God desires all to be saved, yet saves only some.

The question of election (God’s sovereign choice to save some), and especially reprobation (the corresponding consequential responsibility for effectively choosing to damn others) is a difficult position. Especially as some would argue that you cannot hold this position and believe that God honestly desires all men to repent and be saved. (As 1 Timothy 2:4, 2 Peter 3:9, Ezekiel 18:23 and a few others indicate).

And yet I do hold this position. Rather than attempting an article explaining how I can hold this, I will use the words of John Piper and Robert L. Dabney, who are vastly superior authors. I realize that this will have the immediate effect of loss of credibility of the argument for some (which is unfortunate). Let me assure you that this is the conclusion I have come to, prior to reading these men, and they simply state things more eloquently than I could.

From Are There Two Wills of God by John Piper:

> If, as Calvinists say, God deems it wise and good to elect unconditionally some to salvation and not others, one may legitimately ask whether the offer of salvation to all is genuine. Is it made with heart? Does it come from real compassion? Is the willing that none perish a bona fide willing of love?
> The way I would give an account of this is explained by Robert L. Dabney in an essay written over a hundred years ago. His treatment is very detailed and answers many objections that go beyond the limits of this chapter. I will simply give the essence of his solution which seems to me to be on the right track,
though he, as well as I, would admit we do not “furnish an exhaustive explanation of this mystery of the divine will.”
> Dabney uses an analogy from the life of George Washington taken from Chief-Justice Marshall’s Life of Washington. A certain Major André had jeopardized the safety of the young nation through “rash and unfortunate” treasonous acts. Marshall says of the death warrant, signed by Washington, “Perhaps on no
occasion of his life did the commander-in-chief obey with more reluctance the stern mandates of duty and of policy.” Dabney observes that Washington’s compassion for André was “real and profound”. He also had “plenary power to kill or to save alive.” Why then did he sign the death warrant? Dabney explains,
“Washington’s volition to sign the death-warrant of André did not arise from the fact that his compassion was slight or feigned, but from the fact that it was rationally counterpoised by a complex of superior judgments . . . of wisdom, duty, patriotism, and moral indignation.”
> Dabney imagines a defender of André, hearing Washington say, “I do this with the deepest reluctance and pity.” Then the defender says, “Since you are supreme in this matter, and have full bodily ability to throw down that pen, we shall know by your signing this warrant that your pity is hypocritical.” Dabney responds to this by saying, “The petulance of this charge would have been equal to its folly. The pity was real, but was restrained by superior elements of motive…”

Ironically, the Arminian also holds this position. That God is restrained by “superior elements of motive” is held by both camps. The question is simply “what is that superior element of motive? In the Arminian position, preservation of human self-determination (free will) and the possible resulting love relationship with God are more valuable than the salvation of all people. In the Calvinist position, the greater value is the God’s revelation of the full range of His glory in wrath, justice, mercy, compassion, love, grace, patience and kindness.

The question is, which of these (if any, or is there another?) does the scripture teach? Most of us in the West, affected by current contemporary enlightenment-based thinking assume free will, to say that our will is not free seems simply *wrong*. But this was not always assumed, and in some cultures, still is not assumed. I posit that we (thankfully!) lack an accurate understanding of slavery, and this affects our thinking on the freedom of the will.


5 responses to “God desires all to be saved, yet saves only some.”

  1. Matt Heerema Avatar

    As a side note, I am aware of Dabney's errant views on slavery. It would be tempting to disown all of his theology because of that, but if we applied this consistently to everyone, we would have no one left to listen to (except Jesus, but even there, he has chosen to communicate even his words on this earth to us by means of "jars of clay", broken men).

    Just thought I'd throw that in there.

  2. ouini Avatar

    This is interesting philosophy.

    Given that justice is punishing in accordance to law, and mercy is suspension of punishment in spite of law. I think the analogy isn't terribly strong. Especially if Washington's position, knowing what he knows and when he knows it, is compared fairly to God's position, knowing what he knows and when he knows it.

    Chronologically for Washington:
    1. Washington does not know Major Andre or his future actions, good or bad.
    (Justice and Mercy are irrelevant.)
    2. Washington meets and makes friends with Major André. W does not know Major Andre's future bad actions.
    (W knows Major Andre's good actions, which don't trigger W's sense of justice or mercy.)

  3. ouini Avatar
    1. Major André jeopardizes the safety of the young nation through “rash and unfortunate” treasonous acts.
      (Washington knows of Major Andre's bad actions, which his justice deems worthy of death.)
    2. Washington has “real and profound” compassion for André.
      (Washington remembers Andre's good actions as well. W's sense of mercy deems the sum of all Andre's actions worthy of sparing life.)
    3. Washington very well could have chosen not to sign the death warrant, but in the end, decides to proceed.
      (Washington is, in this case, choosing his stronger desire for justice over his lesser desire for mercy.)

    Chronologically for God:

  4. ouini Avatar
    1. God knows Everyone. God knows everyone's actions, good and bad, past, present, and future.
      (God's justice dictates all are sinners, worthy of death. His justice includes an escape clause for profession of faith. His thoughts of mercy take a back seat to these rules of justice.)
    2. God "makes friends" with sinners who acknowledge him.
      (God's justice deems that these sinners will receive life.)
    3. Sinners continue to sin.
      (God's justice still deems that non-friend sinners will get death. His thoughts of mercy never countermand this.)
  5. ouini Avatar
    1. God has “real and profound” compassion for sinners.
      (God's compassion may be profound, but it is not real in the sense that it never ever supercedes his sense of justice. God may have thoughts about sparing some, but will never break his laws of justice, and so his mercy remains only an abstraction, absolutely limited by the rules of justice he set for himself.)
    2. God always chooses to sign or not sign the death-warrant based on his rules, always choosing his stronger desire for justice over his lesser desire for mercy.
      (God's mercy is not feigned, but it must always be considered slight compared to his sense of justice. The fact is that His mercy is, rationally or not, utterly, completely, and always counterpoised by a complex of judgments (His justice). . . presumeably based on wisdom and moral indignation.)

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