In Defense of Moderate Calvinism: “Wait! He Said What?!?” Reformed Quotes on the Extent of the Atonement and God’s Universal Saving Will

Section 1. Various Quotes from Reformers and other Notable Theologians Indicating Moderate Calvinism

Section 2. Quotes from Moderates and High Calvinists Concerning God’s Universal Desire for all to be Saved


The first section is largely concerned with the extent of the atonement and/or matters pertaining to universal sufficiency. I have tried to limit myself to one quote for the sake of brevity, but sometimes two or three are in order.

The second section is a selection of quotes highlighting issues surrounding the well-meant offer/God’s universal desire for all men to repent and be saved.


Section 1

Ulrich Zwingli:

If then Christ by his death has reconciled all people who are on earth when he poured out his blood on the cross and if we are on earth, then our sins, too, and those of everyone who has ever lived, have been recompensed by the one death and offering.” U. Zwingli, Exposition and Basis of the Conclusions or Articles Published by Huldrych Zwingli, January 29, 1523, 2 vols. (Eugene, OR: Pickwick, 1984), 1: 97.

Martin Bucer:

Whereas,” saith he, “the world was lost or undone by one sin of Adam, the grace of Christ did not only abolish this sin, … and that death which it brought” upon the world, “but likewise took away an infinite number of other sins which we the rest of men have added to that first sin.” Afterwards, “If we consider that every particular man by his transgressions increaseth the misery of mankind, and that whosoever sinneth doth no less hurt his posterity than Adam did all men, it is a plain case, that the grace of Christ hath removed more evils from men than the sin of Adam brought upon them: for though there be no sin committed in all the world, which hath not its original from that first sin of Adam, yet all particular men who sin, as they sin voluntarily and freely, so do they make an addition to their own proper guilt and misery: all which evils since the alone benefit of Christ hath taken away, it must needs be that it hath taken away the sins of many, and not of one only.” J. Goodwin, Redemption Redeemed (1840), 712– 13 (from Bucer on Romans 5: 16– 17).

Wolfgang Musculus:

But Christ,” saith he, “died not only for his friends, but for his enemies also; not for some men only, but for all, without exception. This is the immeasurable or vast extent of the love of God.” John Goodwin, Redemption Redeemed (1840), 711.

Peter Martyr Vermigli:

They [the anti-predestinarians] also grant that “Christ died for us all” and infer from this that his benefits are common to everyone. We gladly grant this, too, if we are considering only the worthiness of the death of Christ, for it might be sufficient for all the world’s sinners. Yet even if in itself it is enough, yet it did not have, nor has, nor will have effect in all men. The Scholastics also acknowledge the same thing when they affirm that Christ redeemed all men sufficiently but not effectually.” P. Vermigli, Predestination and Justification: Two Theological Loci, trans. F. A. James III, Sixteenth Century Essays and Studies 8 (Kirksville, MO: Truman State University Press, 2003), 62.

Henrich Bullinger:

Two years after Calvin’s death, Calvin’s view was reflected in the Second Helvetic Confession (1566). The last of the great Reformation confessions, it was drawn up by Calvin’s friend Bullinger. The confession states in Section 14:

We teach that Christ alone, by his death or passion, is the satisfaction, propitiation, or expiation of all sins.” Second Helvetic Confession, Section 14.

And elsewhere,

And it is not amiss in this place first of all to mark, that Christ is called a propitiation, or satisfaction, not for sinners or people of one or two ages, but for all sinners and all the faithful people throughout the whole world. One Christ therefore is sufficient for all: one intercessor with the Father is set forth unto all.” H. Bullinger, The Decades of Henry Bullinger, 4 vols., trans. H. I., ed. T. Harding, Parker Society Publications 1 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1849– 52), 4: 218– 19.

Augustine Marlorate:

Christ is said to “make satisfaction for the sins of all men.” A. Marlorate, S. Iohn, 543.

Martin Luther:

“All the prophets well foresaw in the Spirit, that Christ, by imputation, would become the greatest sinner upon the face of the earth, and a sacrifice for the sins of the whole world; would be no more considered an innocent person and without sin, or the Son of God in glory, but a notorious sinner, and so be for a while forsaken (Psalm 8), and have lying upon his neck the sins of all mankind; the sins of St. Paul, who was a blasphemer of God, and a persecutor of his church; St. Peter’s sins, that denied Christ; David’s sins, who was an adulterer and a murderer, through whom the name of the Lord among the heathen was blasphemed.

Therefore the law, which Moses gave to be executed upon all malefactors and murderers in general, took hold on Christ, finding him with and among sinners and murderers, though in his own person innocent.

This manner of picturing Christ to us, the sophists, robbers of God, obscure and falsify; for they will not that Christ was made a curse for us, to the end he might deliver us from the curse of the law, nor that he has anything to do with sin and poor sinners; though for their sakes alone was he made man and died, but they set before us merely Christ’s examples, which they say we ought to imitate and follow; and thus they not only steal from Christ his proper name and title, but also make him a severe and angry judge, a fearful and horrible tyrant, full of wrath against poor sinners, and bent on condemning them.” Martin Luther, “Of Jesus Christ: #202,” in The Table Talk of Martin Luther: Luther’s Comments on Life, the Church and the Bible (Ross-shire, UK: Christian Focus Publications, 2003), 174.

John Calvin:

On Romans 5:18:

To bear the sins means to free those who have sinned from their guilt by his satisfaction. He says many meaning all, as in Rom. 5: 15. It is of course certain that not all enjoy the fruits of Christ’s death, but this happens because their unbelief hinders them. That question is not dealt with here because the apostle is not discussing how few or how many benefit from the death of Christ, but means simply that He died for others, not for Himself. He therefore contrasts the many to the one. 70 Paul makes grace common to all men, not because it in fact extends to all, but because it is offered to all. Although Christ suffered for the sins of the world, and is offered by the goodness of God without distinction to all men, yet not all receive Him.”

2 Peter 3:9 (Commenting on “Not Willing Any Should Perish”)

So wonderful is his love towards mankind, that he would have them all to be saved, and is of his own self prepared to bestow salvation on the lost. But the order is to be noticed, that God is ready to receive all to repentance, so that none may perish; for in these words the way and manner of obtaining salvation is pointed out. Every one of us, therefore, who is desirous of salvation, must learn to enter in by this way.

But it may be asked, If God wishes none to perish, why is it that so many do perish? To this my answer is, that no mention is here made of the hidden purpose of God, according to which the reprobate are doomed to their own ruin, but only of his will as made known to us in the gospel. For God there stretches forth his hand without a difference to all, but lays hold only of those, to lead them to himself, whom he has chosen before the foundation of the world.

But as the verb chorosai is often taken passively by the Greeks, no less suitable to this passage is the verb which I have put in the margin, that God would have all, who had been before wandering and scattered, to be gathered or come together to repentance.”


We hold, then, that; God wills not the death of a sinner, since he calls all equally to repentance, and promises himself prepared to receive them if they only seriously repent. If any one should object then there is no election of God, by which he has predestinated a fixed number to salvation, the answer is at hand: the Prophet does not here speak of God’s secret counsel, but only recalls miserable men from despair, that they may apprehend the hope of pardon, and repent and embrace the offered salvation.” Eze18:23.

And again referencing John 3:16:

Thus we see three degrees of the love of God as shown us in our Lord Jesus Christ. The first is in respect of the redemption that was purchased in the person of him that gave himself to death for us, and became accursed to reconcile us to God his father. That is the first degree of love, which extends to all men, inasmuch as Jesus Christ reaches out his arms to call and allure all men both great and small, and to win them to him. But there is a special love for those to whom the gospel is preached: which is that God testifies unto them that he will make them partakers of that benefitthat was purchased for them by the death and passion of his son.

And for as much as we be of that number, therefore are we are double bound already to our God: here are two bonds which hold us as it were straightened unto him. Now let us come to the third bond, which depends upon the third love that God shows us: which is, that he not only causes the gospel to be preached unto us, but also makes us to feel the power thereof, not doubting but that our sins are forgiven us for our Lord Jesus Christ’s sake…” Calvin, Sermons on Deuteronomy, Sermon, 28, 4:36-38, p., 167.

William Twisse, proculator of the Westminster Assembly,

Look in what sense Arminius says Christ died for us, in the same sense we may be held to say (without prejudice to our Tenet) of absolute reprobation, that all who hear the Gospel are bound to believe that Christ died for them.

For the meaning Arminius makes of Christ’s dying for us, is this, Christ died, for this end, that satisfaction being made for sin, the Lord now may pardon sin, upon what condition he will; which indeed is to die for obtaining a possibility of the redemption of all, but for the actual redemption of none at all. Secondly, But I lift not to content myself and this; therefore, I farther answer, by distinction of the phrase dying for us, that we may not cheat ourselves by the confounding of things that differ. To die for us, or for all, is to die for our benefit, or for the benefit of all: Now these benefits are of a different nature, whereof some are bestowed upon man only conditionally (though for Christ’s sake) and they are the pardon of sin and Salvation of the Soul, and these God does confer only upon the condition of faith and repentance. Now I am ready to profess, and that, I suppose, as out of the mouth of all our Divines, that every one who hears the Gospel (without distinction between Elect and Reprobate) is bound to believe that Christ died for him, so far as to procure both the pardon of his sins, and the salvation of his soul, in case he believe and repent. And here first I observe, Zanchi is not charged to maintain, that every hearer of the Gospel, is bound to believe, that he is elect in Christ unto faith and repentance, but only to salvation: that puts me in good heart, that Zanchi & I shall shake hands of fellowship in the end, and part good friends.

Now to accommodate that opinion of Zanchi, I say it may have a good sense, to say that every hearer is bound to believe, both that Christ died to procure salvation for him, in the case he do believe, and that God ordained that he should be saved, in case he do believe; where belief is made the condition only of salvation, not of the Divine ordination.” W. Twisse, The Riches of God’s Love unto the Vessels of Mercy, Consistent with His Absolute Hatred or Reprobation of the Vessels of Wrath (Oxford: Printed by L. L. and H. H. Printers to the University, for Tho. Robinson, 1653), I: 153– 55.

Rudolf Gwalther:

For as every man is created after the image of God: so are they redeemed and purchased with the blood of the Son of God.” Gwalther, Actes of the Apostles, 752.

Zacharius Ursinus:

In Ursinus’s answer to Question 20 of the Catechism, he spoke to the extent of the atonement:

Q 20. Are all men, then, as they perished in Adam, saved by Christ? Ans: No; only those engrafted into him, and receive all his benefits by truth faith. The answer to this question consists of two parts:— Salvation through Christ is not bestowed upon all who perished in Adam; but only upon those who, by a true faith, are engrafted into Christ, and receive all his benefits. The first part of this answer is clearly proven by experience, and the word of God. “He that believes not the Son, shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him.” “Not every one that says unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven.” “Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” (John 3: 36; 3: 3; Matt. 7: 21.) The reason why all are not saved through Christ, is not because of any insufficiency of merit and grace in him-for the atonement of Christ is for the sins of the whole world, as it respects the dignity and sufficiency of the satisfaction which he made— but it arises from unbelief; because men reject the benefits of Christ offered in the gospel, and so perish by their own fault, and not because of any insufficiency in the merits of Christ. The other part of the answer is also evident from the Scriptures. “As many as received him to them, gave he power to become the sons of God.” “By his knowledge shall my righteous servant justify many.” (John 1: 12. Is. 53: 11.) The reason why only those who believe are saved, is, because they alone lay hold of, and embrace the benefits of Christ; and because in them alone God secures the end for which he graciously delivered his Son to death; for only those that believe know the mercy and grace of God, and return suitable thanks to him. The sum of this whole matter is therefore this: that although the satisfaction of Christ, the mediator for our sins, is perfect, yet all do not obtain deliverance through it, but only those who believe the gospel, and apply to themselves the merits of Christ by a true faith.”

David Paraeus:

Secondly, that the redemption by Christ’s blood, is truly universal, as sufficient, and propounded not only to one nation, or a few, but to all nations, tongues and peoples: yet not so, as if all promiscuously should be saved: but those of every tribe, people and language, who believe in Christ. And this much the Elders teach us: “Thou have redeemed us of every tribe.” 320 But are not all redeemed by Christ, died he not for all? Says not the Apostle Peter that he bought these “false prophets,” by whom he is denied? To this Augustine well answers, that all are said to be redeemed, according to the dignity of the price: which would suffice for the redemption of all men, if all by faith did receive the benefit offered. But as many as pass the time of their being in this life in infidelity, they remain unredeemed through their own fault. The sealed therefore are only redeemed, because they alone by faith receive the grace of redemption, through the grace of election, which God vouchsafed them (not to the others) from all eternity.” D. Paraeus, A Commentary upon the Divine Revelation of the Apostle and Evangelist John (London: Printed for John Allen, at the rising-Sun in S. Paul’s Church-yard, 1659), 103– 4.

Jacob Kimedoncius:

Therefore all men must hope in him alone, who only is the Mediator of God and man, the redemption, propitiation, and salvation of all men.” J. Kimedoncius, The Redemption of Mankind: Three Books: Wherein the Controversy of the Universality of the Redemption and Grace by Christ, and His Death for All Men, Is Largely Handled, trans. Hugh Ince (London: Felix Kingston, 1598).

Hugh Latimer:

For Christ only, and no man else, merited remission, justification, and eternal felicity, for as many as will believe the same; they that will not believe it, shall not have it, for it is no more but believe and have. For Christ shed as much blood for Judas as He did for Peter; Peter believed it, and therefore he was saved; Judas would not believe and therefore he was condemned— the fault being in him only, and in nobody else.” Latimer, Sermons, 1: 521.

Thomas Cranmer:

This is the honour and glory of this our high priest, wherein he admitteth neither partner nor successor. For by his own oblation he satisfied his Father for all men’s sins, and reconciled mankind unto his grace and favour. And whosoever deprive him of his honour, and go about to take it to themselves, they be very antichrists, and most arrogant blasphemers against God and against his Son Jesus Christ, whom he hath sent.” T. Cranmer, Writings and Disputations of Thomas Cranmer, 2 vols. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1844– 46), 1:346– 47.

William Tyndale:

And I wonder that M. More can laugh at it, and not rather weep for compassion, to see the souls for which Christ shed his blood to perish.” W. Tyndale, “Answer to Sir Thomas More’s Dialogue,” in The Works of the English Reformers William Tyndale and John Frith, 3 vols., ed. T. Russell (London: Printed for Ebenezer Palmer, 1831), 2: 131.

John Hooper:

I believe, that all this (the sufferings of Christ) was done, not for himself, who never committed sin, in whose mouth was never found deceit nor lie; but for the love of us poor and miserable sinners, whose place he occupied upon the cross, as a pledge, or as one that represented the person of all the sinners that ever were, now are, or shall be, unto the world’s end.” J. Hooper, “Extracts from a Brief and Clear Confession of the Christian Faith,” in Writings of Dr. John Hooper (London: Religious Tract Society, 1831), 417– 20. See idem, “A Declaration of Christ and His Office,” in Writings of Dr. John Hooper, 41– 42; idem, “Homily to Be Read in Times of Pestilence,” in Writings of Dr. John Hooper, 233; idem, Early Writings of Bishop Hooper (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1843), 115– 16; and idem, “Copy of Bishop Hooper’s Visitation Book,” in Later Writings of Bishop Hooper (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1852), 122.

John Jewel:

He wrote that on the cross, Christ declared, “It is finished” to signify “that the price and ransom was now full paid for the sin of all mankind.” J. Jewel, “An Apology or Answer in Defense of the Church of England,” in The Works of John Jewel, Bishop of Salisbury, 8 vols., ed. J. Ayre (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1848), 3: 66.

Council of Dort:

Article 3. The death of the Son of God is the only and most perfect sacrifice and satisfaction for sin; and is of infinite worth and value, abundantly sufficient to expiate the sins of the whole world.

Article 6. And, whereas many who are called by the gospel, do not repent, nor believe in Christ, but perish in unbelief; this is not owing to any defect or insufficiency in the sacrifice offered by Christ upon the cross, but is wholly to be imputed to themselves.

John Davenant:

Therefore, let this be the sum and conclusion of this whole controversy on the death of Christ; That Jesus Christ, the Mediator between God and man, in confirming the evangelical covenant, according to the tenor of which eternal life is due to everyone that believeth, made no division or separation of men, so that we can say that anyone is not excluded from the benefit of his death, if he should believe. And in this sense we contend, in agreement with the Scriptures, the fathers, and solid arguments, that Christ suffered on the cross and died for all men, or for the whole human race. We add, moreover, that this Mediator, when he had determined to lay down his life for sin, had also this special intention, that, by virtue of his merits, he would effectually and infallibly quicken and bring to eternal life, some persons who were specially given to him by the Father. And in this sense we contend that Christ laid down his life for the elect alone, or in order to purchase his Church; that is, that he died for them alone, with the special and certain purpose of effectually regenerating and saving them by the merit of his death. Therefore, although the merit of Christ equally regards all men as to its sufficiency, yet it does not as to its efficacy: which is to be understood, not only on account of the effect produced in one and not in another, but also on account of the will, with which Christ himself merited, and offered his merits, in a different way for different persons. Now, the first cause and source of this diversity, was the election and will of God, to which the human will of Christ conformed itself.” Dissertation on the Death of Christ, 2: 556– 57.

Joseph Hall:

Speaking of God who “sent his own Son, that he should give himself as a ransom for the sins of the whole world: so as there is no living soul that may not be truly and seriously invited, by his faith to take hold of the forgiveness of his sins and everlasting life, by the virtue of this death of Christ, with certain assurance of obtaining both.” J. Hall, “Via Media: The Way of Peace,” in The Works of the Right Reverend Joseph Hall, 9 vols., ed. P. Wynter (Oxford: University Press, 1863), 9: 492, 510– 11.

John Preston:

Jonathan Moore concluded that, for Preston, “Christ as High Priest makes satisfaction for all without exception, but Christ as High Priest makes intercession only for the elect. It would appear that the decree of election can be removed almost altogether for propitiation and lodged solely in the limited and discriminating intercession of Christ.” Moore, English Hypothetical Universalism, 101.

Richard Baxter:

[Given that he wrote an entire work entitled “Universal Redemption of Mankind” as a defense of moderate Calvinism against John Owen, little more needs quoted]

Edward Polhill:

But if Christ no way died for all men, how came the minister’s commission to be so large. They command men to repent that their sins may be blotted out for whom Christ was not made sin? They beseech men to be reconciled to God, but how shall they be reconciled for whom Christ paid no price at all? They call and cry out to men to come to Christ that they may have life, but how can they have life, for whom Christ was no surety in his death? If then Christ died for all men, the ministry is a true ministry as to all; but if Christ died only for the elect, what is the ministry as to the rest? Those exhortations, which as to the elect are real undissembled offers of grace, as to the rest seem to be but golden dreams and shadows. Those calls, which as to the elect are right ministerial acts, as to the rest appear as extra-ministerial blots and erratas. Those invitations to the gospel feast, which as the elect are the cordial wooings and beseechings of God himself, as to the rest look like the words of mere men speaking at random, and without commission; for alas! why should they come to that feast for whom nothing is prepared? How should they eat and drink for whom the Lamb was never slain? Wherefore, I conclude that Christ died for all men, so far as to found the truth of the ministry towards them.” E. Polhill, “The Divine Will Considered in its Eternal Decrees,” in The Works of Edward Polhill (Morgan, PA: Soli Deo Gloria, 1998), 165.

Stephen Charnock:

There is no want on Christ’s part. There hath been by him satisfaction enough for the payment of our debts, and merit enough for our restoration to our happiness. He hath done all things necessary for the salvation of the world: he hath expiated sin, which plunged it into misery; he hath presented his death to God as a sacrifice of infinite value, sufficient for all the world, and by opening the throne of grace, hath given liberty to approach to God, and solicit him for the application of the benefit he hath purchased;” Stephen Charnock, “The Misery of Unbelievers,” in The Complete Works, 4: 342– 43.

John Howe:

We speak to them in the name of the eternal God that made them, of the great Jesus who bought them with his blood, and they regard it not.” J. Howe, “The Redeemer’s Tears, etc.,” in Works, 2: 323

Matthew Henry:

In Henry’s catechism, he stated that Jesus is a “universal redeemer” who “gave himself a ransom for all, 1 Tim 2: 5.” He also noted that Christ is the redeemer “in a special manner” of the elect. He asks, “Is all mankind redeemed from among devils? Yes: for none must say as they did, What have we to do with thee, Jesus, thou Son of God, Matt. 8: 29. But are the elect redeemed from among men? Yes: these were redeemed from among men, Rev. 14: 4.”

Thomas Boston:

Christ is given to mankind-sinners indefinitely. It is not to the elect only, but to sinners indefinitely, elect or not elect; sinners of the race of Adam without exception, whatever they have been, whatever they are, whatever qualifications they have, whatever they want.” T. Boston, “Christ, the Son of God, Gifted to Sinners,” in The Whole Works of the Late Reverend Thomas Boston of Ettrick, 12 vols., ed. S. McMillan (Aberdeen: George and Robert King, 1851), 10: 196– 97.

Isaac Watts:

Here let it be observed, that when the Remonstrants assert, that Christ died for all mankind, merely to purchase conditional salvation for them, and when those who profess to be the strictest Calvinists assert Christ died only and merely to procure absolute and effectual pardon and salvation for the elect; it is not because the whole Scripture every where expressly or plainly reveals, or asserts, the particular sentiments of either of these sects, with an exclusion of the other; but the reason of these different assertions of men is this, that the holy writers, in different texts, pursuing different subjects, and speaking to different persons, sometimes seem to favour each of these two opinions, and men being at a loss to reconcile them by any medium, run into different extremes, and entirely follow one of these tracks of thought, and neglect the other.Nor indeed can I conceive why the remonstrant should be uneasy to have pardon and salvation absolutely provided for the elect, since all the rest of mankind, especially such as hear the gospel, have the same conditional salvation which they contend for, sincerely proposed to their acceptance; nor can I see any reason, why the strictest Calvinist should be angry, that the all sufficient merit of Christ should overflow so far in its influence, as to provide conditional salvation for all mankind, since the elect of God have that certain and absolute salvation, which they contend for, secured to them by the same merit; and especially since that great and admirable reformer, John Calvin, whose name they affect to wear, and to whose authority they pay so great a regard, has so plainly declared in his writings, that there is a sense in which Christ died for the sins of the whole world, or all mankind; and he sometimes goes so far as to call this the redemption of all. See his comments on the following Scriptures.” I. Watts, “The Ruin and Recovery of Mankind,” in The Works of the Reverend and Learned Isaac Watts, D.D., 6 vols. (London: Printed by and for John Barfield, 1810), 6: 151– 54.

Herman Venema:

Scripture assures us that the love of God towards men as such is universal— that he has “no pleasure in the death of him that dies” that he “will have all men to be saved and to come unto the knowledge of the truth”— that he is “not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance,” Ezek. xviii. 32; 1 Tim. ii. 4; 2 Pet. iii. 9. From these passages we infer that there is a general will or purpose of God held forth in the gospel by which he has linked together faith and salvation without excluding any man, and declares that it is agreeable to him that all should believe and live. If this be denied then it follows that he absolutely willed that some should perish and that, according to his good pleasure, the proposition “he that believes shall be saved” should not apply to them. What becomes, in this case, of his universal love? What are we to make of the passages in which he declares that he wills not the death of the sinner, that he will have all men to be saved?” Muller, Post-Reformation Reformed Dogmatics, 1: 306. See also H. Venema, Institutes of Theology, trans. A. W. Brown (Andover, MA: W. F. Draper Brothers, 1853), 163– 64, 252.

Jonathan Edwards:

Christ did die for all in this sense, that all by his death have an opportunity of being [saved]; and he had that design in dying, that they should have that opportunity by it. For it was certainly a thing that God designed, that all men should have such an opportunity, or else they would not have it; and they have it by the death of Christ.” J. Edwards, “Miscellanies,” in Works of Jonathan Edwards Online, 73 vols., ed. H. S. Stout (Jonathan Edwards Center, Yale University, 2008), 13: 478.


From these things it will inevitably follow, that however Christ in some sense may be said to die for all, and to redeem all visible Christians, yea, the whole world, by his death; yet there must be something particular in the design of his death, with respect to such as he intended should actually be saved thereby.” J. Edwards, “On the Freedom of the Will,” in The Works of Jonathan Edwards, 2 vols., ed. E. Hickman (1834; repr. Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1979), 1: 88.

George Whitefield:

Hence then we may trace infidelity to its fountain head: for it is nothing else, but a pride of the understanding, an unwillingness to submit to the truths of God, that makes so many, professing themselves wise, to become such fools as to deny the Lord, who has so dearly bought them; and dispute the divinity of that eternal Word, “in whom they live, and move, and have their being:” Whereby it is justly to be feared, they will bring upon themselves sure, if not swift destruction.” G. Whitefield, “The Extent and Reasonableness of Self-Denial,” in Works, 5: 429– 30.

Thomas Chalmers:

Christ did not so die for all as that all do actually receive the gift of salvation; but He so died for all, as that all to whom He is preached have the real and honest offer of Salvation. He is not yours in possession till you have laid hold of Him by faith. But he is yours in offer. He is as much yours as anything of which you can say— I have it for the taking. You, one and all of you, my brethren, have salvation for the taking; and it is because you do not choose to take it if it do not indeed belong to you.”

Charles Hodge:

This is what is meant when it is said, or implied in Scripture, that Christ gave Himself as a propitiation, not for our sins only, but for the sins of the whole world. He was a propitiation effectually for the sins of his people, and sufficiently for the sins of the whole world. Augustinians have no need to wrest the Scriptures.” William Cogswell, The Theological Class Book; Containing a System of Divinity in the Form of Question and Answer, Accompanied with Scripture Proofs, Designed for the Benefit of Theological Classes, and the Higher Classes in Sabbath Schools (Boston: Crocker & Brewster, 1831), 83.


It is here [in John 3: 16], as well as elsewhere taught, that it was the design of God to render the salvation of all men possible, by the gift of his Son. There was nothing in the nature, or the value, or the design of his work to render it available for any one class of men only. Whosoever believeth, etc. This is not inconsistent with other representations that it entered into God’s design to render the salvation of his people certain by the death of his Son.” D. Dewar, The Nature, Reality, and Efficacy of the Atonement (Edinburgh: Waugh and Inns, 1831), 385-89

And yet again,

In answer to the objection, “How can a ransom, whatever its intrinsic value, benefit those for whom it was not paid?”

Charles Hodge answers:

“It ignores that fact that all mankind were placed under the same constitution or covenant. What was demanded for the salvation of one was demanded for the salvation of all. Every man is required to satisfy the demands of the law. No man is required to do either more or less. If those demands are satisfied by a representative or substitute, his work is equally available to all… The righteousness of Christ being of infinite value or merit, and being in its nature precisely what all men need, may be offered to all men. It is thus offered to the elect and to the non-elect; and it is offered to both classes conditionally. That condition is a cordial acceptance of it as the only ground of justification. If any of the elect (being adults) fail thus to accept of it, they perish. If any of the non-elect should believe, they would be saved. What more does any Anti-Augustinian scheme provide? The advocates of such schemes say, that the design of the work of Christ was to render the salvation of all men possible. All they can mean by this is, that if any man (elect or non-elect) believes, he shall, on the ground of what Christ has done, be certainly saved. But Augustinians say the same thing. Their doctrine provides for this universal offer of salvation, as well as any other scheme. It teaches that God in effecting the salvation of His own people, did whatever was necessary for the salvation of all men, and therefore to all the offer may be, and in fact is made in the gospel.

And a short while later, “Out of a special love to his people, and with the design of securing their salvation, He has sent his Son to do what justifies the offer of salvation to all who choose to accept of it. Christ, therefore, did not die equally for all men. He laid down his life for his sheep; He gave Himself for his Church. But in perfect consistency with all this, He did all that was necessary, so far as satisfaction to justice is concerned, all that is required for the salvation of all men. So that all Augustinians can join with the Synod of Dort in saying, “No man perishes for want of an atonement.” Systematic Theology, Pages 555-557.

Robert L Dabney:

Benjamin Palmer and A. A. Porter charged Dabney with teaching indefinite atonement. At one point, Dabney responded to Porter,

He demands that we shall say Christ was only the elect’s substitute, and bore the guilt only of the elect’s sins. We reply, show us the place where either the Bible or Confession of Faith says so.” B. M. Palmer, “The Proposed Plan of Union between the General Assembly and the United Synod of the South,” Southern Presbyterian Review 16 (1864): 304.

W.G.T. Shedd

For as the case now stands, there is no necessity, so far as the action of God is concerned, that a single human being should ever be the subject of future punishment … all the legal obstacles to the exercise of this great attribute [mercy] have been removed by the death of the Son of God for the sins of the whole world (1 John 2: 2).” W. G. T. Shedd, Dogmatic Theology (Phillipsburg, NJ: P& R, 2003), 930

Andrew Fuller:

It is a fact that Scriptures rest the general invitation of the gospel upon the atonement of Christ, 2 Cor. V. 19– 21; Matt. xxii. 4; John iii. 16. 2. If there were not a sufficiency in the atonement for the salvation of sinners, and yet they were invited to be reconciled to God, they must be invited to what is naturally impossible. The message of the gospel would in this case be as if the servants who went forth to bid the guests had said “Come,” though, in fact, nothing was ready if many of them had come. 3. If there be an objective fullness in the atonement of Christ sufficient for any number of sinners, were they to believe in him, there is no other impossibility in the way of any man’s salvation to whom the gospel comes than what arises from the state of his own mind.” Fuller, “Six Letters to Dr. Ryland, Letter III, ‘Substitution,’” in Works, 2: 709.

And again,

He [Taylor] would not dispute, it seems, about Christ’s dying with a view to the certain salvation of some, provided I would admit that, in another respect, he died for all mankind. Here, then, we seem to come nearer together than we sometimes are. The sense in which he pleads for the universal extent of Christ’s death, is only to lay a foundation for this doctrine, that men, in general, may be saved, if they will; and this is what I admit: I allow, that the death of Christ has opened a way, whereby God can, consistently with his justice, forgive any sinner whatever, who returns to him by Jesus Christ; and, if this may be called dying for men, which I shall not dispute, then it is admitted, that Christ died for all mankind.” Fuller, “Reality and Efficacy of Divine Grace,” in Works, 2: 543– 44.

John Bunyan:

Christ died for all… for if those that perish in the days of the gospel, shall have, at least their damnation heightened, because they have neglected and refused to receive the gospel, it must need be that the gospel was with all faithfulness to be tendered unto them; the which it could not be, unless the death of Christ did extend itself unto them; John 3: 16. Heb. 2: 3. For the offer of the gospel cannot with God’s allowance, be offered any further than the death of Jesus Christ doth go; because if that be taken away, there is indeed no gospel, nor grace to be extended.” J. Bunyan, “Reprobation Asserted,” in The Whole Works of John Bunyan, 3 vols. (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1977), 2: 348.

James Ussher:

“Having truly and plainly showed our sinfulness, wretchedness, and cursedness by nature, I come unto the remedy, our redemption by Christ. And God forbid that He should create man, the best of His creatures, for destruction! “What gain and profit is there in our blood?” (Psalm 30:9). God is full of grace and compassion, and He considers that we are but dust. And happy are we that we are but dust. Had we been more glorious creatures, like angels, we would not have had the benefit of a Savior. When they rebelled, God considered their makeup; and as with a high hand they rebelled, “so the Lord reserved them in everlasting chains under darkness unto the judgment of the great day” (Jude 6; 2 Thessalonians 1:9). They fell without a Redeemer. It is well for us that God considers that we are but dust. By Jesus Christ He saves us from the wrath to come. It would have been better for us never to have been born than to be born firebrands of hell.

But the point is that we are “brands plucked out of the fire” (Zechariah 3:2). It is fitting, therefore, that we should know who our Redeemer is. It is Jesus Christ, and here consider that Christ Jesus offered for us for the satisfaction of God’s justice, and this is His priestly office.

Also, as there was no remission without shedding of blood, therefore after the blood is shed and the priest offered Himself, there comes a second thing, or else we would never be the better. Christ offered Himself to us, and this makes up our comfort. Many talk of the extent of Christ’s death and passion, saying that He died sufficiently for us, which is improper. For what comfort would it be that Christ was offered for us if there were no more? A bare sufficiency in Christ does not serve the turn; this would be a cold comfort. Suppose a man who was in debt, afraid of every sergeant and every sheriff, should be told, “Sir, there is money enough in the king’s account to discharge all your debts.” This may be very true, but what good is that to him? What comfort does he have by it unless the king offers to come and freely assume his debt? And it would be a cold comfort to us to know that Christ is sufficient for us unless He invites us to take freely of the waters of life. But “Ho, every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters” (Isaiah 55:1). Thus, unless Christ is offered to us as well as for us, we are never the better.

Now to make this more clear, observe that in every sacrament there are two acts of the minister. The first one has relation to God; it is a commemoration of the sacrifice, in which respects the ancient fathers called it a sacrifice. The other is the breaking of bread and pouring out of wine, wherein there is a commemoration of the broken body and the shed blood – not as they are concomitants, the wine in the bread, as the foolish papists dream, for that would rather be a commemoration of His life, when the blood runs in the veins, than of His death. The commemoration of Christ’s death is made by separation of the blood from the body, and as there is one act of the minister in consecrating by breaking the body and pouring out the blood, so there is a second act that is ministerial. When the minister says, “Take, eat; this is My body,” it is as if Christ were present, saying, “Come, take My body.” You have as free an interest to it as when you are invited to your friend’s table you have a right to the meat before you. So that as Christ is offered for you, so He is offered to you. And what now should hinder you, unless you are one who will obstinately oppose your own salvation, and say, “I will not have this Man to rule over me.” You cannot miscarry. But if you will be your own lord, then you must perish in your infidelity. Here are the keys of the kingdom of heaven given unto God’s ministers, unless you willfully oppose your own salvation and shut the door of salvation which Christ has opened so wide for you. The ways of God are plain. Christ has paid a great price for you, and then, as great as it is, He offers it to you.” James Ussher, “The Satisfaction of Christ,” in The Puritan Pulpit: The Irish Puritans, ed., Don Kistler (Orlando, Florida: Soli Deo Gloria, 2006), 116–118.

The Well-Meant Offer/God’s Desire for all to be Saved

Section 2

Charles Spurgeon:

1 Timothy 2:4

“What then? Shall we try to put another meaning into the text than that which it fairly bears? I trow not. You must, most of you, be acquainted with the general method in which our older Calvinistic friends deal with this text. “All men,” say they,—”that is, some men”: as if the Holy Ghost could not have said “some men” if he had meant some men. “All men,” say they; “that is, some of all sorts of men”: as if the Lord could not have said “all sorts of men” if he had meant that. The Holy Ghost by the apostle has written “all men,” and unquestionably he means all men. I know how to get rid of the force of the “alls” according to that critical method which some time ago was very current, but I do not see how it can be applied here with due regard to truth. I was reading just now the exposition of a very able doctor who explains the text so as to explain it away; he applies grammatical gunpowder to it, and explodes it by way of expounding it. I thought when I read his exposition that it would have been a very capital comment upon the text if it had read, “Who will not have all men to be saved, nor come to a knowledge of the truth.” Had such been the inspired language every remark of the learned doctor would have been exactly in keeping, but as it happens to say, “Who will have all men to be saved,” his observations are more than a little out of place. My love of consistency with my own doctrinal views is not great enough to allow me knowingly to alter a single text of Scripture. I have great respect for orthodoxy, but my reverence for inspiration is far greater. I would sooner a hundred times over appear to be inconsistent with myself than be inconsistent with the word of God. I never thought it to be any very great crime to seem to be inconsistent with myself; for who am I that I should everlastingly be consistent? But I do think it a great crime to be so inconsistent with the word of God that I should want to lop away a bough or even a twig from so much as a single tree of the forest of Scripture. God forbid that I should cut or shape, even in the least degree, any divine expression. So runs the text, and so we must read it, “God our Savior; who will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth.”

Matthew 23:37

“The theologians have met each other around this text as on a field of battle. They have contended, controverted and dragged the text about as if it were a wild beast which they would tear limb from limb. And yet, if you will look through the letter of it, and come to its inner spirit, you will see that it is not strange that Jesus should have uttered it. It would have been much more marvelous if he had not spoken thus, and it would have been a terrible crux in all theology if we had read here, “I never would have gathered your children together even if they had been willing to be gathered.” That would have been a thing hard to be understood, indeed! And it would have presented a greater difficulty than any which can be found in our text.

I have long been content to take God’s Word just as I find it and when, at any time, I have been accused of contradicting myself through keeping to my text, I have always felt perfectly safe about that matter. The last thing I care about is being consistent with myself! Why should I be anxious about that? I would rather be consistent with Christ 50 times over, or be consistent with the Word of God! But as to being forever consistent with oneself, it might turn out that one was consistently wrong, consistently narrow-minded and consistently unwilling to believe what God would teach. So we will take the text just as we find it and it seems to say to me that if Jerusalem was not saved—if her children were not gathered together in safety as a brood of chickens is gathered beneath the hen—if Christ did not gather them and protect them, it was not because there was any unwillingness on His part. There was always a willingness in His heart to bless Jerusalem and, therefore, He could truly say, “How often would I have gathered your children together, even as a hen gathers her chickens under her wings!” From this utterance of our Lord, I learn that if any man is not saved, the cause of his non-salvation does not lie in any lack of graciousness or want of willingness on the part of God! They who dare to say that it does, venture very far, and are very audacious in their assertions. This text says the very opposite—and so far as it is applicable to the sons of men in general, it declares that God wills not the death of any, but desires that they should turn unto Him and live.”

D.A. Carson:

If the love of God refers exclusively to his love for the elect, it is easy to drift toward a simple and absolute bifurcation: God loves the elect and hates the reprobate. Rightly positioned, there is truth in this assertion; stripped of complementary biblical truths, that same assertion has engendered hyper-Calvinism. I use the term advisedly, referring to groups within the Reformed tradition that have forbidden the free offer of the Gospel. Spurgeon fought them in his day. Their number is not great in America today, but their echoes are found in young Reformed ministers who know it is right to offer the Gospel freely, but who have no idea how to do it without contravening some element in their conception of Reformed theology.” D. A. Carson, “On Distorting the Love of God,” in The Difficult Doctrine of the Love of God (Wheaton, Ill: Crossway Books, 2000), 22–23

And again,

I argue, then, that both Arminians and Calvinists should rightly affirm that Christ died for all, in the sense that Christ’s death was sufficient for all and that Scripture portrays God as inviting, commanding, and desiring the salvation of all, out of love (in the sense developed in the first chapter). Further all Christians ought also to confess that, in a slightly different sense, Christ Jesus, in the intent of God, died effectively for the elect alone, in line with the way the Bible speaks of God’s special selecting love for the elect (in the fourth sense developed in the first chapter).” D. A. Carson, The Difficult Doctrine of the Love of God (Wheaton: Crossway Books, 2000), 77.

This approach, I contend, must surely come as a relief to young preachers in the Reformed tradition who hunger to preach the Gospel effectively but who do not know how far they can go in saying things such as “God loves you” to unbelievers. When I have preached or lectured in Reformed circles, I have often been asked the question, “Do you feel free to tell unbelievers that God loves them?… From what I have already said, it is obvious that I have no hesitation in answering this question from young Reformed preachers affirmatively: Of course I tell the unconverted God loves them.” Ibid. 77-78

John MacArthur:

“God sincerely wishes that all men and women would turn to Him in saving faith; yet He chose only the elect “out of the world” (John 17:6) and passed over other sinners, leaving them in their depravity and wickedness (cf. Rom. 1:18-32). As a result, they are damned solely because of their sin and rejection of God. He is in no way to blame for such unbelief and is not happy that many people ultimately choose hell. However, God will receive glory even when unbelievers are damned (cf. Rom. 9:22-23).

How this great program of redemption and condemnation, with its apparent paradoxes and divine mysteries, unfolds in a way that is completely consistent with God’s will can be answered only by Him. Believers who seek to be faithful witnesses as they embrace God’s truth must do so by faith in His Word, trusting in such profound declarations as this:

Since the Lord “desires all men to be saved” (1 Tim. 2:4; cf. Matt. 23:37), it is not our concern to know if someone is elect before praying for that person’s salvation We may pray for anyone who is unsaved, knowing that such prayers are fully consistent with God’s desire. After all, “The LORD is gracious and merciful; slow to anger and great in lovingkindness. The LORD is good to all, and His mercies are over all His works” (Ps. 145:8-9).” John F. MacArthur, Nothing But the Truth (Wheaton: Good News Publishers, 1999), 43.

A.A. Hodge:

Since the salvation of guilty sinners is absolutely of free and sovereign grace, and must be received as such, the salvation of every man must depend upon a personal election of God. God offers salvation to all on the condition of faith. But he gives the faith to those whom he chooses (Eph. 2:8; Matt. 20:16; 22:14). Nevertheless, those who refuse to believe and be saved have only themselves to blame for it, because the only reason they do not believe is the wicked disposition of their own hearts, and because God kindly and honestly invites them and promises salvation by his Word, and draws them by the common influences of his Spirit. A. A. Hodge and J. A. Hodge, The System of Theology Contained in the Westminster Shorter Catechism(New York: A. C. Armstrong & Son, 1888), 20–21.

B.B. Warfield, speaking of the Westminster Confession of Faith:

Nor is it at all true that in glorifying God’s infinite love for His children, the Confession minimizes or fails to give due recognition to His unspeakable love for all His reasonable creatures. He is the God of love: “Most loving, gracious, merciful, long-suffering, abundant in goodness and truth, forgiving iniquity, transgression and sin, the rewarder of them that diligently seek him” (II., i.). Moved by this love He has voluntarily condescended to covenant with men as men, with a view to their fruition of Him as their blessedness and reward (VII., i.); and when men had spurned this offered favor, He was pleased to make a second covenant, “wherein he freely offered unto sinners life and salvation by Jesus Christ, requiring of them faith him him, that they may be saved (VII., iii.)—an assertion of the universal sincere offer of salvation in Christ which is not taken away, but rather established, by the immediately subsequent assertion that God has further taken care that it shall not in all cases remain without fruition. To overlook these and similar passages in the effort to represent the Confession as disregarding the proportion of faith is most seriously to misrepresent its teaching. As a matter of fact the Confession builds its whole fabric on God’s love, and emphasizes His general love quite as strongly as the Scriptures themselves; although like the Scriptures, it does not substitute a general benevolence for the whole round of Divine attributes, or deny His sovereignty or His justice in proclaiming His love.” B. B. Warfield, On the Revision of the Confession of Faith (New York: Anson D. F. Randolph & Company, 1890), 25–27.

Charles Hodge on 1 Timothy 2:4:

God desires the salvation of all men. This means 1st, just what is said when the Scriptures declare that God is good; that he is merciful and gracious, and ready to forgive; that he is good to all, and his tender mercies over his works. He is kind to the unthankful and to the evil. This goodness or benevolence of God is not only declared but revealed in his works, in his providence, and in the work of redemption. 2nd, It means what is said in Ezekiel 33:11, ‘As I live, saith the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked’, and in Ezekiel 18:23. Also Lamentations 3:33, ‘For he doth not afflict willingly nor grieve the children of men.’ It means what Christ taught in the parable of the prodigal son, and of the lost sheep and the lost piece of money; and is taught by his lament over Jerusalem.

All these passages teach that God delights in the happiness of his creatures, and that when he permits them to perish, or inflicts evil upon them, it is from some inexorable necessity; that is, because it would be unwise and wrong to do otherwise. His relation is that of a benevolent sovereign in punishing crime, or of a tender judge in passing sentence on offenders, or, what is the familiar representation of Scripture, that of a father who deals with his children with tenderness, yet with wisdom and according to the dictates of right.[1]”

1. From Charles Hodge, Princeton Sermons. First published by the Trust in 1958 this fine volume of annotated sermon outlines was recently reprinted for the fourth time in 2011.

George Whitefield:

“O do not put a slight on infinite love: what would you have Christ do more? Is it not enough for him to come on purpose to save? Will you not serve God in your souls, as well as with your bodies? If not, you are only deceiving yourselves, and mocking God; he must have the heart. O ye of little faith, why are ye fearful lest he should not accept of you? If you will not believe me, sure you will believe the Lord Jesus Christ; he has told thee that he will receive you: then why tarry ye, and do not go to him directly? Does he desire impossibilities? It is only, “Give me thy heart:” or, does he want your heart only for the same end as the devil does, to make you miserable? No, he only wants you to believe on him, that you might be saved. This is all the dear Saviour desires, to make you happy, that you may leave your sins, to sit down eternally with him, at the marriage supper of the Lamb.” George Whitefield, “Sermon XII: The Folly and Danger of Parting with Christ for the Pleasures and Profits of Life,” in The Works of the Reverend George Whitefield (London: Printed for Edward and Charles Dilly, 1772), 5:326.

OPC 1948:
Report of the Committee on the Free Offer of the Gospel

Majority report:


It would appear that the real point in dispute in connection with the free offer of the gospel is whether it can properly be said that God desires the salvation of all men. The Committee elected by the Twelfth General Assembly in its report to the Thirteenth General Assembly said, “God not only delights in the penitent but is also moved by the riches of his goodness and mercy to desire the repentance and salvation of the impenitent and reprobate” (Minutes, p. 67)…”


(1) We have found that the grace of God bestowed in his ordinary providence expresses the love of God, and that this love of God is the source of the gifts bestowed upon and enjoyed by the ungodly as well as the godly. We should expect that herein is disclosed to us a principle that applies to all manifestations of divine grace, namely, that the grace bestowed expresses the lovingkindness in the heart of God and that the gifts bestowed are in their respective variety tokens of a correspondent richness or manifoldness in the divine lovingkindness of which they are the expression.

(2) We have found that God himself expresses an ardent desire for the fulfilment of certain things which he has not decreed in his inscrutable counsel to come to pass. This means that there is a will to the realization of what he has not decretively willed, a pleasure towards that which he has not been pleased to decree. This is indeed mysterious, and why he has not brought to pass, in the exercise of his omnipotent power and grace, what is his ardent pleasure lies hid in the sovereign counsel of his will. We should not entertain, however, any prejudice against the notion that God desires or has pleasure in the accomplishment of what he does not decretively will.

(3) Our Lord himself in the exercise of his messianic prerogative provides us with an example of the foregoing as it applies to the matter of salvation. He says expressly that he willed the bestowal of his saving and protecting grace upon those whom neither the Father nor he decreed thus to save and protect.

(4) We found that God reveals himself as not taking pleasure in or desiring the death of those who die but rather as taking pleasure in or desiring the repentance and life of the wicked. This will of God to repentance and salvation is universalized and reveals to us, therefore, that there is in God a benevolent lovingkindness towards the repentance and salvation of even those whom he has not decreed to save. This pleasure, will, desire is expressed in the universal call to repentance.

(5) We must conclude, therefore, that our provisional inference on the basis of Matt. 5:44–48 is borne out by the other passages. The full and free offer of the gospel is a grace bestowed upon all. Such grace is necessarily a manifestation of love or lovingkindness in the heart of God. And this lovingkindness is revealed to be of a character or kind that is correspondent with the grace bestowed. The grace offered is nothing less than salvation in its richness and fulness. The love or lovingkindness that lies back of that offer is not anything less; it is the will to that salvation. In other words, it is Christ in all the glory of his person and in all the perfection of his finished work whom God offers in the gospel. The loving and benevolent will that is the source of that offer and that grounds its veracity and reality is the will to the possession of Christ and the enjoyment of the salvation that resides in him.”

John Owen:

Hear, then, once more, poor sin-hardened, senseless souls, ye stout-hearted, that are far from righteousness. Is it nothing unto you that the great and holy God, whom ye have provoked all your days, and whom you yet continue to provoke,–who hath not the least need of you or your salvation,–who can, when he pleaseth, eternally glorify himself in your destruction,–should of his own accord send unto you, to let you know that he is willing to be at peace with you on the terms he had prepared? The enmity began on your part, the danger is on your part only, and he might justly expect that the message for peace should begin on your part also; but he begins with you. And shall he be rejected? The prophet well expresseth this, Isa. xxx. 15, “Thus said the Lord God, the Holy One of Israel; In returning and rest shall ye be saved; in quietness and in confidence shall be your strength: and ye would not.” The love and condescension that is in these words, on the one hand, on the part of God, and the folly and ingratitude mentioned in them on the other hand, is inexpressible. They are fearful words, “But ye would not.” Remember this against another day. As our Saviour says, in the like manner, to the Jews, “Ye will not come to me, that ye might have life.” Whatever is pretended, it is will and stubbornness that lie at the bottom of this refusal.”

John Owen, “Exposition Upon Psalm CXXX,” in The Works of John Owen, ed. William H. Goold (Philadelphia: Leighton Publications, 1871), 6:521.

Jonathan Edwards:

It is objected against the absolute decrees respecting the future actions of men, and especially the unbelief of sinners, and their rejection of the gospel, that this does not consist with the sincerity of God’s calls and invitations to such sinners; as he has willed, in his eternal secret decree, that they should never accept of those invitations. To which I answer, that there is that in God, respecting the acceptance and compliance of sinners, which God knows will never be, and which he has decreed never to cause to be, in which, though it be not just the same with our desiring and wishing for that which will never come to pass, yet there is nothing wanting but what would imply imperfection in the case. There is all in God that is good, and perfect, and excellent in our desires and wishes for the conversion and salvation of wicked men. As, for instance, there is a love to holiness, absolutely considered, or an agreeableness of holiness to his nature and will; or, in other words, to his natural inclination. The holiness and happiness of the creature, absolutely considered, are things that he loves. These things are infinitely more agreeable to his nature than to ours. There is all in God that belongs to our desire of the holiness and happiness of unconverted men and reprobates, excepting what implies imperfection. All that is consistent with infinite knowledge, wisdom, power, self-sufficiency, infinite happiness and immutability. Therefore, there is no reason that his absolute prescience, or his wise determination and ordering what is future, should hinder his expressing this disposition of his nature, in like manner as we are wont to express such a disposition in ourselves, viz. by calls and invitations, and the like.

The disagreeableness of the wickedness and misery of the creature, absolutely considered, to the nature of God, is all that is good in pious and holy men’s lamenting the past misery and wickedness of men. Their lamenting these, is good no farther than it proceeds from the disagreeableness of those things to their holy and good nature. This is also all that is good in wishing for the future holiness and happiness of men. And there is nothing wanting in God, in order to his having such desires and such lamentings, but imperfection; and nothing is in the way of his having them, but infinite perfection; and therefore it properly, naturally, and necessarily came to pass, that when God, in the manner of existence, came down from his infinite perfection, and accommodated himself to our nature and manner, by being made man, as he was, in the person of Jesus Christ, he really desired the conversion and salvation of reprobates, and lamented their obstinacy and misery; as when he beheld the city Jerusalem, and wept over it, saying, “O Jerusalem,” &c. In the like manner, when he comes down from his infinite perfection, though not in the manner of being, but in the manner of manifestation, and accommodates himself to our nature and manner, in the manner of expression, it is equally natural and proper that he should express himself as though he desired the conversion and salvation of reprobates, and lamented their obstinacy and misery.” Jonathan Edwards, “Concerning the Divine Decrees in General and Election in Particular,” in The Works of Jonathan Edwards (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1974), 2:528–529.

Louis Berkhof:

c. The general nature of the external calling. While all the other movements of the Holy Spirit in the ordo salutis terminate on the elect only, the external calling by the gospel has a wider bearing. Wherever the gospel is preached, the call comes to the elect and reprobate alike. It serves the purpose, not merely of bringing the elect to faith and conversion, but also of revealing the great love of God to sinners in general. By means of it God maintains His claim on the obedience of all His rational creatures, restrains the manifestation of sin, and promotes civic righteousness, external morality, and even outward religious exercises.” Cf. Bavinck, Geref. Dogm. IV, pp. 7 f.

And again,

“b. It is a bona fide calling. The external calling is a calling in good faith, a calling that is seriously meant. It is not an invitation coupled with the hope that it will not be accepted. When God calls the sinner to accept Christ by faith, He earnestly desires this; and when He promises those who repent and believe eternal life, His promise is dependable. This follows from the very nature, from the veracity, of God. It is blasphemous to think that God would be guilty of equivocation and deception, that He would say one thing and mean another, that He would earnestly plead with the sinner to repent and believe unto salvation, and at the same time not desire it in any sense of the word. The bona fide character of the external call is proved by the following passages of Scripture: Num. 23:19; Ps. 81:13-16; Prov. 1:24; Isa. 1:18-20; Ezek. 18:23,32; 33:11; Matt. 21:37; II Tim. 2:13. The Canons of Dort also assert it explicitly in III and IV, 8.” Louis Berkhof, Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1969), p. 462.

Dr. Martin Loyd Jones:

There, then, is our second term, leadeth, and here we arrive at what has often proved to be a very difficult statement, which has often led to a good deal of discussion and debate and confusion. The Apostle’s statement is that God’s goodness leads them to repentance, and we need to know what he means by this. Why does he use this particular term? In Romans 8:14, he says, ‘For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God’, and that is exactly the same word as we have here, where we are told that the goodness of God ‘leadeth thee unto repentance’. Now this term does not, of course, mean forcing; it does not mean driving or bludgeoning. What is obviously means is a constraining influence. That is what you do when you lead a horse, or a dog, or any other animal. You are bringing to bear a constraining influence if you are holding the reins or the halter, or whatever it may be. There is no force of necessity, but there is a sense of constraint, there is an influence, a constraining influence, and what the Apostle says is that God’s goodness exercises this kind of constraining influence on men to bring them to repentance.

In view of that, then, we again have to ask what exactly he is teaching here. It is important that we should be clear about our terms, and the first thing we notice is that he is talking about unbelievers. These are the people who are not brought to repentance, therefore they are the unbelievers. And what the Apostle says is that they are without excuse because they are despising the goodness of God which was meant to bring them to repentance.

Now you see where the difficulty arises in the realm of theology. Here are unbelievers who die unrepentant, and yet the Apostle says that the goodness of God leads them, exercises this constraining influence upon them, to bring them to repentance. And it is not surprising that this has often been a bone of contention, and has engaged the attention of those who desire to have a truer understanding of God’s way of salvation and of how any single one of us ever does come to believe on the Lord Jesus Christ.

So what do we make of this? We must go back again to 2 Peter 3, this time to verse 9. Is it not interesting to notice the parallel between these Apostles? Always where you come across a difficult place in Scripture the thing to do is to compare Scripture with Scripture, to find another one, a parallel statement, something that is similar, and here it is: ‘The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance’. You notice it is saying almost precisely the same thing. And do you know that there are other statements in the Scriptures which speak to the same effect. You will find in Ezekiel 33:11, for instance, that God says, ‘I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked’. And you will find other statements in the Scriptures in which God, as it were, appeals to them, to the nation of Israel, and beyond the nation of Israel to all people, with the word ‘Oh!’ And you remember how our Lord Himself wept over Jerusalem and said, ‘Oh Jerusalem, Jerusalem . . . how often would I . . . and ye would not!’ [Matthew 23:27].

Now all these statements are parallels with the statement in this passage and therefore I must ask this question: What, then, is God’s goodness meant to do with regard to the unbeliever? For it is the unbeliever with whom we are dealing. There are people who have tried to evade this difficulty by saying that this statement means that God has shown His goodness to the unbeliever to render him without a single excuse; that He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends His rain on the just and the unjust, so that at the day of judgment they will have nothing to say. God’s goodness will be the answer to their every excuse. And yet, you see, we cannot accept that as an explanation, because if the Apostle had meant to say that, he would have put it in that way, and he would never have used the word ‘leadeth’. This word is too active and positive a word for that. If that had been merely God’s object, it would have had no effect upon them, it would not have been designed to have an effect upon man. But you cannot use the word ‘lead’ without getting the idea of a constraining influence. When you talk about somebody leading somebody else or of being led by a truth, it is very positive. That other idea just leaves it there on the wall, as it were, passive and negative, there merely to rob me negatively of any chance of excusing myself. But this is an active word.

What then, does it mean? It seems to me that there is only one conclusion we can come to, and that is that God’s goodness is meant and designed to bring men to repentance and salvation; and when I say ‘men’ I mean all men, unbelievers as well as believers. We are dealing with unbelievers here. The Apostle is arguing with men who will not repent and he says, even to them, that God’s goodness leads you, was meant and designed to lead you, to repentance. So the Apostle here is teaching that God manifests a positive favour even to the unbeliever – and that is where the importance of being clear about these matters comes in.” [He goes on to talk about the difference between grace and efficacious grace and other such things] D. M. Lloyd-Jones, Romans: An Exposition of Chapters 2:1–3:20, The Righteous Judgment of God(Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1989), 51–56.

Matthew Henry:

3. God’s approbation of their request. (1.) He commends what they said, v. 28. They spoke it to Moses, but God took notice of it; for there is not a word in our tongue but he knows it. He acknowledges, They have well said. Their owning the necessity of a mediator to deal between them and God was well said. Their desire to receive further directions from God by Moses, and their promise to observe what directions should be given them, were well said. And what is well said shall have its praise with God, and should have with us. What is good, as far as it goes, let it be commended. (2.) He wishes they were but sincere in it: O that there were such a heart in them! v. 29. [1.] Such a heart as they should have, a heart to fear God, and keep his commandments for ever. Note, The God of heaven is truly and earnestly desirous of the welfare and salvation of poor sinners. He has given abundant proof that he is so: he gives us time and space to repent, by his mercies invites us to repentance, and waits to be gracious; he has sent his Son to redeem us, published a general offer of pardon and life, promised his Spirit to those that pray for him, and has said and sworn that he has no pleasure in the ruin of sinners. [2.] Such a heart as they now had, or one would think they had. Note, It would be well with many if there were always such a heart in them as there seems to be sometimes, when they are under conviction of sin, or the rebukes of Providence, or when they come to look death in the face: How gracious will they be when these pangs come upon them! O that there were always such a heart in them! (3.) He appoints Moses to be his messenger to them, to receive the law from his mouth and to communicate it to them, v. 31. Here the matter was settled by consent of both parties that God should hence-forward speak to us by men like ourselves, by Moses and the prophets, by the apostles and the evangelists, and, if we believe not these, neither should we be persuaded though God should speak to us as he did to Israel at Mount Sinai, or send expresses from heaven or hell. Matthew Henry, Commentary on the Whole Bible (Peabody, Mass: Hendrickson, 1991), 243.


Patrick Fairbairn:

What a beautiful simplicity and directness in the statement! It is like the lawgiver anew setting before the people the way of life and the way of death, and calling upon them to determine which of the two they were inclined to choose. Then, what a moving tenderness in the appeal, “Have I any pleasure in the death of the wicked? saith the Lord God.” You think of me as if I were a heartless being, indifferent to the calamaties that befall my children, and even delighting to inflict chastisement on them for sins they have not committed. So far from this, I have no pleasure in the destruction of those who by their own transgressions have deserved it, but would rather that they turn from their ways and live. Thus he presents himself as a God of holy love,—love yearning over the lost condition of his wayward children, and earnestly desiring their return to peace and safety,—yet still exercising itself in strict accordance with the principles of righteousness, and only, in so far as these might admit, seeking the good of men. For however desirous to secure their salvation, he neither can nor will save them, except in the way of righteousness.” Patrick Fairbairn, Ezekiel and the Book of His Prophecy: An Exposition, 4th ed. (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1876), 199.


Robert L Dabney:

 “4. Designs of God In Common Call.

God’s design in the common call of the unconverted may be said to be threefold.

To Gather Elect.

First, it is His appointed and proper means for saving from among them, the elect. And He either must have adopted this generality in the outward call, or else He must have adopted one of two expedients. He must have actually saved all, or He must have separated the non-elect wholly from the participation of the common call. Had He adopted the latter plan, surely those who now complain of partiality would then have complained far more loudly. Had He adopted the former, where would have been His manifestation of His sovereignty, and where that evidence of regular customary connection between means and ends, conduct and destiny, on which He has seen fit to found His government?

To Express His Benevolence.

God’s second design in making the common call universal was the exercise of the general holiness, goodness, and compassion of His nature, (which generally regard all His creatures), in dissuading all from sin and self destruction. God’s holiness, which is universally opposed to sin, makes it proper that He shall dissuade from sin, every where, and in all sinners. God’s mercy and goodness, being made possible towards the human race by their being under a gospel dispensation, make it proper that He shall dissuade all from self destruction. And this benevolence not only offers a benefit to sinners generally, but actually confers one—i. e., a temporary enjoyment of a dispensation of mercy, and a suspension of wrath, with all the accompanying mercies, and the offer itself of salvation. This offer is itself a benefit, only man’s perverseness turns it into a curse. Blessed be God, His word assures us that this common call is an expression of sincere benevolence towards all sinners, elect and non-elect, (a compassion whose efficient outgoing is, however, conditioned, as to all, on faith and penitence in them).Ezek. 33:11Ps. 81:131 Tim. 2:4.

To Clear Himself.

God’s third design in making the common call universal is that when men ruin themselves, as He foresaw they would, His holiness, goodness, compassion and truth may be entirely cleared, in their fate, before heaven and earth. It was a part of His eternal plan, to magnify His own goodness, by offering to human sinners a provision for salvation so complete, as to remove every obstacle arising out of His justice and law; so that in their final damnation all the universe may see how lovely God is; and how desperate an evil sin is. And this is properly God’s highest end.” R. L. Dabney, Systematic Theology (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust, 2002), 555–556.


Stephen Charnock:


 (2.) God hath been importunate in entreaties of us. God offers not only truce, but a peace, and hath been most active in urging a reconciliation. Can he manifest his willingness in clearer methods, than that of sending his Son to reconcile the world to himself? Can he evidence more sincerity than by his repeated and reiterated pressing of our souls to the acceptance of him? God knocks at our hearts, and we are deaf to him; he thunders in our ears, and we regard him not; he waits upon us for our acceptance of his love, and we grow more mad against him; he beseecheth us, and we ungratefully and proudly reject him; he opens his bosom, and we turn our backs; he offers us his pearls, and we tread them under our feet; he would give us angels’ bread, and we feed on husks with swine. The wisdom of God shines upon us, and we account it foolishness. The infinite kindness of God courts us, and we refuse it, as if it were the greatest cruelty. Christ calls and begs, and we will not hear him either commanding or entreating. To love God is our privilege, and though it be our indispensable duty, yet it had been a presumption in us to aspire so high as to think the casting our earthly affections upon so transcendent an object should be so dear to him, had he not authorised it by his command, and encouraged it by his acceptance. But it is strange that God should court us by such varieties of kindness to that, wherein not his happiness but our affection does consist; and much stranger, that such pieces of earth and clay should turn their backs upon so adorable an object, and be enemies to him, who displays himself in so many allurements to their souls, and fix their hatred upon that tender God who sues for their affections.

Consider that God is our superior. An inferior should seek to a superior, not a superior to one below him. There is an equality between man and man, but an infinite inequality between God and us. God is also the party wronged, and yet offers a parley. And consider further, that when he could as well damn us as court us, he wants not power to rid his hands of us, but he would rather shew his almightiness in the triumph of his mercy, than the trophies of his justice; he would rather be a refreshing light than a consuming fire.” Stephen Charnock, “Man’s Enmity to God,” in The Works of Stephen Charnock (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1997), 5:521.


Sam Waldron:

“B. The free offer in the Bible

“But the witness which I receive is not from man, but I say these things, that you may be saved‘”(John 5:34). This text epitomizes the crux of the free offer. That crux is God’s indiscriminate desire for the salvation of sinners. The ‘these things’ of the text refer to the testimony of John the Baptist to the messianic dignity of Jesus (John 5:33, 35-36). The phrase, ‘that you may be saved’, states Jesus’ goal in mentioning the testimony of John. This clause begins with one of the most important Greek words which express purpose. His true purpose in alluding to the testimony of John is not to defend himself, but to save his hearers. The pronoun ‘you’ clarifies those who are the objects of Jesus’ saving intention. This pronoun in this context plainly refers to the ‘Jews’ (cf. John 5:18-19, 33 with 1:19-24). Throughout this Gospel this designation refers to the Jewish leaders (5:10, 15, 16, 18, 33; 1:19-24; 9:22). The character of these ‘Jews’ is abundantly clear. They were those who, though blessed with great light (5:35), had ultimately rejected that light (5:38-47). These men were no ordinary sinners, but murderers who would bring about Jesus’ death (5:16, 18; 18:12, 14, 31, 36, 38; 19:7, 12, 38; 20:19). The destiny of many of them, at least, was to die under the wrath of God (John 8:21, 24; Matt. 12:24, 31; 24:15-28; Luke 21:20-24; 1 Thess. 2:14-16). This very, in fact, teaches that these Jews, having rejected the true Messiah, would receive false messiahs (John 5:43). The phrase, ‘I say’, emphasizes that it was no one less than God’s eternal Son (John 1:18; 5:18-26) and God’s eternal Word who uttered these sentiments (John 1:1; 5:19, 43). Given this emphasis of the Gospel of John, we must recognize that Jesus here reveals God’s heart and God’s will (John 12:49-50; 14:10. 24; 17:8).

The doctrine of this text that God earnestly desires the salvation of every man who hears the gospel and thus freely offers Christ to them is confirmed throughout the rest of Scripture. The Bible teaches that the good gifts which God bestows upon men in general, including the non-elect, are manifestations of God’s general love and common grace towards them (Matt. 5:43-48; Luke 6:35; Acts 14:17). While they do serve to increase the guilt of those who misuse them, this is not the sole intention of God towards the non-elect in giving them. The Scriptures teach that God desires the good even of those who never come to experience the good wished for them by God (Deut. 5:29; 32:29; Ps. 81:13-16; Isa. 48:18). The Scriptures also teach that God so loved sinners that in the person of his Son he weeps because of the destruction they bring upon themselves (Matt. 23:37; Luke 13:34; 19:41-44). God emphatically expresses his desire that some should repent who do not repent (Ezek. 18:23, 32; 33:11; Rom. 10:11). The Scriptures teach a general gospel call which comes to the hearers of the gospel indiscriminately and which may be, and often is resisted (Prov. 1:24; 8:4; Isa. 50:2; 65:12; 66:4; Jer. 7:13-14; 35:17; Matt. 22:14).

This biblical witness does not overthrow the scriptural teaching of an unconditional election and an irresistable grace. When our finite minds contemplate the glory of the incomprehensible God revealed in the Scriptures we often will be unable to penetrate completely how two seemingly contradictory truths may be reconciled. It ought, however, to rid us of every hesitation in calling men indiscriminately, passionately, freely and authoritatively to embrace Jesus Christ as he is freely offered in the gospel.” Samuel E. Waldron, Modern Exposition of the 1689 Baptist Confession of Faith (Evangelical Press, 1989), 121-122.


Geerhardos Vos:

There is, however, still a third sense, in which Jesus leads us to ascribe universality to the divine love. This is done not so much in explicit form as by the implications of His attitude toward sinful men in general. We must never forget that our Lord was the divine love incarnate, and that consequently what He did, no less than what He taught, is a true revelation adapted to shed light on our problem. If the Son of God was filled with tender compassion for every lost human soul, and grieved even over those whose confirmed unbelief precluded all further hope of salvation, it is plain that there must be in God something corresponding to this. In the parable of the prodigal son the father is represented as continuing to cherish a true affection for his child during the period of the latter’s estrangement. It would be hardly in accord with our Lord’s intention to press the point that the prodigal was destined to come to repentance, and that, therefore, the father’s attitude toward him portrays the attitude of God toward the elect only, and not toward every sinner as such. We certainly have a right to say that the love which God originally bears toward man as created in His image survives in the form of compassion under the reign of sin. This being so, when the sinner comes in contact with the gospel of grace, it is natural for God to desire that he should accept its offer and be saved. We must even assume that over against the sin of rejection of the gospel this love continues to assert itself, in that it evokes from the divine heart sincere sorrow over man’s unbelief. But this universal love should be always so conceived as to leave room for the fact that God, for sovereign reasons, has not chosen to bestow upon its objects that higher love which not merely desires, but purposes and works out the salvation of some. It may be difficult to realize from any analogy in our own consciousness how the former can exist without giving rise to the latter; yet we are clearly led to believe that such is the case in God. A logical impossibility certainly is not involved, and our utter ignorance regarding the motives which determine the election of grace should restrain us from forming the rash judgment that, psychologically speaking, the existence of such a love in God for the sinner and the decree of preterition with reference to that same sinner are mutually exclusive. For, let it be remembered, we are confronted with the undeniable fact that this universal love of God, however defined, does not induce Him to send the gospel of salvation to all who are its objects. If the withholding of the gospel is consistent with its truthfulness, then a fortiori the withholding of efficacious grace must be. That there are good reasons for the former is true: but undoubtedly God has also His wise and holy reasons for the latter. The Scriptures do not assert that election and preterition are arbitrary decrees to the mind of God. All they insist upon is that the motives underlying them are inscrutable to us, and have nothing whatever to do with the worthiness or unworthiness of man.

Neither this indiscriminate goodness in the sphere of nature, however, nor the collective love which embraces the world as an organism, nor the love of compassion which God retains for every lost sinner, should be confounded with that fourth and highest form of the divine affection which the Savior everywhere appropriates to the disciples. This is represented under the figure of fatherhood. Notwithstanding all that has been asserted to the contrary by a host of modern writers, an impartial examination of the facts discloses the principle that the fatherhood of God in its specific sense is realized in the kingdom, so that His fatherhood and kingship appear coextensive.” Geerhardus Vos, “The Scriptural Doctrine of the Love of God,” in Redemptive History and Biblical Interpretation, ed. Richard B. Gaffin (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 1980; 2001), 443–444. The article originally appeared in The Presbyterian and Reformed Review 13 (1902): 1–37. Iain H. Murray cites it in “The Cross: The Pulpit of God’s Love Part 2″ Banner of Truth 495 (December 2004), 14.


R.C. Sproul:


“Summary 1. The three meanings of the will of God: (a) Sovereign decretive will is the will by which God brings to pass whatsoever He decrees. This is hidden to us until it happens. (b) Preceptive will is God’s revealed law or commandments, which we have the power but not the right to break. (c) Will of disposition describes God’s attitude or disposition. It reveals what is pleasing to Him. 2. God’s sovereign “permission” of human sin is not His moral approval.” (Essential Truths of the Christians Faith, chapter 22)


Curt Daniel on Hyper-Calvinism:


“What is hyper-Calvinism?… It revolves around 4 main issues:

Number one, the free offer of the gospel. Historically, all Calvinists have believed in the free offer of the gospel, where God holds out His arms and says, “Come! Everything is now prepared! Please come and believe in the Lord Jesus Christ!” Calvinists believe in that; hyper-Calvinists do not believe in that.

Secondly there’s the universal saving desire of God; that God, in the preaching of the gospel, He desires that all those that hear the gospel repent and believe and be saved. That’s part of the free offer. Historic Calvinists believe in that, hyper-Calvinists do not believe in that.

Thirdly there’s the issue of common grace. Now here’s where there is debate even amongst hyper-Calvinists. Common grace says God has a general love for everybody, but there’s also a special grace just for those that have been elected. That’s what the bible teaches. That’s historic Calvinism. On the one hand Arminianism says, “No, no, no. God loves everybody equally and there’s no differentiation.” That’s one of Dave Hunt’s arguments. That it’s not common andspecial. It’s all common. Hyper-Calvinists go to the other extreme and say, “No, no, no. It’s onlyspecial grace. God only loves the elect. He has no kind of love, mercy or compassion on those that he has not chosen. So many of them reject the idea of common grace…most, but not all.

Fourthly there’s the issue of duty-faith. What’s that? Historically, Calvinists, just like others, have believed that in the preaching of the gospel, those that hear the gospel have the duty to savingly believe in Jesus. If they do not believe, they are condemned for that. And that’s what allCalvinists, evangelical Arminians and Lutherans have believed, but many hyper-Calvinists reject that. And they give a lot of arguments like, “Well, how can it be their duty if they are not able to believe? And if faith is a gift, how can it be a duty? Duty…that sounds too Arminian, and that sounds legalistic.” So that’s how they come to reject it, and yet the bible clearly teaches it; that it’s a command. In fact, 1 John 3 says, “this is His command, that we believe in Him that He has sent, that is Jesus Christ His Son.” So you can see where this differentiates Calvinists from hyper-Calvinists.” Curt Daniel, Hyper-Calvinism and John Gill (Unpublished Ph.D. dissertation, University of Edinburgh, 1983), 603.

John Piper:

“Therefore I affirm with John 3:16 and 1 Timothy 2:4 that God loves the world with a deep compassion that desires the salvation of all men. Yet I also affirm that God has chosen from before the foundation of the world whom he will save from sin. Since not all people are saved we must choose whether we believe (with the Arminians) that God’s will to save all people is restrained by his commitment to human self-determination or whether we believe (with the Calvinists) that God’s will to save all people is restrained by his commitment to the glorification of his sovereign grace (Ephesians 1:6,12,14; Romans 9:22-23).” Are There Two Wills in God?

John Frame:

“God’s will is sometimes thwarted because he wills it to be, because he has given one of his desires precedence over another” (No Other God, 113)

James Boyce:

“10. In connection with this doctrine of the Effectual Calling of some, has arisen a question as to the sincerity of God in making the outward call to those who do not accept. It is said that the fact that it is made by him, knowing that men will not accept it without his efficient grace, and yet not purposing to give that grace, argues insincerity in the offer.

To this the following replies may be made:

(1.) If it be true that he does make the outward call, and does not give to all, but to some only, the efficient grace, the very character of God is an assurance of his sincerity. The real question here, then, is an inquiry into these two facts. If they be taught in the Scriptures, it is impious and blasphemous to doubt God’s sincerity.

(2.) This inquiry would never have arisen, had God only made the general offer and left all men to perish in its rejection. But, if so, his additional grace to some does not in any respect argue his insincerity in the partial grace thus shown to others.

(3.) The very nature of the gospel offer, as before stated, shows God’s sincerity. It is one which has all the inducements for its acceptance which one can imagine, and that acceptance depends simply upon the willingness of each man to take it.

(4.) Lest any should doubt the sincerity of God, he assures us of that fact in his word. Paul describes him, 1 Tim. 2:4, as one “who willeth that all men should be saved.” God himself says, Ezek. 33:10, 11: “And thou, son of man, say unto the house of Israel: Thus ye speak, saying, Our transgressions and our sins are upon us, and we pine away in them; how then should we 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, O house of Israel?” James Petigru Boyce, Abstract of Systematic Theology (Louisville, KY: Chas. T. Dearing, 1882), 384–85.


R. B. Kuiper:

“When the Reformed theology describes the universal offer of salvation as sincere, it does not merely mean that the human preacher, who obviously cannot distinguish with certainty between the elect and the non-elect, must for that reason issue to all men indiscriminately a most sincere offer of eternal life and an equally sincere invitation to accept that offer. It most assuredly means that, but it means incomparably more. The Reformed theology insists that God Himself, who has determined from eternity who are to be saved and who are not, and therefore distinguishes infallibly between the elect whom He designed to save by the death of Christ and the reprobate whom He did not design to save, makes on the ground of the universally suitable and sufficient atonement a most sincere, bona fide, offer of eternal life, not only to the elect but to all men, urgently invites them to life everlasting, and expresses the ardent desire that every person to whom this offer and this invitation come accept the offer and comply with the invitation.” R. B. Kuiper, For Whom Did Christ Die? (Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock Publishers, 2003), 86.


Robert Murray McCheyne on Isaiah 48:18:

“1. Show that it is not by reason of anything in Christ that sinners are lost.

It is not because Christ is not sufficient to save all.

The whole Bible shows that Christ is quite sufficient to save all the world—that all the world would be saved, if all the world were to come to Christ: ‘Behold the Lamb of God, that taketh away the sins of the world.’ The meaning of that is, not that sins of the whole world are now taken away. It is quite plain that the whole world is not forgiven at present. (1) Because the whole is not saved. (2) Because God everywhere calls sinners to repentance, and the first work of the Spirit is to convince of sin—of the heavy burden that is now lying on Christless souls. (3) Because forgiveness in the Bible is everywhere attached to believing. When they brought to Jesus a man sick of the palsy, Jesus, seeing his faith, said unto him: ‘Son, be of good cheer; thy sins are forgiven thee.’ Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved.’ The simple truth of the Bible is, that Christ hath suffered and died in the stead of sinners—as a common person in their stead; and every man that is a sinner hath a right to come.

Christ is quite sufficient for all, and I would prove it by this argument: if he was sufficient for one sinner, then he must be sufficient for all. The great difficulty with God (I speak as a man) was, not how to admit many sinners into his favor, but how to admit one sinner into his favor. If that difficulty has been got over in Jesus Christ, then the whole difficulty has been got over. If one sinner clothed in Christ may come unto God, then all sinners may. If one sinner may have peace with God, and God be yet just and glorious, then every sinner may have peace with him. If Christ was enough for Abel, then he is enough for all that come after. If one dying thief may look to him and be saved, so may every dying thief. If one trembling jailer may believe on Jesus, and rejoice believing, so may every other trembling sinner. O brethren! you may doubt and wrangle about whether Christ be enough for your souls, but if you die Christless, you will see that there was room enough under his wings, but you would not.

Sinners are lost, not because Christ is unwilling to save all.

The whole Bible shows that Christ is quite willing and anxious that all sinners should come to him. The city of refuge in the Old Testament was a type of Christ; and you remember that its gates were open by night and by day. The arms of Christ were nailed wide open, when he hung upon the cross; and this was a figure of his wide willingness to save all, as he said: ‘I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me.’ But though his arms were firmly nailed, they are more firmly nailed wide open now, by his love and compassion for perishing sinners, than ever they were nailed to the tree.

There is no unwillingness in the heart of Jesus Christ. When people are willing and anxious about something, they do everything that lies in their power to bring it to pass. So did Jesus Christ: ‘What could have been done more for my vineyard, that I have not done in it?’ But if they are very anxious, they will attempt it again and again. So did Jesus Christ: ‘O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, how often would I have gathered your children as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not!’ But if they are still more anxious, they will be grieved if they are disappointed. So was Jesus Christ: ‘When he came near, he beheld the city, and wept over it.’ But if they are very anxious, they will suffer pain rather than lose their object. So did Jesus Christ: The good Shepherd gave his life for the sheep. Ah! dear brethren, if you perish, it is not because Jesus wishes you to perish.

A word to anxious souls. How strange it is that anxious souls do most of all doubt the willingness of Christ to be their Saviour! These should least of all doubt him. If he is a willing Saviour to any, O surely he is a willing Saviour to a weary soul! Remember the blind beggar of Jericho. He was in your case—blind and helpless—and he cried: ‘Jesus, thou son of David, have mercy upon me.’ And when. the crowd bade him hold his peace, he cried so much the more. Was Jesus unwilling to be that beggar’s Saviour? He stood still, and commanded him to be brought, and said: ‘Thy faith hath made thee whole.’ He is the same willing Saviour still. Cry after him; and, though the world may bid you hold your peace, cry after him just so much the more.

A word to careless souls. You say Christ may be a willing Saviour to others, but surely not to you. O yes! he is quite willing for you too. See him sitting by the well of Samaria, convincing one poor sinful woman of her sins, and leading her to himself. He is the same Saviour toward you this day. If you do perish, it is not because Christ is willing. He wills all men to be saved, and to come to the knowledge of the truth. He pleads with you, and says: ‘Turn ye, turn ye, why will ye die?’” R. M. McCheyne, “42. Ye will not come unto me (John 5:40),” in From the Preacher’s Heart (Additional Remains, 1846; repr. Ross-shire, UK: Christian Focus Publications, 1993), 294–296. Also in Robert Murray McCheyne, “Sermon LXVIII,” The Works of the Late Rev. Robert Murray McCheyne, 2 vols. (New York: Robert Carter, 1847), 2:394-396.

While a number of the quotes flow from my own studies in primary source material, others come from David Ponter, Tony Bryne, and David Allen.  They have done tireless work in this area, and it would be wrong not to highlight them.


One thought on “In Defense of Moderate Calvinism: “Wait! He Said What?!?” Reformed Quotes on the Extent of the Atonement and God’s Universal Saving Will

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