflict in God -- but it is not found by rejecting the biblical fact that the individual names of the elect have been written in the Book of Life from the foundation of the world.
That brings us to another contextual fact that makes II Peter 3:9 and I Timothy 2:4 different. In the former, Peter was speaking of what WILL BE. In the latter Paul is speaking of what God would like to see, but which He will not guarantee (and, thus, which will NOT BE). As we have already shown, Peter chose to use the word 'boulomai' in his statement. He did this because he was speaking of something that God WILL DO regardless of any other considerations. It is admitted by this author that many men have considered that this word is not a word that denotes fixed intent -- but the burden of proof is upon them since the elimination of the idea of irresistibility from the word completely undermines the way Paul (in Romans 9:19) and Gamaliel (in Acts 5:38-39) established the futility of men opposing the boule of God. It is the way the biblical authors used the words they used that determines their meaning for those words -- not what popular or scholarly men say is their meaning. And, even in cases where this particular word is used and the determined thing DOES NOT COME TO PASS, it is yet the idea of the word that those who did the determining fully intended to bring to pass their intention. The thing that kept them from accomplishing their intention was not the lack of determination on their part -- it was their lack of ability or strength. God has no such lack. What He determines to bring to pass, HE WILL BRING TO PASS.
At this point, we must, at least, make reference to Luke 7:30 where Luke uses this word:
"...But the Pharisees and lawyers rejected the boule of God against themselves, being not baptised of him" (KJV).
Some have thought that since this verse says that the Pharisees and lawyers rejected the 'boule' of God, that shows that it is not irresistible. But, does the verse say that? It simply says that they rejected it, not that their rejection changed it. In this context it is fairly clear that the 'irresistible' will of God is that none will be accepted of God who reject the messenger and message which He has sent. The Pharisees thought they could be accepted of Him without submitting to the call to repentance. And, their rejection of His unyielding determination did absolutely NOTHING to alter it! This is all that this verse says. It does not deny the meaning of 'boule' as Paul, Gamaliel, and Peter used it.
However, there is an even more pertinent fact that must be considered: even if it could be shown from Luke's writings that this word does not have such an idea of fixedness as we have put forth, the way Luke used the word would not alter at all the meaning that Peter had when he used it. Luke does not determine meaning for Peter's words. Peter's use of the word determines what he understood for the meaning of the word. And, Peter's meaning for this word is clearly given in Acts 2:23 where Peter saw the crucifixion of the Messiah as a part of the determined will of God -- a fact established by promise (Gen. 3:15), by prophecy (Isaiah 53), and by history. It is re-established in II Peter 3:9 where he claims that the elect of God, who receive their part in the `'ike, precious, faith' by divinely controlled lot, will not perish because God will not send the Christ in judgment until all of those elect have come to repentance.
But, in I Timothy 2:4, Paul did not use the same word that he had used in Romans 9:19 and that Peter has used in II Peter 3:9. He, instead, chose to use the word 'thelo'. This is a more general word which indicates only desire. Some have been confused because Paul uses this word in some places where it is obvious that the desire is not to be denied (and thus the idea is like unto that of 'boule'. For example, note Romans 9:18 and 9:22, where what God desires to do, He does. However, Paul's use of this term in I Timothy 2:4 is clear evidence that some things that God desires, He does not guarantee. By this choice of terms, Paul shows that God 'desires' the salvation of all men. But, by that same choice of terms, Paul also posits the possibility that God will not necessarily bring it to pass.
Now, some think that if God, who has all power, does not bring to pass the thing He desires, He does not really desire it. But, that is not true. The problem with that kind of reasoning is that it springs out of human reason -- not revelation from God.
The fundamental flaw in that kind of thinking is exposed by the fact that desires are like priorities -- some greater than others in respect to the issue of to how much trouble one will go in order to fulfill them. For example, a man may desire to enter into an adulterous relationship with his neighbor's wife. But, he may never do so, not because he does not really desire it, nor because she is not willing. He may never do so because he has already counted the cost of such an act and seen that the sacrifice is more than he wants to pay. Let me clarify. Suppose his neighbor is a violent and jealous man. Suppose that man has already shown by past behavior what he would do to the man whom he caught committing adultery with his wife. Then, let us suppose that the first man, though aching to enter into adultery with his neighbor's wife, also desires (MORE THAN the adulterous relationship) to stay alive. His refusal to pursue his GENUINE DESIRE is not a declaration that he does not desire it -- it is simply a declaration that he desires something else, which is mutually exclusive of that desire, MORE.
The point of this is simply that the refusal to pursue a desire AT ALL COST does not relegate that desire to the arena of non-reality. It simply reduces it in the level of priorities to the point where it, though genuine, will not be fulfilled.
Now, let us show that God also is similar to the man in the illustration above. The illustration has great weaknesses in that it is shot through with unrighteousness, immorality, and evil. And, God is NOTHING like that at all. But, there is a likeness. [Someone might object at this point to the use of such an illustration. That objection might be valid. The reason that I used it is that none can deny the realities of lust (strong desire) and fear of death -- one of which can really overrule the other without making that other a non entity.] Paul clearly teaches that God desires that all men be saved by using 'thelo' in I Timothy 2:4. He also, however, clearly teaches that God desires to make His wrath and power known by means of refraining from saving certain men who, by virtue of God's self-imposed restraint, become "vessels of wrath, fitted to destruction" (Rom. 9:22; KJV), by using the same word in Romans 9:18 and 9:22. Now, that God desires MORE to make His character known for the sake of the "vessels of mercy" than He desires to save all men is clear from these Scriptures, from our consideration of this issue previously (the issue of God's characteristics being in harmony with each other), and from history (where it is obvious that men are being visited with wrath when they could be visited with salvation. [Note Jesus' words about the repentance of Sodom in Matthew 11:23].) And, on top of that, Paul's statements in Romans 9, concerning God's hardening of Pharoah as something that He desired (Note carefully Romans 9:17-18), do not contradict Paul's declaration that God desires the salvation of "all men", of whom Pharoah was once one. All of these statements mean that God sometimes desires two mutually exclusive things.
But, I can already hear the objections falling like rain upon my head! But, before you add yours to those already made, consider John 3:16:
"For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life" (KJV).
Does this verse not declare that God's loves were two. One was directed toward the world. The other was directed toward the Son. Does this verse not also establish beyond debate that the two loves were mutually exclusive -- God could keep His Son from death and let the world die, or He could keep the world from death and let His Son die, BUT HE COULD NOT DO BOTH. The verse says that "God so loved...". If He did not love His Son, the sacrifice of Him was nothing. But, if He loved Him dearly, the sacrifice was proportionately great. But, what are the implications of God's love for the world? They are that God CHOSE TO SAVE THE BELIEVER IN SPITE OF THE FACT THAT THAT MEANT DEATH FOR HIS SON, whom He dearly loved. This is mutual exclusion in REAL desires.
We have an expression: "You cannot have your cake and eat it too". This is clear testimony that men recognize the built-in exclusiveness of some priorities. There are many priorities which are compatible. There are some which require the sacrifice of lesser ones in order to be fulfilled. John 3:16 says that God is not exempt from this reality -- though HE is the fountain and root of it. It is because God is many opposite things (love/hate, justice/grace, wrath/patience) that this tension exists. Now, with God, it is not tension -- because His character is in perfect balance. But, nonetheless, God does desire some things that He cannot bring to pass AND bring to pass other things which He also desires. He must make a choice. This is why we believe that He has, in fact, made such choices -- even to the choosing of whom He would save and whom He would not save.
There is also another thing that we must point out about the differences between Paul's statements in Romans 9 and 1 Timothy 2. It is clear from Romans 9 that the issue which Paul is confronting is the integrity of God (note verse 6 -- answering the issue of whether the word of God is trustworthy; verse 14 -- addressing the question of God's moral integrity in righteousness; and verse 19 -- addressing the issue of God's integrity in justice). The picture of God which Paul depicts in this chapter is one of a God of absolute integrity who does exactly as He has said that He would, and controls history so that His word of prophecy proves to be true when history comes to the point of fulfillment. Therefore, when Paul speaks of God's desires in Romans 9, he is dealing with the desires of One whose primary task is to fulfill His words and maintain His integrity so that those who trust in Him will never have occasion to be ashamed. Thus, the priority-level of the desires so stated is extremely high and enter into the realm of priorities which WILL NOT BE SACRIFICED FOR ANY CAUSE -- because the sacrifice of them would mean the sacrifice of His integrity and that would mean, literally, the death of God, and, more importantly to Him, the death of those who trusted in Him.
However, in I Timothy, the picture of God that Paul is depicting has to do with His identity as the Savior of men (verse 3). Now, since salvation is a gracious exercise, God does not cease to be God or lose any of His 'god-ness' if He does not save every person who sins. For instance, God has never (as far as we know) offered Satan the opportunity of salvation. None can argue with Him that He must do so -- grace cannot be coerced. That He has offered salvation to some sinners is a matter of grace and not necessity. Therefore, the desires of which Paul speaks in this context are desires that spring out of the mercy and grace of God, but they are not desires that MUST be fulfilled in order to maintain the integrity of God. Therefore, these desires are lower on the priority scale so that, if His integrity is threatened, they can be sacrificed.
Let us say at this point that God is not primarily concerned about maintaining His integrity. He does not act from heaven to slay men simply because He is concerned about Himself. His insistent maintenance of His integrity is so that those who have trusted in Him might have life. He maintains His integrity for THEM, not for Himself. This is love. It does not seek its own, but it does not sacrifice those things about itself that will cripple its ability to procure the best for its objects. Thus, because God has a continuing love for His elect, He will maintain His integrity at all costs because THEIR welfare depends upon it.
So, this means that God, as Savior, honestly wishes that all men be saved. But, it cannot be. His higher goals focus upon the participation by some men in His life. Because that participation depends, in part, upon the demonstration of all of His attributes, the 'lesser-loved' non-elect will be sacrificed for the sake of the elect. Put another way, God's love for His elect is so great that He gives up His desires and love for the non-elect in order to bring those elect to His great salvation.
How is this? Is this not just so much double talk? No, and that it is not is shown from the various characteristics which make up the character of God. Every individual characteristic of God (power, knowledge, wisdom, love, hate, wrath, justice, grace, etc.) has, in a sense, a priority system all of its own. But, as we have already shown, in God these opposing characteristics are perfectly harmonized. That harmonization, however, does require the sacrifice of lower-level priorities in each of the complementary and opposite characteristics. For example, note the following chart:
|THE PRIORITIES OF|
|THE PRIORITIES OF|
|The real benefit of the other members of the Godhead||The elimination of all that diminishes life for the members of the Godhead.|
|The real benefit of the elect angels||The elimination of those angels who are a threat to the benefit of the elect angels.|
|The real benefit of the elect among men||The elimination of all among men who threaten the benefit of the elect among men.|
|The real benefit of the non-elect||The elimination of the elect because of their sinful actions.|
|The real benefit of Self||The elimination of the ones who make demands upon the Self.|
Now, we are not claiming that the chart represents the priorities of love and hate with any degree of exhaustiveness. What we are claiming is that it demonstrates how God can love and hate the same things (the non-elect, for example). It can also show what is required of the harmonization of antithetical characteristics. The dividing line is drawn to show those things which can be effectively loved or hated relative to the things actually loved or hated. The things above the line show the objects that will NOT be sacrificed by either characteristic. The things below the line show the objects that will be sacrificed for the sake of harmony between the antithetical attributes. In God this harmony exists because He has already established what will be maintained and what will not. God genuinely loves His enemies, just as He has commanded us to do. But, God will also destroy His enemies. His destruction of them is an act of His pure and valid hatred for them and the chaos that they insist upon foisting upon God's friends. That God loves them more than He loves Himself is known by the sacrifice which He has made of Himself for them. That He loves His elect more than He loves His enemies means that, for the sake of the elect, He will destroy His enemies.
It needs to be said at this point that love is a rather uncomplicated thing when it exists only between two persons. In that case, the one loving will ALWAYS sacrifice himself for the beloved. However, when there is a multiplicity of persons involved, some are inevitably loved more and some less. In that case, though the one loving would never exalt his own interests over any other individual of the group, he will inevitably exalt the interests of those loved more over the interests of those loved less. Thus, since God does, in fact, love His friends more than His enemies, though He would sacrifice Himself for those enemies (in fact, HAS done so), He will NOT SACRIFICE HIS FRIENDS FOR THOSE ENEMIES.
Thus, because each attribute of God establishes certain priorities in a certain order, there must be some sacrificing by each attribute in order for real harmony to exist in God. However, the fact that a priority has been sacrificed for harmony's sake does not mean that it is not a real priority of the characteristic under which it falls. It simply means that it is not an high enough priority to require the elimination of its alternate which exists under some other attribute. As we said earlier, unbalanced love would eliminate hate; and unbalanced justice would eliminate grace. In God none of the attributes are eliminated -- only their lower level priorities are sacrificed. The result is a real balance and harmony in God.
So, because God really does love His enemies more than Himself, He, as Savior, honestly desires their salvation. But, because He desires the benefit of His elect MORE, He will sacrifice that genuine desire. His love for His enemies is what Paul is dealing with in I Timothy 2. His love for His elect is what Paul is dealing with in Romans 9. The two are unalterably opposed. Therefore, what God 'desires' in I Timothy is sacrificed for what God 'desires' in Romans.
Thus, it can both be true that God wishes for the salvation of all men and determines the salvation of only some. The collective electionist must agree for he must admit that God ultimately determines the principles which yield the salvation of some and the destruction of others. He simply argues that the decisions are made in time in response to the decisions of men. The individual electionist simply holds to the biblical position that the names of the elect were written into the Book of Life before the foundation of the world -- indicating the fact that God faced and resolved this matter before He actually did any creating of men.
This, then, brings us back to the beginning. Since God's desire for the salvation of all men is an honest desire, His offer of salvation to the non-elect is a genuine offer. That He will not pursue it to the loss by the elect of the salvation that He is guaranteeing them is beside the point. He owes the non-elect NOTHING. That He offers them anything good is testimony to His grace. He owes the elect NOTHING. That He brings them to salvation in spite of themselves is testimony to His greater grace. But, to accuse God of being unfair in doing anything to those to whom He owes NOTHING, is a clear violation of Jesus' own doctrine as established in Matthew 20:15.