Does God Desire the Salvation of the Reprobate?

William Perkins
The Manner and Order of Predestination
Works VI, pp. 342-347

Objection: Saint Paul says that “God will that all men be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Tim. 2:4).

1. All of which men?

I answer, first, that the place is not to be understood of all the posterity of Adam, but properly of those which live in the last age of the world. This I prove by conferring of the like places wherein Paul does plentifully show his meaning. “And the time of this ignorance God regarded not, but now He admonisheth all men everywhere to repent” (Acts 17:30). Mark well the form of speech, for it is as much as if he had said, God “now willeth that all men should repent.” “By the revelation of the mystery which was kept secret since the world began” (Rom. 16:25). “But now is opened and published—for the obedience of faith among all nations” (Rom. 16:26). “The mystery which was hid since the world began and from all ages is now made manifest to the saints” (Col. 1:26). “To whom God would make known Christ; whom we preach, admonishing every man and teaching every man, that we may present all men perfect in Christ Jesus” (Col. 1:27). And in the second epistle to the Corinthians, the sixth chapter and the second verse, he expounds that place of Isaiah where it is said, “In an acceptable time have I heard thee, and in a day of salvation have I helped thee, and I will preserve thee: and will give thee for a covenant of the people that thou mayest raise up the earth—that thou mayest say to the prisoners, go forth,” after this fashion: “Behold, now” says he, “the accepted time”—that is, the time of the New Testament—“behold now the day of salvation.” Saint Peter says, “Salvation ordained to be declared in the last times: concerning which the prophets which did prophesy of the grace which should afterward come to you, have searched and inquired” (1 Peter 2:10). And Christ Himself says most plainly of all, “When I shall be lifted up from the earth, I will draw all things to Me” (John 12:32). I therefore grant that God wills that all should be saved, but that God both wills and that He has always willed that all men in all ages should be saved I utterly deny, neither has Paul said so much. And among the ancient writers they which seem to affirm so much do notwithstanding in these kind of speeches doubtfully affirm it: “I do imagine that it may with reason and religion be believed. I do not think it irreligion to believe it. It may properly and religiously be believed.

2. God desires the salvation of all men who will be saved.

Secondly, I answer that God will that all men be saved—that is to say, of those that are saved. So says Augustine: “Even as it is said that all shall be quickened in Christ, although very many be punished by eternal death, because all whoever they are that do receive eternal life do not receive it but in Christ. For is it said that God will have all men to be saved, although He will have many not to be saved, because all who are saved are not saved but by Him willing it.” And again: “When we read in the holy Scriptures that God will have all men to be saved, although we know assuredly that all men are not saved, yet ought we not therefore so derogate anything from the omnipotent will of God, but thus to understand that which is written: who will have all men to be saved, as if it should be said, that no man was saved but he whom God would have to be saved”—not that there is no man whom He will not have saved. Hayme says, “God will have all men to be saved. Let us then ask what is the reason why all men are not saved. To which answer must be made that that saying in the psalm is true: He spoke the word, and they were made. In like manner, He will save all men who are saved and who by His mercy desire to be saved.” For the apostle put the whole for the part, as it is in the gospel where the Lord says, “If I be lifted up from the earth, I will draw all to Me. For He has not drawn neither does He draw all men to Him, but all that are elect, and of all sorts, and nations.

3. God will not have everyone of every kind, but the kinds of everyone to be saved.

Thirdly, I answer that God will not have everyone of every kind, but the kinds of everyone to be saved—that is to say, of every estate and condition some. Augustine says, “This very saying, Who will have all men to be saved, is so said not because there is no man whom He would have damned, who would not do any powerful miracles among them, who He says would have repented if he had; but that we by all men may understand every sort of men, by whatever differences distinguished, whether they be kings or subjects, noble or ignoble, high or low, learned or unlearned, strong or weak, witty, dull spirited or foolish, rich, poor or mean, men or women, infants or children, youths or young men, middle aged men or old men, in all languages, in all trades, in all conditions, in all professions, in the innumerable variety of wills and consciences, and what other differences soever there is among men.” These things says he very truly and rightly, for this word “all” is sometime taken distributively, and then it signifies every several and particular person. And Paul, to the intent that he might signify this (2 Thess. 1:3), joins the word “every one” with the word “all” (ἑκάστου πάντων) It is also often taken collectively, and then it signifies any, and not everyone—as when Christ is said to have healed every disease (Matt. 9:35)—that is, any disease. The double signification of this word Aristotle also observed. This word “all,” says he, is taken two ways: first for everyone; and secondly, the word “all” is used when it does not signify everyone (ὡς ἑκάστου καί ουκ ὡσ ἑκάστου πάντων). It is plain therefore that the word “all” has a doubtful signification. And of this mind also is St. Jerome: “It is like to that, says he, which is in the psalm, Every man is a liar. If every man be a liar, then is he also a liar which speaketh it, and if he be a liar which speaketh it, then is not that true which he speaketh, namely that every man is a liar. But, if this saying be true, these words every man does lie are (as I said before) to be understood after this sort.” A great part of men are liars. And the apostle writeth elsewhere, “teaching every man”: and again, “Admonishing every man”; not that he taught all men (for how many are there yet at this day which have neither heard of the apostle’s doctrine,” nor yet so much as his name?) “but that he should teach and admonish all that are in the church.” Sedulus also says, “’Many’ and ‘all’ in Paul are one.

4. Judgment of charity, not of secret and infallible certainty.

Fourthly, St. Paul speaks in this place according to the charitable judgment of Christians, and not according to the judgment of secret and infallible certainty. Like to this is that also that he calls the faithful in several churches “men elected,” among whom there were many which afterward fell away from the faith. And yet is not the apostle deceived; for it is one thing to speak according to his own affection, and another thing to speak as the matter is according as it is indeed. Augustine says, “We ought so charitably to be affected as to wish that all men be saved, as men that know not who appertain to the number of those that are predestinated and who are not.” And again: “We must as much as in us is, being unable to distinguish those that are predestinated from those that are not, desire that all men be saved and use sharp correction to all with an intent to heal them that they perish not.

In God, an Antecedent Will Cannot Contradict a Consequent Will.

Hence it appears what we ought to think of Damascene’s opinion, who divides the will of God into His precedent [i.e. antecedent] and consequent will. He calls that His precedent will whereby God, as He that is absolutely good, wills to bestow all good things, yea blessedness itself upon the creature. And by this will he affirms that God wills that all men should be saved and attain to His kingdom, because He made us not to punish us, but that He might make us partakers of His goodness as being good Himself. But His consequent will is that whereby for some certain circumstances of the creature He absolutely wills this or that. And by this will he says that God wills that man should be damned for sin, because He is just.

And indeed this distinction in itself is to be allowed, but that is not a very fit example which he has set down or alleged concerning His precedent will. For there seems not to be in God such a will or (as they use to term it) such a wishing will [velleitas], whereby He will indefinitely and upon condition that all and every man of all ages should be saved.

1. The First Cause is not Dependent Upon Second Causes.

For first, it argues a finite power and insufficiency in him that wills. For whatever any one desires and earnestly wills, that will he bring to pass, unless he be hindered. As for example, the merchant desires and earnestly wills to save his ware; but being forced by a tempest, to the intent that himself may escape he does absolutely will to cast them into the sea. Yea indeed, this kind of will seems to argue weakness, because God wills that which shall not come to pass. But you will say that this will is conditional—that is, that God will that they be saved if they shall believe. And I say first that the will of God stands doubtful until the condition be fulfilled, and that the first cause is by this means held in suspense by the second causes. Moreover, there is given to men a free will either to believe or not to believe—that is, flexible and inclinable both ways either by grace or by nature, both which things are false, as I will afterward show. And therefore, this will is rather a human will than a divine. Hear what Anselmus says, “The will of God is taken four manner of ways by the principal doctors: first, for the knowledge of God; then, for the will of the saints, who will in charity that even the unjust should be saved; again, for human reason; and lastly, for God’s commandments.

2. Ineffectual willingness in God violates his omnipotence.

Secondly, this conditional will seems idle and unnecessary, especially in him whose power is infinite, because if he earnestly willed he would verily do a thing when he might without hindrance.

3. The election of angels and of men.

Thirdly, God’s will is not such concerning the angels, whereby He wills that all of them should be saved. Therefore, it may well be demanded whether His will be such concerning man.

4. It devolves to absurdity and contradiction.

Fourthly, if God will that all men, as they are men, be saved, in like manner He will that all sinners, as they are sinners, be damned—which is absurd.

5. God’s will is absolute.

Fifthly, that will which cannot be resisted is absolute; but God’s antecedent or first will cannot be resisted (Rom. 9:19). For there Paul speaks of the will that goes before all causes. Therefore, the precedent will is absolute. And this will I make manifest after another manner. The will of God is that some should believe and persevere, and that othersome should be forsaken either not believing or not persevering. You will ask me haply how I know this. I answer, by the event, for as touching the event some believe and some do not believe. But to believe and to persevere is a certain kind of good action, and on the contrary not to believe or not to persevere is an evil action. And everything that is good is through the effectual will of God, and so far forth as there is or exists that which is good, so far forth God wills it and makes it to exist by willing it. And that evil, which comes to pass, comes to pass God not hindering it. And because God will not hinder it, therefore consequently it comes to pass. Hereupon it is certain that God wills that some should believe and persevere to the end, and that othersome do not so, yea, even without any condition. And no reason can be rendered wherefore He wills this. Therefore, this will is both absolute and fast; and therefore that universal precedent will concerning the salvation of all and every one in Christ is counterfeit and feigned.

6. The same “all” men to be saved are the “all” which will come to the knowledge of the truth.

Sixthly, the ground of this opinion is that foresaid place of Paul [1 Tim. 2:4], which I have already showed to be misunderstood. And yet that place lays not down to us any conditional but an absolute will. For there it is first affirmed that “God will have all men to be saved”; afterward, that “he will have all men to come to the knowledge of the truth”—that is, to faith, because by applying faith to the word of God we acknowledge the truth. Where is now then that condition of faith? [1]

7. Agreement from Early Church Fathers.

Lastly, against Damascene I oppose Augustine, who to the Pelagians urging this place of Scripture, God will that all men be saved, makes a double answer. First, he denies that it is not generally to be understood of the universality of men, and that by this argument: that which God wills, He effects. But He does not generally save all men. Therefore, He wills not. Secondly, he says that the place is to be understood of them which are actually saved, because all men which are saved are saved by the will of God. Again, I oppose against him Prosper also, who says, “If the will of God concerning the universal saving of mankind and the calling them to the knowledge of the truth is to be affirmed so indifferently throughout all ages as that it shall be said to overpass no man in whatever place, God’s impenetrable and deep judgments receive a great blow.” And again: “We cannot say that there is the calling of grace, whereas there is as yet no regeneration of the mother, the church.” And again: “He forbad the apostles to preach the gospel to some people; and now as yet He suffers some people to live out of His grace.” Also, I oppose Thomas Aquinas against him, who says, “But says some man, God loves all men. Whereto I answer that it is true so far forth as He wills some good to all,” and yet He wills not everything that is good to all, that is eternal life. “And therein He is said to hate and reject them.” To conclude, I oppose against [him], Hugo de Saint Victor: “Who will,” says he, “that all men be saved, according to Ambrose, if they themselves will. But are there not many who would be saved, and yet are not saved?—or thus, He offers grace to all, by which, if they will, they may be saved. But how is this solution true? Are there not and have there not been many which never heard so much as a word of preaching?


[1] On this point, William Young (1918-2015) astutely observes: “Strangely, one favorite text of those who have throughout the history of Christianity insisted that God wants all men to be saved is not appealed to at present by Calvinists who use such expressions. Can it be that they realize that to take 1 Timothy 2:4 in a universalistic sense requires understanding verses 5 and 6 to teach a universal atonement, even if the will in 2:4 were taken as simply the will of command? Exegetically, as well as systematically, the thesis of Amyraldian universal grace issues in the assertion of universal redemption.” (The Free Offer of the Gospel)

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