"Who will have all Men to be saved, -- ."
In verse first, the apostle directs "prayers and thanksgivings to be made for all men;" -- which he declares to "be good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior; who will have all men to be saved." Had salvation been provided for only a part of the human race, prayer and thanksgivings could have been, consistently made only for a part. Those for whom no provision was made, would be in like state with persons who have committed the sin unto death, for whom St. John intimates prayer is not to be offered up. "There is a sin unto death; I do not say that he shall pray for it." But such is naturally the state of none of the children of Adam. Divine goodness is extended to all, and salvation offered to them; therefore is prayer and praise to be offered up for all men.
It is now proposed, briefly to consider the divine goodness expressed in the text -- Who will have all men to be saved -- then some abuses of the revelation which is made of this goodness to mankind.
I. We are to consider the divine goodness here expressed -- Who will have all men to be saved.
The salvation intended, is that of the soul. This comprehends deliverance from merited sufferings, and the bestowment of happiness which is the contrast of it.
The provision which is made for the comfort and happiness of mankind in this life, evinces strange goodness in God. When we consider what man was made of God, and what he hath made himself, the divine benevolence here displayed, is wonderful! Strange that man was not destroyed and blotted out from among God's works!
Some suppose this to have been our first parents idea of the threatening in case of disobedience, and expressed by them, when they attempted to hide themselves from the divine presence, after their fall. *
* Genesis iii.9.
Had man then been destroyed, the race would have been extinct. But he was spared; suffered long to continue and rear a family, from which the myriads of human kind have descended. Though exiled Eden, and doomed to labor and sorrow, he was still at the head of this lower creation, and creatures below him generally subservient to his comfortable subsistence. The ground was indeed cursed for his sake and fatiguing cultivation rendered necessary; but still it yielded the necessaries, and many of the comforts of life; though not the sweets of its primitive state.
These effusions of divine goodness were probably the wonder of angels, though so little noticed by men, the ungrateful objects of them.
But these were inconsiderable, compared with the strange provision made for their eternal salvation.
That God bears good will to mankind, not -- withstanding their apostasy, and is desirous of their salvation, is from many considerations apparent. It is the spirit of the text, and the general language of the scriptures, as will be shewn in the sequel.
That God is willing that all should be saved, appears from the sufficiency of the provision which is made for the salvation of sinners; the frequent declarations that it is designed for all; the offers which are made indiscriminately to all; and the suitableness of the provision to the circumstances of all.
1. From the sufficiency of the provision which is made for the salvation of sinners, This is adequate to the salvation of the whole race. Christ, being a divine person, made an infinite atonement. In him there is a fulness of merit. Was the number of sinners ten times greater than that of our whole race, there would be no need of another Savior, or of Christ's dying again for their redemption. In him "dwells the whole fulness of the Godhead bodily." The reason all are not saved, is not a deficiency of merit in the Redeemer, or any limitation of his satisfaction. Sinners "are not straitened in him, but in their own bowels."
2. That God is willing all should be saved appears from the frequent declarations of scripture, that Christ died for all -- Who gave himself a ransom for all, to be testified in due time -- We see Jesus who was made a little lower than the angels, that he, by the grace of God, should taste death for every man. The love of Christ constraineth us; because we thus judge, that if one died for all, then were all dead; and that he died for all, that they who live should not henceforth live unto themselves, but unto him who died for them, and rose again.
3. The same appears in the offers made to all. When after his resurrection Christ sent forth his apostles to effect his gracious purposes, both his orders and promises were indefinite -- "Go ye into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature. He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved, but he that believeth not shall be damned."
Had salvation been provided for only a part of mankind, and the Savior been unwilling the residue should be saved, he would not have given charge to his ministers to tender salvation to all -- to every creature, and declared that whoever came up to the specified conditions, should be saved.
Nothing false or insincere can be predicted of God our Savior. His words are truth. His offers and proposals are fair and open. That which appears the most obvious meaning of them is their meaning. And surely the offers of salvation appear to be made to all who hear the sound of the gospel; and they are invited and urged to accept them. They were so by Christ. "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 they were so by his apostles when sent into all the earth to spread the gospel among the nations, and call them to come to Christ for life.
* John vii.37.
4. The same thing appears from the suitableness of the provision which is made for the salvation of sinners, to the circumstances of all men.
Man needed an atonement, and he needed assistance, and both are provided in Christ. Of the former we have spoken, and there is no need to add. Man's weakness is such that he is unable of himself to conquer either spiritual enemies without, or his own corruptions within. Through Christ needed aid is offered to him; he is invited to the throne of grace, and assured that he shall not seek in vain, but "obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need. Ask, and it shall be given you; seek and ye shall find -- If ye being evil know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more shall your heavenly father give his Holy Spirit to them that ask him?" Though mankind have rebelled against God, he is more ready to hear their cries, and give his spirit to sanctify and save them, than the most affectionate earthly parent to shew kindness to his child.
The gospel is designed as a remedy for human weakness, equally as for human guile. It is every way adapted to the circumstances of the creatures to whom it offers salvation. It is a fair tender of pardon and peace, of life and happiness to all who hear its joyful sound; it not only opens these blessings to their view, but brings them within their reach.
5. The divine benevolence is farther evident from the exercise of forbearance towards ingrates, who neglect and slight offered salvation. God doth not soon enter into judgment with them, but waits with much long suffering; repeats his calls and warnings; urges sinners in various ways, and by various means, to turn and live; inwardly by the strivings of his Spirit, and warnings of conscience; outwardly by his word; his providence, and the voice of those whom he sends "to warn the wicked from their way, and beseech them in Christ's stead to be reconciled to God."
The reason of all these applications to sinful man, is that mentioned by St. Peter -- "The Lord is long suffering to us ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance."
II. We are to consider some abuses of the revelation of divine goodness which is made to mankind.
There is no gift of God which depravity may not abuse. The belief of the divine perfections, especially of the divine mercy and benignity is often made the occasion of sin. Those whose "hearts are turned away from the Lord, when they hear the words of the curse, are wont to bless themselves in their hearts, saying, we shall have peace, though we walk in the imagination of our hearts, to add drunkenness to thirst." When called to repentance, they banish fear and lull themselves into security, with the revelation of divine grace and mercy which they find in the scriptures; making that a favor of death, which was ordained to be unto life -- "With the Lord there is mercy; with him there is plenteous redemption; with him there is forgiveness;" not that he should be feared, but that his fear should be cast off, and his terror not make men afraid to sin -- "God hath no pleasure in the death of sinners -- judgment is his strange Work -- he will not enter into judgment -- will not destroy the work of his hands." Thus mercy is made to absorb the other divine attributes, and sinners emboldened in wickedness. By such considerations they make themselves vile without concern. Some become so hardened and unfeeling, that the approach of death doth not alarm them. By an habitual course of wickedness, their consciences are rendered callous, and they are insensible both to fear and shame, and continue so till death puts a period to probation, and seals them up for eternity!
These consequences are not apprehended at the entrance on a vicious course. The young sinner designs only to take some youthful liberties, and not to stray very far away, or long to deviate from the path of duty; but the farther he goes in the wrong, the stronger are his attachments to the pleasures of sin -- the less his concern -- the weaker and more defiant his purposes of amendment. He never finds the more convenient reason, which he promised himself at setting out in the way of wickedness; yea, the farther he proceeds in it, the greater is the difficulty of retracing his steps, and turning back from his wandering. Many who thus turn aside from the path of truth, probably settle into a state of security, and continue in it, till they have time no longer.
Was man grateful, divine goodness would lead him to repentance; but under the influence of depravity, it hath a different effect -- is made the occasion of more ungodliness! What baseness! "Sin because grace abounds! Whose damnation is just! How can such escape? The wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all unrighteousness and ungodliness of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness."
For sins of ignorance, and those into which men were surprized by unexpected temptations, sacrifices were ordered in the law, and pardon, on certain conditions, promised: But it was not promised presumptuous sinners. To them the law spake nothing but terror. "The soul that doth ought presumptuously -- the same reproacheth the Lord; and that soul shall be cut off from his people. Because he hath despised the word of the Lord, and hath broken his commandment, that soul shall be utterly cutoff; his iniquity shall be upon him." *
* Numbers xv.30, 31.
The person who lives in all good conscience, may hope in the divine mercy for the pardon of involuntary errors: But with what face can the willful offender ask mercy of God? No plea which is not affrontive can he make before him -- "Shall I not visit for these things, saith the Lord: And shall not my soul be avenged on such a nation as this?"
That awful threatening, or prophetic denunciation, "The Lord will not spare him; but the anger of the Lord and his jealousy shall smoke against that man, and all the curses written in this book [the law] shall lie upon him," regards willful sinners, flattering themselves with expectation of divine favor. *
* Deuteronomy xxix.20.
When St. Paul would magnify the riches of divine grace in the salvation of the chief of sinners, he exemplifies it in himself -- "Who before was a blasphemer, and a persecutor, and injurious -- Howbeit for this cause I obtained mercy, that in me first Jesus Christ might shew forth all long suffering, for a pattern to them which should hereafter believe on him to life everlasting." But he subjoins an alarming hint that those who sin wilfully, have no reason to express like mercy from God. "But I obtained mercy because I did it ignorantly in unbelief." That no mercy would have been shewn him had he done those things presumptuously, is here intimated with sufficient plainness. This deserves the attention of those who sin presuming on divine mercy. Surely they cannot reasonably expect mercy from him "who is no respecter of persons," if Paul "obtained it because he did those things ignorantly in unbelief." If this is duly considered, Will not presumptuous sinners believe and tremble? Will they not perceive their hopes to be vain?
2. Another abuse of the revelation of divine mercy is the universal scheme which is built upon it. The text and similar passages of scripture are alleged as evidence that none can be lost.
To help the argument, it is said -- "To be influenced to obedience by fear is low and mercenary; and God would not urge men to duty by so unworthy a principle."
But was not fear of punishment used as a guard to innocence while man remained upright? "In the day thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die." Had the influence of fear, operating to duty, been wrong, God would not have urged it as a motive to obedience. "Let no man say when he is tempted, I am tempted of God: For God cannot be tempted with evil, neither tempteth he any man." If God useth this as an argument to excite to duty, it must be a proper argument. That it is thus used in all his word, admits no dispute. Every teacher whom God hath sent to teach the way of life, and persuade men to walk in it, hath used it. The divine teacher is not to be excepted -- "Fear him who is able to destroy soul and body in hell, yea, I say unto you, fear him." And when he delineates the process at the great day, after declaring that the righteous and the wicked will be separated from each other, the whole is closed with that solemn declaration -- "These shall go away into everlasting punishment, but the righteous into life eternal."
To be influenced by promises is no less mercenary than being driven by terror. And this is also proposed as an incitement to obedience. "God hath given us exceeding great and precious promises, that by them we should become partakers of a divine nature."
Every inspired teacher hath called men to repentance in the same manner, and urged it by the same arguments. Proof is needless. To pretend that application is not made, by divine order, to the hopes and fears of mankind, is trifling -- Yea to pretend that they are not urged by the dread of eternal punishment, is to deny the most obvious truth.
And is there no cause for his fear? Doth God frighten men with vain terrors? Doth he threaten evils which can never come?
Or if this argument was necessary to be used with man before be fell, is it needless since he hath fallen?
But God our Savior will have all men to saved; and shall not that which he wills be effected? Can any thing contrary to his pleasure take place?
Much doth take place in this world, which, is not pleasing to God; which he doth not will, or approve. This may be predicated generally of sin. "Sin is the abominable thing which he hates. -- He is angry with the wicked every day." Would he be angry, if all which is done was pleasing in his sight?
God is holy. Sin is opposition to his nature, forbidden by his law, and declared to be his abhorrence. To suppose that he should hate and forbid sin, yet approve of it and be pleased with it, is absurdity and folly.
God permits sin; but neither wills nor approves it. "Christ pleased not himself." * Much is permitted under his administration, which he doth not order, but forbids and abhors. Yea, God orders some things, as moral governor (in consequence of other things done contrary to his directions) which are not pleasing to him, considered in themselves. "He doth not afflict willingly, nor grieve the children of men" -- But finds it necessary to afflict. Grief and sorrow are known under the divine administration, and ordered out to mortals by providential dispensation. But these natural evils are always in consequence of moral evil, which is not the effect of divine influence, but ariseth from another source and hath another author. It ariseth from the abuse of powers which were given for better purposes. Where sin hath gone before, sorrows follow after; but they are not pleasing to the Supreme Governor.
* Rom. xv.3.
The wickedness of the old world occasioned the deluge; but it is impossible to read the Mosaic account of those events, and suspect that they were pleasing to Deity.
We may make the same remark respecting the declensions of Israel and Judah and the judgments which followed. "O thou son of man, speak unto the house of Israel, Thus ye speak, saying, if our transgressions and our sins be upon us, and we pine away in them, how should we then live? Say unto them, as I live saith the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked; but that the wicked turn from his way and live; turn ye, turn ye, from your evil ways; for why will ye die, 0 house of Israel?" * By another prophet we find God mourning over them -- "How shall I give thee up, Ephraim? How shall I deliver thee, Israel? How shall I make thee as Admah, and set thee as Zeboim? Mine heart is turned within me, my repentings are kindled together."
* Ezekial xxxiii.10.
That people continued in their sins and perished in them: But will any who read these messages, sent them of God, conceive their crimes, and the desolations which followed, when they had filled up the measure of their iniquity, to be pleasing to God, or the effect of divine order and influence?
Will those who read our Savior's lamentations over Jerusalem, and the destruction soon after brought upon that city and nation, because "they did not know the time of their visitation," consider those events as pleasing to him? His predictions were verified -- "their enemies cast a trench about them, compassed them round and kept them in on every side -- laid their city even with the ground, and her children within her; not leaving one stone upon another -- Zion was ploughed like a field" -- vast numbers perished in the siege -- many were crucified after the city was taken -- the residue scattered among all nations, and the sword drawn out after them! The compassionate Redeemer called those sinners to repentance -- warned them of the evils which they would bring on themselves, by refusing the grace which he offered them, and wept over them when filling up the measure of their guilt! But when they had been tried the appointed time, and continued obstinate, till the divine patience was exhausted, he entered into judgment with them and gave them according to their works.
Similar will be the event of persevering obstinacy in others. Man is placed here for trial -- endowed with powers sufficient to render him a probationer; which implies capacity to use, or abuse his powers. The abuse is sin. The way of duty is made known, needed assistance conferred, the reasonableness of obedience shewn, and the injunction, "occupy; till I come," subjoined, but no compulsion is used. Thus circumstanced, it is referred to man to choose for himself.
God operates indeed on man; but only as on a free moral agent. Divine influences coincide with human liberty. Those who are willing and obedient find mercy. Over such the Savior rejoices, and their faith and love are rewarded with the rewards of grace. But those who neglect so great salvation, are left to perish in their sins.
That God can confidently do other than leave them to perish, is to us unknown. It may be impossible to renew them by repentance -- beyond the power of Omnipotence to save them!
The conditions of salvation are fixed: No change can be made in them. "The impenitent heart treasureth up wrath. He that believeth not shall be damned. If we do not believe, yet God abideth faithful; he cannot deny himself." The terms of acceptance with God are laid before us; the event depends on the choice we make. SUCH we conceive to be man's situation here: Such the ground of the applications made to him in the gospel, and the promises and threatening annexed to the proposals therein contained. On another, supposition do they appear rational. On no other can we account for our Savior's declaration that Sodom, had she enjoyed Capernaum's advantages, would have remained till his day. *
* Matthew xi.23.
Divine benevolence is great; but it will not secure salvation to gospel despisers: They "will wonder and perish." As the first covenant had conditions annexed to it, so hath the new covenant. To pretend that there are none -- that man hath no concern to secure the divine favor, is to charge folly on God, in all the overtures which are made to man in the gospel.
Life and death are now set before us. We may be saved, or we may perish. Which will be our portion depends on the effect which the proposals of grace have upon us. Today if ye will hear God's voice harden not your hearts. Behold now is the accepted time; behold now is the day of salvation. Boast not thyself of tomorrow; for thou knowest not what a day may bring forth. Beware lest you * destroy a soul for which Christ died; and lest you have occasion at last to take up that lamentation -- "The harvest is past, the summer is ended and we are not saved."
* Romans xiv.15.