John Smalley (1734-1820) on 1 Timothy 2:4

   Posted by: CalvinandCalvinism   in 1 Timothy 2:4-6





Who will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth.

THIS was said by the apostle to enforce the duty of praying for all men; and more especially for civil rulers. Seethe preceding context: “I exhort, therefore, first of all that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks, be made for all men; For kings, and for all that are in authority; that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty : For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior; Who will have all men to be saved,” &c.

Whether the second person in the Trinity, is here to be understood by God our Savior; or the Supreme Being without distinction of persons, may perhaps admit of some doubt. God, however, is certainly meant; and this is sufficient for my present purpose. Our text then contains two assertions; the explanation of which is now proposed.

I. That God will have all men to be saved; and,

II. That, in order to this, he will have them come to the knowledge of the truth.

I. That God will have all men to be saved, is here asserted.

But how is this to be understood! Does the apostle mean, that it is the absolute purpose of God, to effect the salvation of every individual of mankind! If so, we have in this text a decisive scripture proof, of the disputed doctrine of universal salvation. For God “is in one mind, and who can turn him? and what his soul desires, even that he does.” Many designs in a man’s heart are altered or frustrated; ”but the counsel of the Lord, that shall stand.” If therefore it were ever the real intention of God, that the whole human race should be recovered to holiness and happiness, then every child of Adam will infallibly be thus saved.

But there are so many other texts which plainly teach the reverse of this doctrine, that these words, like many scripture assertions expressed in universal terms, must be understood with some limitation.

That men of certain descriptions, will be miserable in the world to come, we are often most explicitly assured. It is said, “The wicked shall be turned into hell, and all the nations that forget God.” The Savior of sinners hath told them, ” Except ye repent, ye shall perish:” and, “He that believes not, shall be damned.” And afterwards, in the book of Revelation; “The fearful, and unbelieving, and the abominable, and murderers, and whoremongers, and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all liars, shall have their part in the lake which burns with fire and brimstone; which is the second death.”

Nor is it only said, that all who continue to be of those characters here, shall be thus miserable here after; without asserting that there will actually be any such. Our Savior says, “Wide is the gate, and broad is the way which leads to destruction, and many go in thereat.” He hath also told us, that after the door shall be shut, “many will stand without and knock, saying. Lord, Lord, open to us:” to whom he shall say, “I know you not; depart from me, all ye workers of iniquity.” And he adds, “There shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth; when ye shall see Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, and all the prophets, in the kingdom of God, and you yourselves thrust out.”

Nor is it a mere temporary exclusion from the happiness of heaven, and condemnation to the pains of hell, that impenitent sinners are taught to expect after death and at the last day. See Mark ix. 43, “If thy hand offend thee, cut it off: it is better for thee to enter into life maimed, than having two hands, to go into hell, into the fire that never shall be quenched.” And Matt. v. 26, “Verily I say unto thee, thou shall by no means come out thence, till thou hast paid the uttermost farthing.” Of him by whom our Savior should be betrayed, he said, “It had been good for that man if he had not been born,” which surely could not be true, were he finally to obtain salvation, and be happy to all eternity. Christ hath told us that in the day of judgment, he shall say to the righteous, “Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world:” and to the wicked, “Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels.–And these shall go away into everlasting punishment; but the righteous into life eternal.” In the parable of Lazarus, Abraham in heaven is represented as saying to the rich man in hell, “Between us and you a great gulf is fixed; so that they which would pass from hence to you cannot, neither can they pass to us that would come from thence.” And in the close of the Revelation it is said, “The time is at hand: He that is unjust, let him be unjust still; and he that is filthy, let him be filthy still; and he that is righteous, let him be righteous still.” That is, in the view of Him who inhabits eternity, the final period of changes in the characters of men is not far distant; when everyone will be fixed unalterably in holiness or sin, and in happiness or misery, as his moral state shall then be found.

From these and many similar representations, it must be believed, if we believe the scriptures, not only that every one of mankind will not be recovered to holiness and happiness in this life, nor at death, nor at the day of judgment; but that they never will to all eternity. And, consequently, that it neither is, was, or ever will be, the absolute intention of God, that mankind should thus universally be saved. And as the text Ave are now upon, if so construed, would flatly contradict the general evident current of scripture; so there are other constructions which it will very naturally bear,

1. The meaning of it may be, that God absolutely designs the salvation of all sorts of men: men of all nations, conditions and characters.

With as much limitation as this, the phrase all men, is frequently used. In this sense, or certainly not with more universality than this, we must understand our Savior, when he says to his disciples. Matt. x. 22, “Ye shall be hated of all men for my name sake.” And the evangelist, when he relates what was said of Jesus, John iii. 26, “The same baptizes, and all men come unto him.” And the historian of the apostles, When he says, Acts vi. 21, “All men glorified God for what was done. No more can be meant by ail men, in these and many other places, than mankind generally. And in our text, considering the connection and occasion of it, to understand by all men, men of all conditions, and of all nations only, is no unnatural construction. The particular reason of the apostle’s exhorting that supplications and intercessions should be made for all men, was probably this: many of the Jewish Christians still so far retained their national prejudices, that they would not pray for the heathen; looking upon them as reprobates, to whom the grace of God was never to be /extended. In opposition to these bigoted narrow notions, the apostle would have them understand that no^v, in the seed of Abraham, all the families of the earth were to be blessed. That in Christ Jesus, there was no distinction of Greek or Jew, Barbarian, Cythian, bond or free. And therefore that they ought to pray for all men, without any of these discriminations. Or,

2. The meaning of our text may be, that God conditionally designs the salvation of all men; without exception of one individual : that is, provided they should hear, believe, and obey the gospel. Of the truth of this, there is no reason to entertain a doubt. We are abundantly assured, “With the Lord there is mercy, and with him is plenteous redemption.” Redemption enough, and mercy enough, for the salvation of every penitent believer, if all the human race should repent and believe. To this purpose, very expressly, are the words of Paul, Heb. ii. 9, “We see Jesus made lower than the angels,–that he, by the grace of God, should taste death for every man.” And the words of John, 1 Epis. ii. chap. 1, and 2, verses, ” If any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. And he is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only, but for the sins of the whole world.”

Hence, in the parable of the royal marriage, the king is represented as sending his servants to say unto them that were bidden, “Come; for all things are now ready.” This message was sent to those who refused the invitation; for which reason the lord of the feast declared, that none of them should taste of his supper. And, without a parable, Jesus said to Jerusalem, when given over to remediless destruction; “How often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathers her chickens under her wings, and ye would not!”

Accordingly, the invitations and conditional promises of the gospel, are in universal terms. See Matt. xi. 28, “Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” John vii. 37, “In the last day, that great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried, saying. If any man thirst, let him come unto me and drink.” And Rev. xxii. 17, “The spirit and the bride say. Come. And let him that hears say. Come. And let him that is athirst come. And whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely.”

I know not how to understand these passages other wise, than as implying, that Christ hath made for the fallen race of man, in point of sufficiency, universal redemption: and that God is willing, and really intends, to have all men saved, in the most unlimited sense, if they will. But,

3. There is yet another sense which the words of our text may well admit, without implying the doctrine of universal salvation. The apostle may be understood to speak of God’s preceptive will to us, and not of his own purpose. Divines often distinguish between the secret, and the revealed will of God: and with evident propriety is this distinction made, if by God’s secret will be meant what he has decreed; and by his revealed will, what he has commanded. Certainly, God does not determine to bring into effect, everything which he requires to be done by his creatures. And to no case is this distinction more applicable, than to the one now before us. Though it may not be the design of God to save every man, by the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Ghost; yet he may have made it our duty, not only to comply with the proposed terms of salvation ourselves, but to bring all others to a compliance with them, as far as we are able. And this he hath evidently done.

“God now commands all every whereto repent,” one apostle says: “And this is his commandment,” says another, “That we should believe on the name of his Son Jesus Christ.” Christians are also required, after repentance and faith, to work out their own salvation with fear and trembling.

Nor is it less evidently enjoined upon us, to the utmost of our power, to promote the salvation of all others. “Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature,” was the command of the risen Savior to his first disciples. “Go out into the high ways, and bring in as many as ye shall find,” was the order of the king in the parable of the great supper. God would have his servants, Christ would have his ministers and people, in their proper places, do what in them lies for the salvation of men, as universally as possible. And, with manifest propriety might this be mentioned, when the apostle was exhorting, or directing Timothy to exhort, that supplications, prayers, and intercessions, should be made for all men.

John Smalley, “How the Salvation of All Men, is Agreeable to the Will of God,” in Sermons on a Number of Connected Subjects (Hartford: Printed for Oliver D. Cooke, 1803), 25-31.

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