In recent years, it has become ever popular to present an explanation for the fact that not all will be saved by appealing to a split will in God. As I have already hinted at, this is a new development in Christian theology. The last two posts (John Owen in the 17th Century, and Gregory of Rimini in the 14th) have demonstrated this in a limited way, stretching back a mere 700 years.
In the next few posts, I wish to push that time-line back and demonstrate the pedigree of the position that there is no split will in God with regard to salvation. We will begin with Augustine.
Teaching of Augustine of Hippo
Augustine clearly taught that God does not intend, wish, will, desire, or want all men to be saved. He argued that Paul should be understood as speaking of the Elect, whom God draws from all classes of men, when he writes that God “wills all men to be saved” (1 Timothy 2:4.)
Augustine’s primary theological proof, if you will, was the omnipotence of God. By virtue of His omnipotence, God does whatever He wills. If He wanted all men to be saved, then He would obviously bring all to salvation, and none could thwart His will. Hence, if not all are saved, the answer lies in God’s will.
Secondarily, Augustine cited passages of Scripture, such as Matthew 11:20-24, where God refused to do miracles in certain places, the result of which would have been belief in the inhabitants.
So how should Paul be understood when he says that God wills all men to be saved? Augustine offers 4 ways in which this may be understood:
- The predestined Elect
- All who are saved are not saved except by His will
- All kinds of men will be saved
- God makes us wish all men to be saved, and thus to pray for and preach to them
But the core of the whole issue is simply that God does not want all men to be saved but only the elect.
Augustine explained as follows:
“And so that which is said ‘God wills all men to be saved’ though he is unwilling that so many be saved, is said for this reason: that all who are saved, are not saved except by his will.’ (Epistle 217)
He further states, “And what is written, that ‘he wills all men to be saved,’ while yet all men are not saved, may be understood in many ways, some of which I have mentioned in other writings of mine; but here I will say one thing: ‘he wills all men to be saved,’ is so said that all the predestinated may be understood by it, because every kind of man is among them. Just as it was said to the Pharisees, ‘Ye tithe every herb;’ where the expression is only to be understood of every herb that they had, for they did not tithe every herb which was found throughout the whole earth. According to the same manner of speaking, it was said, ‘even as I also please all men in all things.’ For did he who said this please also the multitude of his persecutors? But he pleased every kind of men that assembled in the Church of Christ, whether they were already established therein, or were to be introduced into it.” (Rebuke and Grace 44)
Again, he asserts, “That, therefore, in our ignorance of who shall be saved, God commands us to will that all to whom we preach this peace may be saved, and himself works this in us by diffusing that love in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who is given to us, – may also thus be understood, that God ‘wills all men to be saved’, because he makes us to will this; just as ‘he sent the Spirit of his Son, crying, Abba, Father;’ that is, making us to cry, Abba, Father. Because, concerning that same Spirit, he says in another place, ‘we have received the Spirit of adoption, in whom we cry, Abba, Father!’ We therefore cry, but he is said to cry who makes us to cry. If, then, Scripture rightly said that the Spirit was crying by whom we are made to cry, it rightly also says that God wills, when by him we are made to will.” (Rebuke and Grace 47)
God is omnipotent, mind you; therefore none can resist His will to save them. Based on this Biblical observation, Augustine argued that God plainly does not will to save everyone, otherwise everyone, without exception, would be saved. God omnipotence implies that He does whatever He wants. Scripture therefore affirms, God ‘hath done all that he pleased in heaven and in earth’ (Psalm 135:6.) God’s will is, by definition, mightier than man’s. So, if men are not saved, it is not because their weaker will overcame God’s mightier will.
So Augustine says, “Hence we must inquire in what sense is said of God what the apostle has mostly truly said: ‘who will have all men to be saved.’ For, as a matter of fact, not all, nor even a majority, are saved: so that it would seem that what God wills is not done, man’s will interfering with, and hindering the will of God. When we ask the reason why all men are not saved, the ordinary answer is: ‘because men themselves are not willing.’ This indeed cannot be said of infants, for it is not in their power either to will or not to will. But if we could attribute to their will the childish movements they make at baptism, when they make all the resistance they can, we should say that even they are not willing to be saved. Our Lord says plainly, however, in the Gospel, when upbraiding the impious city: ‘how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not!’ as if the will of God had been overcome by the will of men, and when the weakest stood in the way with their want of will, the will of the strongest could not be carried out. And where is that omnipotence which hath done all that it pleased on earth and in heaven, if God willed to gather together the children of Jerusalem, and did not accomplish it? or rather, Jerusalem was not willing that her children should be gathered together? But even though she was unwilling, he gathered together as many of her children as he wished: for he does not will some things and do them, and will others and do them not; but ‘he hath done all that he pleased in heaven and in earth.’’ (Enchiridion 97)
Augustine seems to assert that we may understand 1 Timothy 2:4 anyway we want, provided we don’t understand it as saying that God wills the salvation of every single individual. This is because everything God wills is necessarily accomplished.
So he says, “Accordingly, when we hear and read in scripture that he ‘will have all men to be saved,’ although we know well that all men are not saved, we are not on that account to restrict the omnipotence of God, but are rather to understand the scripture, ‘who will have all men to be saved,’ as meaning that no man is saved unless God wills his salvation: not that there is no man whose salvation he does not will, but that no man is saved apart from his will; and that, therefore, we should pray him to will our salvation, because if he will it, it must necessarily be accomplished. And it was of prayer to God that the apostle was speaking when he used this expression. And on the same principle we interpret the expression in the Gospel: ‘the true light which lighteth every man that cometh into the world:’ not that there is no man who is not enlightened, but that no man is enlightened except by him. Or, it is said, ‘who will have all men to be saved;’ not that there is no man whose salvation he does not will (for how, then, explain the fact that he was unwilling to work miracles in the presence of some who, he said, would have repented if he had worked them?), but that we are to understand by ‘all men,’ the human race in all its varieties of rank and circumstances, – kings, subjects; noble, plebeian, high, low, learned, and unlearned; the sound in body, the feeble, the clever, the dull, the foolish, the rich, the poor, and those of middling circumstances; males, females, infants, boys, youths; young, middle-aged, and old men; of every tongue, of every fashion, of all arts, of all professions, with all the innumerable differences of will and conscience, and whatever else there is that makes a distinction among men. For which of all these classes is there out of which God does not will that men should be saved in all nations through his only-begotten Son, our Lord, and therefore does save them? For the Omnipotent cannot will in vain, whatsoever he may will. Now the apostle had enjoined that prayers should be made for all men, and had especially added, ‘for kings, and for all that are in authority,’ who might be supposed, in the pride and pomp of worldly station, to shrink from the humility of the Christian faith. Then saying, ‘for this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior,’ that is, that prayers should be made for such as these, he immediately adds, as if to remove any ground of despair, ‘who will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth.’ God, then, in his great condescension has judged it good to grant to the prayers of the humble the salvation of the exalted; and assuredly we have many examples of this. Our Lord, too, makes use of the same mode of speech in the Gospel, when he says to the Pharisees: ‘ye tithe mint, and rue, and every herb.’ For the Pharisees did not tithe what belonged to others, nor all the herbs of all the inhabitants of other lands. As, then, in this place we must understand by ‘every herb,’ every kind of herbs, so in the former passage we may understand by ‘all men,’ every sort of men. And we may interpret it in any other way we please, so long as we are not compelled to believe that the omnipotent God has willed anything to be done which was not done: for setting aside all ambiguities, if ‘he hath done all that he pleased in heaven and in earth,’ as the psalmist sings of him, he certainly did not will to do anything that he hath not done.” (Enchiridion 103)
Men may be hard-hearted and inflexible, yet God converts whomever He wills, and none can resist His will. At the end of the day, it is a question of who is omnipotent, God or man. Augustine sides with Scripture.
“If faith is simply of free will, and is not given by God, why do we pray for those who will not believe, that they may believe? This it would be absolutely useless to do, unless we believe, with perfect propriety, that almighty God is able to turn to belief wills that are perverse and opposed to faith…Nor can we possibly, without extreme absurdity, maintain that there previously existed in any man the good merit of a good will, to entitle him to the removal of his stony heart, when all the while this very heart of stone signifies nothing else than a will of the hardest kind and such as is absolutely inflexible against God? For where a good will precedes, there is, of course, no longer a heart of stone.’ (Grace and Free Will 29, 30)