A Defense of Unlimited Atonement


An Analysis Of Key Scripture Passages

1 Timothy 2:6

This verse declares that Christ gave Himself a ransom for all. The term "all" must be defined by its context. In verses 1-2 we are exhorted to pray for all men. Why should we pray for all men? Because God our Saviour is concerned about all men: "God our Saviour who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth" (verses 3-4). How did God prove that He really desires all men to be saved? He provided a Mediator between God and man and this Mediator gave Himself a ransom for all. In effect the Apostle is here saying, "Pray for all because God desires the salvation of all as evidenced by His death for all."

Note:  Reformed men seek to argue that "all men" does not mean all men without exception but it merely means all men without distinction. Thus Jay Adams translates verse 6 this way: "Who gave Himself as a ransom payment for all sorts of persons" (The Christian Counselorís New Testament) and the New Geneva Study Bible has this note: "This is probably a reference to all types of people." Thus they try to argue that "all" does not really mean "all," but that itís merely a synonym for the elect.

James Morison brings home the force of this passage (1 Timothy 2:6) in a unique way:

It will be admitted that Nero was the principal ruler then existing, "the king," or emperor, contemplated by the apostle in the passage before us [Nero reigned from 54 to 68 A.D.]. Now Nero lived and died a disgrace to all human nature. He was the personified aggregate of all that is savage, disgusting, wicked, and base. Yet it was for this Nero that Christians were enjoined to pray; and to pray because God willed even this Nero to be saved, and to come to the knowledge of the truth, and because for even this Nero did Christ give Himself a ransom. O how evident is it that "God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, to give himself a ransom for ALL!" Reader, God loved you and Nero! Jesus gave himself a ransom for Nero and for you. You are but Nero in miniature, and under restraint; see that you do not, Nero-like, despise the "riches of grace," and thus be also Nero-like in your doom!  [James Morrison, The Extent of the Atonement, pages 19-20]

Charles Spurgeon once preached on this passage and pointed out the folly of saying that the "all men" of 1 Timothy 2:4 does not refer to all humanity. His comments are lengthy but worth quoting. It is an excerpt from a sermon by Charles H. Spurgeon on 1 Timothy 2:3-4, "God our Saviour; who will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth" [Taken from The Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit, Vol. 26, 1880, pp. 49-50]:

May God the Holy Ghost guide our meditations to the best practical result this evening, that sinners may be saved and saints stirred up to diligence.

I do not intend to treat my text controversially. It is like the stone which makes the corner of a building, and it looks toward a different side of the gospel from that which is mostly before us. Two sides of the building of truth meet here. In many a village there is a corner where the idle and the quarrelsome gather together; and theology has such corners. It would be very easy indeed to set ourselves in battle array, and during the next half-hour to carry on a fierce attack against those who differ from us in opinion upon points which could be raised from this text. I do not see that any good would come of it, and, as we have very little time to spare, and life is short, we had better spend it upon something that may better tend to our edification. May the good Spirit preserve us from a contentious spirit, and help us really profit by his word.

It is quite certain that when we read that God will have all men to be saved it does not mean that he wills it with the force of a decree or a divine purpose, for, if he did, then all men would be saved. He willed to make the world, and the world was made: he does not so will the salvation of all men, for we know that all men will not be saved. Terrible as the truth is, yet is it certain from holy writ that there are men who, in consequence of their sin and their rejection of the Saviour, will go away into everlasting punishment, where there shall be weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth.

There will at the last be goats upon the left hand as well as sheep on the right, tares to be burned as well as wheat to be garnered, chaff to be blown away as well as corn to be preserved. There will be a dreadful hell as well as a glorious heaven, and there is no decree to the contrary. 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 that. "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 the truth. I was reading just now the exposition of a very able doctor [and he surely means his predecessor John Gill--ed.] 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 the 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 a 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 Scriptures. 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 Saviour; who will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth."

Does not the text mean that it is the wish of God that men should be saved? The word "wish" gives as much force to the original as it really requires, and the passage should run thus--"whose wish it is that all men should be saved and come to a knowledge of the truth." As it is MY wish that it should be so, as it is YOUR wish that it might be so, so it is God's wish that all men should be saved; for, assuredly, he is not less benevolent than we are.

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