1 Timothy 2:3-4
For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior;…
Let us go simply into these two investigations, what is pre-supposed of all men when we are bidden, as we are, in our text to pray for all men? and, secondly, when we are bidden, as we equally are, in our text to give thanks for all men.
I. Now it can scarcely have escaped your attention that there is in our text AN ACCUMULATION OF PHRASE WHICH MUST PREVENT OUR THINKING THAT ANY PRAYER, EXCEPT THE LARGEST AND MOST URGENT, WILL COME UP TO THE SCOPE OF THE APOSTLE'S EXHORTATION. These words forbid our thinking that St. Paul simply requires that we should be, in general terms, the well-wishers of mankind. Had his discourse referred exclusively to the household of faith, he could not have used more unrestricted language, nor sent us to our knees with a broader view of the blessings to be sought for in our wrestlings with God. We just wish by these means to show at the outset the wrongness of the opinion that we are only bidden to solicit for the mass of our fellow-men the common mercies of existence, that we may reserve petitions which have to do with God's nobler gifts for our pleadings on behalf of a select company of mankind. If you consider prayer attentively, whether it be for ourselves or for others, you must regard it as the most wonderful act which can ever be attempted by a fallen creature. We shall not hesitate to say that so long as the scheme of our redemption is kept out of sight, prayer is nothing but a great proof of human ignorance. There is a great deal taken for granted in prayer. When I pray, I assume that an access has been opened for me to the Father; I assume, that in spite of my apostasy, born though I have been in sin and cradled in corruption, God's compassions towards me may not be shut up nor alienated. I assume that some amazing corrective, as it were, must have been applied to human guiltiness, so that the pollution which naturally and necessarily clings to the fallen, is no hindrance to free admission to an audience of Him who is of purer eyes than to look unmoved upon iniquity. And how can I assume all this, unless I bring within my contemplations the mysteries of redemption, and, making my appeal to the wondrous achievement which Christ hath effected on my behalf, fetch from that an assurance that there lies no barrier between myself and the Lord? The whole work of human reconciliation is gathered into God's permitting prayer. The globe was convulsed and shaken to its very centre before it could become a platform on which man might kneel. It is a truth sufficiently simple to commend itself to every capacity, that if prayer is literally based upon redemption, then all who can be rightly the subjects of prayer must be strictly the subjects of redemption. I cannot pray for a man whom I know to have never been redeemed — a man for whom Christ Jesus did not die. Can I ask God to have mercy on that man's soul? Such is the use that we would make of the exhortation of our text. We infer from it the grand doctrine of Christianity, even that of Christ's having died for the whole world; and lest it should be thought that this inference is in any degree far fetched, we will just show you how St. Paul supports or authorizes his exhortation. You observe that the announced reason that all should be prayed for is that God is willing that all should be saved; and if God wills that all should be saved, assuredly all must have been put into a salvable state; in other words, all must have been redeemed by the precious blood of Christ. It does not fall within the scope of our argument to examine into the mystery of God's willing the salvation of all, when it is certain that nothing more than a remnant shall be saved. The character given to the living God — and who doubts that at the root of true religion lies the character of God? — the character given by St. Paul of the living God is that He is the Saviour of all men, especially of those who believe. In this same sense — for He is not spoken of as a different kind of Saviour, in the different senses, but as the same in kind though different in degree — in the same sense that God is especially the Saviour of believers, He is generally the Saviour of all men. This is St. Paul's statement; and if the living God is the Saviour generally of all in that very sense in which He is especially the Saviour of believers, then beyond question all must have been redeemed by Him; for redemption is that incipient form of salvation which may be common to all, and yet applied effectually only to some, O blessed Saviour, Thou didst take upon Thyself our nature, and didst ransom that nature, and therefore didst place within the reach of all who are born of this nature the choice things of forgiveness and acceptance; therefore is it that our prayers may, and must, go up to the mercy-seat on behalf of all; all shall be the subjects of our petition, for all are the objects of redemption; and we may now acknowledge and appreciate the justice of the ample terms in which the text is expressed: "I exhort therefore, that, first of all, supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks, be made for all men."
II. We turn now to the second question — WHAT IS PRE-SUPPOSED IN REGARD OF ALL MEN, WHEN WE ARE BIDDEN, AS WE FURTHER ARE, TO GIVE THANKS FOR ALL MEN? You will observe at once that thanksgiving must assume the existence of benefit. If I am to give thanks for all men, it is clear that I must be acquainted with some manifestation of kindness towards all, which may justly summon forth my praise on their account. But if we were guilty of an exaggeration in designating prayer as a giant act, we fall into no over-wrought statement if we apply such an epithet to the thanking God for our creation. Conscious to myself of the struggles within me of a principle which can never be extinguished, never be mastered by any process of decay, knowing that the present scene, whatever its cares or its joys, is but the first stage of an unlimited career along which I am appointed to pass — shall I praise God for having endowed me with existence, unless I have assurance that it is not impossible for me to secure myself happiness throughout the infinity of my being? Shall I thank God for the capacity of being miserable, unspeakably miserable, throughout unnumbered ages? I cannot do this. I cannot praise God for the bright sunshine that must light me to the dungeon; I cannot praise God for the breeze that must waft me to the whirlpool; I cannot praise God for the food that must nourish me for the rack! Life, the present life, that single throb, that lonely beat — can I praise God for this, if it must unavoidably usher me into a sphere of wretchedness whose circumference cannot be reached, or turn me adrift on an ocean of fire without a shore, or consign me to that mysterious death which consists in the being for ever dying, that wondrous immortality of being restored as fast as consumed and consumed as fast as restored? Better, oh! infinitely better for me if I had never been born, I cannot praise God for this. Creation can be no more a blessing than annihilation if I am not a redeemed man; it is this, and this alone, for which you require me to praise God. If I am a redeemed man it is possible that I may be saved; if I am not a redeemed man, then, so far as is revealed, it is impossible. As far as we know from the Bible it is impossible that any man shall be saved for whom Christ did not die. And how then can I give God thanks for all men, unless I believe that Christ died for all men? Shall I praise Him for the creation of others though I cannot praise Him for my own? Shall I sweep the harp strings, and bring out the melodies of gratitude, because God has so dealt with tens of thousands of my fellow-men; that if He had dealt" in like manner with myself, I should have worn sackcloth and gone all my days in inconsolable mourning? No! I cannot thank God for all men except on the noble principle that Christ has redeemed all men. Creation is a blessing if connected with redemption, but not dissociated from it. Thus, as we trust, we have sufficiently shown you that the universal redemption of mankind is pre-supposed when we are bidden to pray for all, and when we are bidden to give thanks for all. Our two topics may, therefore, be considered as sufficiently discussed, and it only remains to bid you strive to obey in your practice the exhortation of which we have shown you the propriety.
(H. Melvill, B. D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour;