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.]

2) Against this clear and consistent teaching of Scripture, the few texts to which the universalists appeal have little weight. The vocable “all” in Isaiah 53:6; Romans 5: 18; 1 Corinthians 15:22; 2 Corinthians 5: 15; Hebrews 2:9 (cf. 10) either proves nothing or proves much more than the universalists assert and would help support Origen’s doctrine concerning the restitution of all things. The universalists themselves, accordingly, are compelled to restrict the word “all” in these passages. Of greater weight are texts like Ezekiel 18:23; 33: 11 ;John 1 :29; 3: 16; 4:42; 1 Timothy 2:4,6; Titus 2: 11; Hebrews 2:9; 2 Peter 3:9; 1 John 2:2; 4: 14, where the will of God or the sacrifice of Christ is linked with the salvation of all or of the world. But none of these texts is incompatible with the statements cited above that limit Christ’s benefits to the church. The New Testament, after all, is a very different dispensation from that of the old covenant. The gospel is not restricted to one people but must be preached to all creatures (Matt. 28:19). There is no respect of persons with God and no longer any distinction between Gentile and Jew (Acts 10:34-35; Rom. 3:29; 10:11-13). Indeed, even if in Isaiah 53:11-12; Matthew 20:28; 26:28; Romans 5:15,19; Hebrews 2:10; 9:28, there is mention of the “many” for whom Christ died, this is not grounded in the contrast that has often been insinuated into the text later, namely, that not all but only many will be saved. The idea from which the reference to “the many” arises, however, is a very different one: Christ did not die for a few but for many) for a large multitude. He gives his life as a ransom for many; he sheds his blood for many; he will make many righteous. It is not a handful but many who by one man’s obedience will be made righteous [Rom. 5: 19]. Scripture is not afraid that too many people will be saved. Therefore, based on that same consideration, it says that God has no pleasure in the death of the wicked and that he wants all humans to repent and be saved, that Christ is the expiation of and has given his life for the world, and that the gospel must be preached to all creatures. But when universalists deduce from this that the atonement is completely universal, they run afoul of both Scripture and reality, for the two seem to vie with each other in teaching that not all but only many learn of the gospel and attain genuine repentance. In all these passages, therefore, we are encountering not “the will of God’s good pleasure,” which is unknown to us and neither can nor may be the rule for our conduct, nor an “antecedent will,” which is anterior to the decision of our will and oriented to it, but the “revealed will;’ which tells us by what standard we are to conduct ourselves in the new covenant. It gives us the right and lays on us the duty to bring the gospel to all people without exception. For the universal offer of grace we need no other ground than this clearly revealed will of God. We no more need to know specifically for whom Christ died than we need to know specifically who has been ordained to eternal life. The calling indeed rests on a particular basis, for it belongs to and proceeds from the covenant, but it is addressed in keeping with God’s revealed will and with the inherently all-sufficient value of Christ’s sacrifice-also to those who are outside the covenant in order that they too may be incorporated into that covenant and in faith itself receive the evidence of their election.Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics (Grand Rapids: Backer Academic, 2004), 3:245-246. [Italics original; original footnotes not included; and underlining mine.]

This entry was posted on Wednesday, September 1st, 2010 at 8:18 am and is filed under God's Will for the Salvation of All Men. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Responses are currently closed, but you can trackback from your own site.

Comments are closed at this time.