Archive for the ‘God’s Will for the Salvation of All Men’ Category


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1) But though he wills all creatures as means and for his own sake, he wills some more than others to the degree they are more direct and suitable means for his glorification. God is a Father to all his creatures, but he is that especially to his children. His affection for everything he created is not as deep as his affection for his church, and that in turn is not as great as his love for Christ, the Son of his good pleasure. We speak of a general, a special, and a very special providence; in the same way we make as many distinctions in the will of God (as it relates to his creatures) as there are creatures. For the free will of God is as richly variegated as that whole world is. Hence, it must not be conceived as an indifferent power, a blind force, but as a rich and powerful divine energy, the wellspring of the abundant life that creation spreads out before our eyes. In that world, however, there is one thing that creates a special difficulty for the doctrine of the will of God, and that is the fact of evil, both evil as guilt and evil as punishment, in an ethical as well as a physical sense. Though evil is ever so much under God’s control, it cannot in the same sense and in the same way be the object of his will as the good. Hence, with a view to these two very different, in fact diametrically opposed, objects we must again make a distinction in that will of God, as Scripture itself shows. There is a big difference between the will of God that prescribes what we must do (Matt. 7:21; 12:50; John 4:34; 7:17; Rom. 12:2), and the will of God that tells us what he does and will do (Ps. 115:3; Dan. 4:17, 25,32,35; Rom. 9:18-19; Eph. 1 :5, 9, 11; Rev. 4: 11) . The petition that God’s will may be done (Matt. 6: 10) is very different in tenor from the childlike and resigned prayer: “Your will be done” (Matt. 26:42; Acts 21: 14). Over and over in history we see the will of God assert itself in two ways. God commands Abraham to sacrifice his son, yet he does not let it happen (Gen. 22). He wants Pharaoh to let his people Israel go, yet hardens his heart so that he does not do it (Exod. 4:21). He has the prophet tell Hezekiah that he will die; still he adds fifteen years to his life (Isa. 38: 1, 5). He prohibits us from condemning the innocent, yet Jesus is delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God (Acts 2:23; 3: 18; 4:28). God does not will sin; he is far from iniquity. He forbids it and punishes it severely, yet it exists and is subject to his rule (Exod. 4:21; Josh. 11 :20; 1 Sam. 2:25; 2 Sam. 16: 10; Acts 2:23; 4:28; Rom. 1 :24, 26; 2 Thess. 2: 11; etc.). He wills the salvation of all (Ezek. 18:23, 32; 33: 11; 1 Tim. 2:4; 2 Pet. 3:9), yet has mercy on whom he wills and hardens whom he wills (Rom. 9: 18). Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics (Grand Rapids: Backer Academic, 2004), 2:241. [Original footnotes not included and underlining mine.]

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A Prayer to be said for all such as lie at the point of Death.

O most loving Savior and gentle Redeemer, who earnest into this world to call sinners unto repentance, and to seek that which was lost, thou sees in what case this our brother lies here, visited with thy merciful hand; altogether weak, feeble, sick, and ready to yield up his soul into thy holy hands. O look upon him, most gentle Savior, with thy merciful eye, pity him, and be favorable unto him. He is thy workmanship, despise not therefore the work of thine own hands. Thou suffers thy blessed body and thy precious blood to be shed for his sins, and to bring him unto the glory of thy heavenly Father, let it not therefore come to pass that thou should suffer so great pains for him in vain. He was baptized in thy name, and gave himself wholly to be thy servant, forsaking the devil, the world, and the flesh; confess him therefore before thy heavenly Father, and his blessed angels, to be thy servant. His sins, we confess are great, for who is able to say, My house is clean, and I am free from sin; but thy mercies, O Lord, are much greater: and thou earnest not to call the righteous, but sinners unto repentance. To them that are diseased and overladen with the burden of sin, dost thou promise ease. Thou art that God who wills not the death of a sinner, but rather that he should turn and live. Thou art the Savior who wishes all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of thy truth. Withdraw not therefore thy mercy from him because of his sins, but rather lay upon him thy saving health, that thou may show thyself towards him a Savior. What greater praise can there be to a physician, than to heal the sick? Neither can there be a greater glory to thee, being a Savior, than to save sinners. Save him therefore, O Lord, for thy name’s sake. Again, let the law be no corrosive to his conscience, but rather give him grace, even in this extreme agony and conflict of death, to be fully persuaded that thou by thy death hast taken away all his sins, fulfilled the law for him, and by this means delivered him from the curse of the law, and paid his ransom; that he, thus being fully persuaded, may have a quiet heart, a free conscience, and a glad will to forsake this wretched world, and to go unto his Lord God. Moreover, thou hast conquered him that had rule of death, even Satan; suffer him not therefore to exercise his tyranny upon this our sick brother, nor to disquiet his conscience with the terrors of sin and pains of hell. Let not Satan or his infernal army tempt him further than he is able to bear, but evermore give him grace, even unto his last breath, valiantly to fight against the devil with a strong faith in thy precious blood, that he may fight a good fight, and finish his course with joy, unto the glory of thy name, and the health of his soul. O Lord, so work in him by thy Holy Spirit, that he, with all his heart, may contemn and despise all worldly things, and set his mind wholly upon heavenly things, hoping for them with a strong and undoubted faith. Again, let it not grieve him, O sweet Savior, to be loosened from this vile and wretched carcass, which is now so full of sorrow, trouble, anguish, sickness, and pain, but rather let him have a bent and ready will, through thy goodness, to put it off. Yea, and that with this faith, that he, at the last day, shall receive it again in a much better state than it is now, or ever was from the day of his birth; even a body incorruptible, immortal, and like to thy glorious body. Let his whole heart and mind be set only upon thee. Let the remembrance of the joys of heaven be so fervent in his breast, that he may both patiently and thankfully take his death, and ever wish to be with thee in glory. And when the time cometh that he shall give over to nature, and depart from this miserable world, vouchsafe, we most humbly beseech thee, O Lord Jesus, to take his soul into thy hands, and to place it among the glorious company of thy holy angels and blessed saints, and to keep it unto that most joyful day of the general resurrection, that both his body and soul, through thine almighty power, being knit again together at that day, he may for ever and ever enjoy thy glorious kingdom, and sing perpetual praises to thy blessed name. Amen.

Thomas Becon, The Writings of the Rev. Thomas Becon (Philadelphia: Presbyterian Board of Publication, [1840-1849?]), 328. [Some spelling modernized and underlining mine.]


Obj. If God be so willing, that men should repent and believe, why do they not repent and believe? “For who has resisted his will,” Rom. 9:19. This we find by ourselves, that if he will do ought, we do it if we can; and if we do it not, it is because we have not power to do as we would.

Sol. For the will the God, as to the salvation of all, I case they do repent and believe, there is no question; and so (as I remember) some understand the Apostle, 1 Tim. 2:4. But that is not the question, but this rather, “How God wills the repentance of men, who never repent. For seeing God can do whatever he will, why are not they converted? And to this I answer, “That God wills the conversion of sinners, so as their conversion is well-pleasing to him, and accepted with him; as on the contrary, he is displeased with sinners, so long as they live in impenitency. “The holy angels rejoice over the sinner that repents,” [Luke 15:10.], and God much more, seeing it is his command, that they repent. And how should God will men’s repentance, otherwise than he does? He declares his will in his command, and in his promise of acceptance, and in his refusing none upon their repentance; and for any other will of God, concerning this or that man’s repentance, who knows it, or where has God revealed it? What! Would you have God to decree and effect the conversion of all and everyone, whether they will no no? If ay say, No; but we would have God to deal with all indifferently, as being all the world of his hands: I answer, “That saving to God but so much liberty, as all men ordinarily take to themselves, his dealings with men are indifferent, and his ways most equal, seeing he has so prepared, as men need not perish, except they will themselves.” And therefore, I say once more, they perish and due in their sins, only because they chose the ways of their destruction. How then dare any man make any further question about God’s will of saving men, when he has so decreed, and so provided, that men may be saved if they will? I mean it thus, “If they do not willingly refuse their salvation, when it is offered them; by an obstinate rejecting the way he commands them to walk in, and to which they are invited and encouraged by his promise, wherein it is impossible that he should lie. And this we affirm still, according to what has been said before.

Obj. Seeing it is God’s will, that men shall be damned, in case they believe not, it does not appear, that there is in God a will of saving, rather than a will of damning, because there is in all men a proneness and inclination to unbelief and impenitency, more than to faith and repentance.

Sol. We grant, there is a proneness and inclination in all men by nature, to unbelief and impenitency, with an untowardness and enmity to faith and repentance. But we say again, as before,

“That men may repent and believe, if they will. For men are not damned, for that they cannot repent, though they never so willing to it; but they are damned only because they will not repent, nor turn from their evil ways, but wilfully go on in them, against all means, and methods used for the reclaiming of them.”

And may not God then say, and swear too, as he does, Ezek. 33:11, “‘As I live,’ says the Lord God, ‘I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way, and live.’”

Thomas Ford, Autokatakritos, or, The Sinner Condemned of Himself (London: Printed for Edward Brewster, and are to be sold by Giles Widowes, at the Maiden-head, over against the Half-Moon, in Aldersgate-street, near Jewen-street, 1668), 228-230. [Some spelling modernized and underlining mine.]


1) Man is the
cause of his
own damnation.

O what a pitiful thing is it, that man will not consider this, and leave the sin and pleasure of this world, and live godly; but is so blind and mad, that he will rather have a momentary, and a very short and small pleasure, than hearken to the will and pleasure of Almighty God! That might avoid everlasting pain and woe, and give unto him everlasting felicity. For that a great many of us are damned, the fault is not in God; for Deus vult omnes homines salvos fieri, “God would have all men be saved:” but the fault is in ourselves, and in our own madness, that had rather have damnation than salvation. Therefore, good people, consider these terrible pains in your minds, which are prepared for the wicked and ungodly: avoid all wickedness and sin; set before your eyes the wonderful joy and felicity, and the innumerable treasures which God hath laid up for you that fear and love him, and live after his will and commandments: for no tongue can express, no eye hath seen, no heart can comprehend nor conceive the great felicity that God hath prepared for his elect and chosen, as St Paul witnesses. Consider therefore, I say, these most excellent treasures, and endeavor yourselves to obtain the fruition of the same. Continue not, neither abide or wallow too long in your sins, like as a swine lies in the mire: make no delay to repent your sin, and to amend your life; for you are not so sure to have repentance in the end. It is a common saying, Pœnitentia sera raro vera: therefore consider this thing with yourself betimes, and study to amend your life; for what avails it to have all the pleasures of the world for awhile, and after that to have everlasting pain and infelicity? Hugh Latimer, Sermons and Remains of Hugh Latimer (Cambridge: CUP, 1845), 2:192-193. [Some reformatting; some spelling modernized; italics original; marginal references and comments cited inline and location discretionary; and underlining mine.]

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There is, however, still a third sense, in which Jesus leads us to ascribe universality to the divine love. This is done not so much in explicit form as by the implications of His attitude toward sinful men in general. We must never forget that our Lord was the divine love incarnate, and that consequently what He did, no less than what He taught, is a true revelation adapted to shed light on our problem. If the Son of God was filled with tender compassion for every lost human soul, and grieved even over those whose confirmed unbelief precluded all further hope of salvation, it is plain that there must be in God something corresponding to this. In the parable of the prodigal son the father is represented as continuing to cherish a true affection for his child during the period of the latter’s estrangement. It would be hardly in accord with our Lord’s intention to press the point that the prodigal was destined to come to repentance, and that, therefore, the father’s attitude toward him portrays the attitude of God toward the elect only, and not toward every sinner as such. We certainly have a right to say that the love which God originally bears toward man as created in His image survives in the form of compassion under the reign of sin. This being so, when the sinner comes in contact with the gospel of grace, it is natural for God to desire that he should accept its offer and be saved. We must even assume that over against the sin of rejection of the gospel this love continues to assert itself, in that it evokes from the divine heart sincere sorrow over man’s unbelief. But this universal love should be always so conceived as to leave room for the fact that God, for sovereign reasons, has not chosen to bestow upon its objects that higher love which not merely desires, but purposes and works out the salvation of some. It may be difficult to realize from any analogy in our own consciousness how the former can exist without giving rise to the latter; yet we are clearly led to believe that such is the case in God. A logical impossibility certainly is not involved, and our utter ignorance regarding the motives which determine the election of grace should restrain us from forming the rash judgment that, psychologically speaking, the existence of such a love in God for the sinner and the decree of preterition with reference to that same sinner are mutually exclusive. For, let it be remembered, we are confronted with the undeniable fact that this universal love of God, however defined, does not induce Him to send the gospel of salvation to all who are its objects. If the withholding of the gospel is consistent with its truthfulness, then a fortiori the withholding of efficacious grace must be. That there are good reasons for the former is true: but undoubtedly God has also His wise and holy reasons for the latter. The Scriptures do not assert that election and preterition are arbitrary decrees to the mind of God. All they insist upon is that the motives underlying them are inscrutable to us, and have nothing whatever to do with the worthiness or unworthiness of man.

Neither this indiscriminate goodness in the sphere of nature, however, nor the collective love which embraces the world as an organism, nor the love of compassion which God retains for every lost sinner, should be confounded with that fourth and highest form of the divine affection which the Savior everywhere appropriates to the disciples. This is represented under the figure of fatherhood. Notwithstanding all that has been asserted to the contrary by a host of modern writers, an impartial examination of the facts discloses the principle that the fatherhood of God in its specific sense is realized in the kingdom, so that His fatherhood and kingship appear coextensive.

Geerhardus Vos, “The Scriptural Doctrine of the Love of God,” in Redemptive History and Biblical Interpretation, ed. Richard B. Gaffin (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 1980; 2001), 443–444. The article originally appeared in The Presbyterian and Reformed Review 13 (1902): 1–37. Iain H. Murray cites it in “The Cross: The Pulpit of God’s Love Part 2″ Banner of Truth 495 (December 2004), 14. The entire article by Vos is available online here.

Thanks to Tony for the find.