The gospel is called the mighty power of God, and salvation to all them that believe: yea, it is the gate of paradise. It followeth then, if through the will of God the gospel be preached to all the world, there is a token that salvation is common to all. Thus St. Paul proveth that God’s will is that all men should be saved. He hath not appointed His apostles to proclaim His name only among the Jews, for we know that the commission was given them to preach to all creatures; to be witnesses of Jesus Christ from Jerusalem to Samaria, and from thence throughout all the world.
Are the apostles sent to publish the truth of God to all people, and to all conditions of men? It followeth then that God presenteth Himself to all the world, that the promise belongeth to both great and small, as well to the Gentiles now, as to the Jews before. But before we go any farther, it is necessary to beat down the folly, or rather the beastliness, of those who abuse this passage of St. Paul; who endeavor to make the election of God of no effect, and to utterly take it away. They say, if God will have all men to be saved, it follows that He hath not chosen a certain number of mankind, and cast the rest away, but that His will remaineth indifferent.
They pretend that it is left to the choice of men to save themselves or not; that God letteth us alone, and waiteth to see whether we will come to Him or not; and so receiveth them that come unto Him. But in the mean time, they destroy the ground work of our salvation; for we know that we are so accursed that the inheritance of salvation is far from us: if we say that Jesus Christ hath come to, remedy that, then must we examine the nature of mankind. We are so contrary in our nature, and such enemies to God, that we cannot but resist Him: we are so given to evil and wickedness that we cannot so much as conceive a good thought. How then can it be that we may become partakers of that salvation which is offered in the gospel, unless God draw us to it by His Holy Spirit? Let us now see whether God draw all the world to it or not. No, no, for then had our Lord Jesus Christ said in vain, "No man can come to me, except the Father, which hath sent me’ draw him" (John 6:44). So then we must needs conclude that it is a special grace that God bestoweth upon such as pleaseth Him, to draw them, and teach them in such a manner, that they believe the gospel, and receive it with true faith.
And now, why doth God choose one, and leave another? We know that men cannot come to God by their own deserts, neither are those who have been chosen deserving any such thing as to be preferred to their companions, as though there were some worthiness in them. It followeth then that before the world was made (as St. Paul saith in the first to the Ephesians), God chose such as pleased Him: and we know not why this man was chosen in preference to that. And still we must confess that whatsoever God doth is done justly, although we cannot comprehend it. Therefore, let us receive that whereof we are so thoroughly certified in Holy Writ; and not suffer ourselves to be lead astray, under a shadow of vain reason, used by men, who are ignorant of the Word of God.
At the first sight, there appears to he some weight in their argument God will have all men to be saved: therefore say they, it is left to the free choice of every man to become enlightened in the faith, and to partake of salvation. If a man will read but three lines, he will easily perceive that St. Paul here speaketh not of every particular man as we have already shown, but that he speaketh of all people, and of all conditions of men. He showeth that the case standeth not as it did before the coming of Christ, when there was but one chosen people, but that God now showeth Himself a Savior to all the world; as it is said, thine inheritance shall be even to the ends of the earth.
Moreover, that no man may abuse himself, or be deceived by the vain and foolish talk of those who pervert Holy Writ, let us examine how the doctrine of these enemies of God, and all godliness, standeth. God will have all men to he saved; that is, as they imagine, every one. If it be the will of God at present, no doubt it was the same from the beginning of the world: for we know that His mind changeth not. So then, if at this day God will have all men to he saved, His mind was so always; and if His mind was so always, what shall we make of what St. Paul saith? that He will that all men come to the knowledge of the truth. He chose but one people to Himself, as it is said (Acts 14) and left the poor Gentiles to walk in their own ignorance.
There were likewise some countries where He would not suffer St. Paul to preach; as in Bithynia and Phrygia (Acts 16:7). And so we see that God would not have the knowledge of the gospel to come to every one at first. Thus we may easily see the error of those who abuse this text. St. Paul speaketh not in this place of the counsel of God, neither doth He mean to lead us to His everlasting election, which was before the beginning of the world: but only showeth what His will and pleasure is, as far as we ought to know it.
It is true that God changeth not; neither hath He two wills; nor doth He use any counterfeit dealing: and yet the Scripture speaketh unto us in two ways concerning His will. And how can that be? How cometh it to pass that His will is spoken of in two different ways? It is because of our grossness, and want of understanding. Why doth He make Himself to have eyes, to have ears, and to have a nose? Why doth He take upon Him men’s affections? Why is it that He saith He is angry, He is sorry? Is it not because we cannot comprehend Him in His incomprehensible majesty? Therefore, it is not absurd that Holy Writ should speak unto us of the will of God after two sorts: not because His will is double, but in order that He may apply Himself to our weakness, knowing that our understanding is gross and heavy.
When the Scripture informeth us that God hath chosen such as pleased Him before the world began, we behold a counsel into which we cannot enter. Why then doth Holy Writ inform us that this election and choice of God is everlasting? It is not without cause; for it is a very profitable doctrine, if it be received as it ought to be. For thereby we are reminded that we are not called to the knowledge of the gospel by reason of our own worthiness. We are no better than others, for we all sprung from the cursed root of Adam; we are all subject to the same condemnation; and we are all shut up under the slavery of sin and death.