John Calvin (1509-1564) on 1 Timothy 2:4-6

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



1) Again, let us know that when the Gospel is preached unto us, it is to make us so much the more void of excuse. And why so? For the seeing that God had already showed us that he was ready to receive us to mercy, if we had come to him, our condemnation shall no doubt be increased, if we be so wicked as to draw back, when he calls so mildly and lovingly. Yet notwithstanding, (as we have here exhorted) let us not leave off, to pray for all men in general: For S. Paul shows us, that God will have all men be saved, that is to say all people and all nations. And therefore we must not settle ourselves in such sort upon the diversity which is seen amongst men, that we forget that God has made us all in his image and likeness, that we are his workmanship, that he may stretch forth his goodness over them which are at this day far from him, as we have a good proof of it. Calvin, Sermons on 1 Timothy, Sermon 13, 2:3-5, p., 160.


1) Therefore Luke commendeth the rare efficacy and working of the Spirit of God, when he saith that these noblemen were no whit hindered by the dignity of the flesh, but that embracing the gospel, they prepared themselves to bear the cross, and preferred the reproach of Christ before the glory of the world. Secondly, Luke meant to make known the glory of the world. Secondly, Luke meant to make known unto us, that the grace of Christ stands open for all orders and degrees. In which sense Paul saith, that God would have all men saved, (1 Timothy 2:4;) lest he poor and those who are base do shut the gate against the rich, (though Christ did vouchsafe them the former place.) Therefore we see that noblemen, and those who are of the common sort, are gathered together, that those who are men of honor, and which are despised, grow together into one body of the Church, that all men, in general, may humble themselves, and extol the grace of God. Calvin, Acts 17:11.

2) Paul, however, does not say here, that there are none of the noble and mighty that have been called by God, but that there are few. He states the design of this—that the Lord might bring down the glory of the flesh, by preferring the contemptible before the great. God himself, however, by the mouth of David, exhorts kings to embrace Christ,  (Psalm 2:12,) and by the mouth of Paul, too, he declares, that he will have all men to be saved, and that is Christ is offered alike to small and great, alike to kings and their subjects, (1 Timothy 2:1-4.) He has himself furnished a token of this. Shepherds, in the first place, are called to Christ: then afterwards come philosophers: illiterate and despised fishermen hold the highest rank of honor; yet into their school there are received in process of time kings and their counselors, senators and orators. Calvin 1 Corinthians 1:26.

3) 4. “Who wishes that all men may be saved.” Here follows a confirmation of the second argument; and what is more reasonable than that all our prayers should be in conformity with this decree of God?

“And may come to the acknowledgment of the truth.” Lastly, he demonstrates that God has at heart the salvation of all, because he invites all to the acknowledgment of his truth. This belongs to that kind of argument in which the cause is: proved from the effect; for, if “the gospel is the power of God for salvation to every one that believeth,” (Romans 1:16,) it is certain that all those to whom the gospel is addressed are invited to the hope of eternal life. In short, as the calling is a proof of the secret election, so they whom God makes partakers of his gospel are admitted by him to possess salvation; because the gospel reveals to us the righteousness of God, which is a sure entrance into life. Hence we see the childish folly of those who represent this passage to be opposed to predestination. “If God” say they, “wishes all men indiscriminately to be saved, it is false that some are predestined by his eternal purpose to salvation, and others to perdition.” They might have had some ground for saying this, if Paul were speaking here about individual men; although even then we should not have wanted the means of replying to their argument; for, although the: will of God ought not to be judged from his secret decrees, when he reveals them to us by outward signs, yet it does not therefore follow that he has not determined with himself what he intends to do as to every individual man.

But I say nothing on that subject, because it has nothing to do with this passage; for the Apostle simply means, that there is no people and no rank in the world that is excluded from salvation; because God wishes that the gospel should be proclaimed to all without exception. Now the preaching of the gospel gives life; and hence he justly concludes that God invites all equally to partake salvation. But the present discourse relates to classes of men, and not to individual persons; for his sole object is, to include in this number princes and foreign nations. That God wishes the doctrine of salvation to be enjoyed by them as well as others, is evident from the passages already quoted, and from other passages of a similar nature. Not without good reason was it said, “Now, kings, understand,” and again, in the same Psalm, “I will give thee the Gentiles for an inheritance, and the ends of the earth for a possession.” (Psalm 2:8-10.) In a word, Paul intended to shew that it is our duty to consider, not what kind of persons the princes at that time were, but what God wished them to be. Now the duty arising: out of that love which we owe to our neighbor is, to be solicitous and to do our endeavor for the salvation of all whom God includes in his calling, and to testify this by godly prayers. With the same view does he call God our Savior; for whence do we obtain salvation but from the undeserved kindness of God? Now the same God who has already made us partakers of salvation may sometime extend his grace to them also. He who hath already drawn us to him may draw them along with us. The Apostle takes for granted that God will do so, because it had been thus foretold by the predictions of the prophets, concerning all ranks and all nations.

5. For there is one God. This argument might, at first sight, appear to be not very strong, that God wishes all men to be saved, because he is one; if a transition had not been made from God to men. Chrysostom–and, after him, others–view it in this sense, that there are not many gods, as idolaters imagine. But I think that Paul’s design was different, and that there is here an implied comparison of one God with the whole world and with various nations, out of which comparison arises a view of both, as they mutually regard each other. In like manner the Apostle says, “Is he the God of the Jews only? Is he not also of the Gentiles? Yea, it is one God who justifieth the circumcision by faith, and the uncircumcision through faith.’ Accordingly, whatever diversity might at that time exist among men, because many ranks and many nations were strangers to faith, Paul brings to the remembrance of believers the unity of God, that they may know that they are connected with all, because there is one God of allthat they may know that they who are under the power of the same God are not excluded for ever from the hope of salvation.

And one Mediator between God and men. This clause is of a similar import with the former; for, as there is one God, the Creator and Father of all, so he says that there is but one Mediator, through whom we have access to the Father; and that this Mediator was given, not only to one nation, or to a small number of persons of some particular rank, but to all; because the fruit of the sacrifice, by which he made atonement for sins, extends to all. More especially because a large portion of the world was at that time alienated from God, he expressly mentions the Mediator, through whom they that were afar off now approach. The universal term all must always be referred to classes: of men, and not to persons; as if he had said, that not only Jews, but Gentiles also, not only persons of humble rank, but princes also, were redeemed by the death of Christ. Since, therefore, he wishes the benefit of his death to be common to all, an insult is offered to him by those who, by their opinion, shut out any person from the hope of salvation.

The man Christ Jesus. When he declares that he is “a man,” the Apostle does not deny that the Mediator is God, but, intending to point out the bond of our union with God, he mentions the human nature rather than the divine. This ought to be carefully observed. From the beginning, men, by contriving for themselves this or that mediator, departed farther from God; and the reason was, that, being prejudiced in favor of this error, that God was at a great distance from them, they knew not to what hand to turn. Paul remedies this evil, when he represents God as present with us; for he has descended even to us, so that we do not need to seek him above the clouds. The same thing is said in Hebrews 4:15, “We have not a high priest who cannot sympathize within our infirmities, for in all things he was tempted.” And, indeed, if this were deeply impressed on the hearts of all, that the Son of God holds out to us the hand of a brother, and that we are united to him by the fellowship of our nature, in order that, out of our low condition, he may raise us to heaven; who would not choose to keep by this straight road, instead of wandering in uncertain and stormy paths! Accordingly, whenever we ought to pray to God, if we call to remembrance that exalted and unapproachable majesty, that we may not be driven back by the dread of it, let us, at the same time, remember “the man Christ,” who gently invites us, and takes us, as it were, by the hand, in order that the Father, who had been the object of terror and alarm, may be reconciled by him and rendered friendly to us. This is the only key to open for us the gate of the heavenly kingdom, that we may appear in the presence of God with confidence. Hence we see, that Satan has, in all ages, followed this course, for the purpose of leading men astray from the right path. I say nothing of the various devices by which, before the coming of Christ, he alienated the minds of men, to contrive methods of approaching to God. At the very commencement of the Christian Church, when Christ, with so excellent a pledge, was fresh in their remembrance, and while the earth was still ringing with that delightfully sweet word from his mouth, “Come to me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest,” (Matthew 11:28,) there were, nevertheless, some persons skilled in deception, who thrust angels into his room as mediators; which is evident from Colossians 2:18. But what Satan, at that time, contrived secretly, he carried to such a pitch, during the times of Popery, that scarcely one person in a thousand acknowledged Christ, even in words, to be the Mediator. And while the name was buried, still more was the reality unknown.

Now that God has raised up good and faithful teachers, who have labored to restore and bring to the remembrance of men what ought to have been one of the best–known principles of our faith, the sophists of the Church of Rome have resorted to every contrivance for darkening a point so clear. First, the name is so hateful to them, that, if any one mentions Christ as Mediator, without taking notice of the saints, he instantly falls under a suspicion of heresy. But, because they do not venture to reject altogether what Paul teaches in this passage, they evade it by a foolish exposition, that he is called “one Mediator,” not “the only Mediator.” As if the Apostle had mentioned God as one out of a vast multitude of gods; for the two clauses are closely connected, that “there is one God and one Mediator;” and therefore they who make Christ one out of many mediators must apply the same interpretation in speaking of God. Would they rise to such a height of impudence, if they were not impelled by blind rage to crush the glory of Christ?

There are others who think themselves more acute, and who lay down this distinction, that Christ is the only Mediator of redemption, while they pronounce the saints to be mediators of intercession. But the folly of these interpreters is reproved by the scope of the passage, in which the Apostle speaks expressly about prayer. The Holy Spirit commands us to pray for all, because our only Mediator admits all to come to him; just as by his death he reconciled all to the Father. And yet they who thus, with daring sacrilege, strip Christ of his honor, wish to be regarded as Christians. But it is objected that this has the appearance of contradiction; for in this very passage Paul enjoins us to intercede for others, while, in the Epistle to the Romans, he declares that intercession belongs to Christ alone. (Romans 8:34.) I reply, the intercessions of the saints, by which they aid each other in their addresses to God, do not contradict the doctrine, that all have but one Intercessor; for no man’s prayers are heard either in behalf of himself, or in behalf of another, unless he rely on Christ as his advocate. When we intercede for one another, this is so far from setting aside the intercession of Christ, as belonging to him alone, that the chief reliance is given, and the chief reference made, to that very intercession. Some person will perhaps think, that it will, therefore, be easy for us to come to an agreement with the Papists, if they place below the only intercession of Christ, all that they ascribe to the saints. This is not the case; for the reason why they transfer to the saints the office of interceding is, that they imagine that otherwise we are destitute of an advocate. It is a common opinion among them, that we need intercessors, because in ourselves we are unworthy of appearing in the presence of God. By speaking in this manner, they deprive Christ of his honor. Besides, it is a shocking blasphemy, to ascribe to saints such excellence as would procure for us the favor of God: and all the prophets, and apostles, and martyrs, and even the angels themselves–are so far from making any pretension to this, that they too have need of the same intercession as ourselves.

Again, it is a mere dream, originating in their own brain, that the dead intercede for us; and, therefore, to found our prayers on this is altogether to withdraw our trust from calling upon God. But Paul lays down, as the rule for calling on God in a proper manner, faith grounded on the word of God. (Romans 10:17.) Justly, therefore, everything that men contrive, in the exercise of their own thoughts, without the authority of the word of God, is rejected by us.

But not to dwell on this subject longer than the exposition of the passage demands, let it be summed up in this manner; that they who have actually learned the office of Christ will be satisfied with having him alone, and that none will make mediators at their own pleasure but those who neither know God nor Christ. Hence I conclude, that the doctrine of the Papists–which darkens, and almost buries, the intercession of Christ, and introduces pretended intercessors without any support from Scripture–is full of wicked distrust, and also of wicked rashness.

6. Who gave himself a ransom for all. The mention of redemption in this passage is not superfluous; for there is a necessary connection between the two things, the sacrifice of the death of Christ, and his continual intercession. (Romans 8:34.) These are the two parts of his priesthood; for, when Christ is called our priest, it is in this sense, that he once made atonement for our sins by his death, that he might reconcile us to God; and now having entered into the sanctuary of heaven, he appears in presence of the Father, in order to obtain grace for us, that we may be heard in his name. (Psalm 110:4; Hebrews 7:17.) So much the more does he expose the wicked sacrilege of the Papists, who, by making dead saints to be companions of Christ in this affair, transfer to them likewise the glory of the priesthood. Read the fourth chapter of the Epistle to the Hebrews, towards the conclusion, and the beginning of the fifth chapter, and you will find what I maintain, that the intercession by which God is reconciled to us is founded on the sacrifice; which, indeed, is demonstrated by the whole system of the ancient priesthood. It follows, therefore, that it is impossible to take from Christ any part of the office of intercession, and bestow it on others, without stripping him of the title of priesthood.

Besides, when the Apostle calls him antilutron, a ransom,” he overthrows all other satisfactions. Yet I am not ignorant of the injurious devices of the Papists, who pretend that the price of redemption, which Christ paid by his death, is applied to us in baptism, so that original sin is effaced, and that afterwards we are reconciled to God by satisfactions. In this way they limit to a small period of time, and to a single class, that benefit which was universal and perpetual. But a full illustration of this subject will be found in the Institutes.

That there might be a testimony in due time; that is, in order that this grace might be revealed at the appointed time. The phrase, for all, which the Apostle had used, might have given rise to the question, “Why then had God chosen a peculiar people, if he revealed himself as a reconciled Father to all without distinction, and if the one redemption through Christ was common to all?” He cuts off all ground for that question, by referring to the purpose of God the season for revealing his grace. For if we are not astonished that in winter, the trees are stripped of their foliage, the field are covered with snow, and the meadows are stiff with frost, and that, by the genial warmth of spring, what appeared for a time to be dead, begins to revive, because God appointed the seasons to follow in succession; why should we not allow the same authority to his providence in other: matters? Shall we accuse God of instability, because he brings forward, at the proper time, what he had always determined, and settled in his own mind?

Accordingly, although it came upon the world suddenly and was altogether unexpected, that Christ was revealed as a Redeemer to Jews and Gentiles, without distinction; let as not think that it was sudden with respect to God but, on the contrary, let us learn to subject all our sense to his wonderful providence. The consequence will be, that there will be nothing that comes from him which shall not appear to us to be highly seasonable. On that account this admonition frequently occurs in the writings of Paul and especially when he treats of the calling of the Gentiles, by which, at that time, on account of its novelty, many persons were startled and almost confounded. They who are not satisfied with this solution, that God, by his hidden wisdom, arranged the succession of the seasons, will one day feel, that, at the time when they think that he was idle, he was framing a hell for inquisitive persons. Calvin, 1 Timothy, 2:4-6.


1) Your hackneyed quotation from Paul, that God would have all men saved, I have, in my judgment, elsewhere sufficiently shown, lends no countenance to your error. For it is more certain than certainty itself, that Paul is not there speaking of individuals, but refers to orders and classes of employments. He had been enjoining prayers, in behalf of kings and other governors, and all who exercised the office of magistrate. But inasmuch as all who then bore the sword, were the professed enemies of the church, it might seem absurd that the church should pray for their salvation. To obviate the difficulty Paul extends the grace of God even to them. John Calvin, The Secret Providence of God, trans., by John Lillie (New York: Carter Brothers, 1840), 28-29.

2) The difficulty of another place (I Tim 2.4) is readily solved. Paul tells us that God wills all men to be saved, and also how He wills them to come to the knowledge of His truth. For he joins both together. Now I ask: Did the will of God remain the same from the beginning of the world? For if He willed that His truth be known to all, why did He not proclaim His law also to the Gentiles? Why did He confine the light of life within the narrow limits of Judaea? What does Moses mean when he says (Deut 4.8) : There is no nation which has statutes and laws by which to be ruled like this people, unless to praise the privilege of the race of Abraham? To this corresponds the enconium of David (Ps 147.20): He dealt so with no other people, nor manifested His judgments to them. Nor must we overlook the express reason: Because God loved the fathers, He chose their sons; not because they were more excellent, but because it seemed good to the Lord to choose them for His peculiar people (Deut 4.37, 7.8). What then? Did Paul not know that he was prohibited by the Spirit from preaching the word of Christ in Asia and from crossing over into Bithynia where he was proceeding? (Acts 16.6). But as a full treatment of this matter would be too prolix, I content myself with one word more. When He had lit the light of life for the Jews alone, God allowed the Gentiles to wander for many ages in darkness (Acts 14.16). Then this special gift was promised to the Church, that the Lord should rise upon it and His glory be conspicuous in it (Is 60.2). Now let Pighius asseverate that God wills all to be saved, when not even the external preaching of the doctrine, which is much inferior to the illumination of the Spirit is made common to all. That passage was long ago brought up by the Pelagians. What Augustine in many places replied, I refrain from stating at present, except one passage in which he shows clearly and briefly how unconcernedly he scorns the objection. When, he says,1 our Lord complains that, for all His willingness to gather the children of Jerusalem, they would not have it, was the will of God overpowered by weak men, so that the Almighty was unable to do what He willed? Where then will be that omnipotence by which He did whatsoever pleased Him in heaven and on earth? Who will be so impiously foolish as to say that God cannot convert to good the evil wills of men when and where and in whatever cases He will? But when He does so, He does it in mercy, and when not, in judgment. But the difficulty is, I admit, not yet solved. Yet I have extorted this from Pighius, that no one unless deprived of sense and judgment can believe that salvation is ordained in the secret counsel of God equally for all. For the rest, the meaning of Paul is quite simple and clear to anyone not bent on contention. He bids solemn prayers be made for kings and princes in authority. Because in that age there were so many dangerous enemies of the Church, to prevent despair from hindering application to prayer, Paul anticipates their difficulties, declaring that God wills all men to be saved. Who does not see that the reference is to orders of men rather than individual men? Nor indeed does the distinction lack substantial ground: what is meant is not individuals of nations but nations of individuals.2 At any rate, the context makes it clear that no other will of God is intended than that which appears in the external preaching of the Gospel. Thus Paul means that God wills the salvation of all whom He mercifully invites by preaching to Christ.3 John Calvin, The Eternal Predestination of God, 108-109.


1Enchir. ad Laur., cap. 97 seq.
2The sentence is wanting in the French.
3French adds: If anyone retorts to the contrary, he must admit that God does not come to the end He desires or that all are saved without exception. To say that God wills what is in Himself, and at the same time leaves each man his freewill, is nonsense. For I ask once more why then He willed that the Gospel be preached from the beginning of the world to all nations. All amenable men will hold the exposition which I have given: God wills to make princes and magistrates participants of salvation as well as others.

[to be continued.]

This entry was posted on Sunday, September 16th, 2007 at 10:50 am and is filed under 1 Timothy 2:4-6. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

3 comments so far


I have updated this file. See the entries from his Tracts.

February 13th, 2008 at 9:40 am

By way of note, the reader should be aware that the copy of Calvin’s Sermon on 1 Tim 2:4, found here, is an edited 19thC version of Calvin’s English facsimile sermon (now published by the Banner of Truth). This edited version is corrupted by interpolations not found in the original French. It should not be taken as a reliable source.

February 13th, 2008 at 9:43 am

I do like this together, David:

“Thus Paul means that God wills the salvation of all whom He mercifully invites by preaching to Christ…[and] If anyone retorts to the contrary, he must admit that God does not come to the end He desires or that all are saved without exception. To say that God wills what is in Himself, and at the same time leaves each man his freewill, is nonsense. For I ask once more why then He willed that the Gospel be preached from the beginning of the world to all nations. All amenable men will hold the exposition which I have given: God wills to make princes and magistrates participants of salvation as well as others.” [footnote 3).

There is no other reason for the Gospel to be preached in all nations than the offer is made to all.

Calvin is straightforward.

September 25th, 2010 at 9:52 am

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