Reformed & Reforming - Understanding Reformed Theology


Here's a helpful little article on one of the major hangups people have while grippling with Reformed Theology - Doesn't God Desire Everyone to be saved? That's a great question. Consider the following...


Doesn’t God Desire (or Will) Everyone to be Saved?

For [God] says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” It does not, therefore, depend on man’s desire or effort, but on God’s mercy.
Romans 9:15-16

The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.
2 Peter 3:9



One of the common Calvinistic responses to such verses as 2 Peter 3:9 and 1 Timothy 1:5-6 is to say that these verses speak of God’s revealed will (telling us what we should do), not his hidden will (his eternal, sovereign plans for what will indeed happen). The verses simply tell us that God invites and commands every person to repent and come to Christ for salvation, but they do not tell us anything about God’s secret decrees (sovereign plans) regarding who will be saved.

“These verses simply teach that God is benevolent, and that He does not delight in the sufferings of His creatures any more than a human father delights in the punishment which he must sometimes inflict upon his son. God does not [sovereignly] will the salvation of all men, no matter how much He may desire it; and if any verses taught that he [sovereignly] willed or intended the salvation of all men, they would contradict those other parts of Scripture which teach that God sovereignly rules and that it is His purpose to leave some to be punished [(Rom 9:22,23; 1 Pet 1:8; 2 Pet 2:12)]. The word “will” is used in different senses in Scripture and in our every day conversation. It is sometimes used in the sense of “decree,” or “purpose,” and sometimes in the sense of “desire,” or “wish.” A righteous judge does not will (desire) that anyone should be hanged or sentenced to prison, yet at the same time he wills (pronounces sentence, or decrees) that the guilty person shall be punished. In the same sense and for sufficient reasons a man may will or even decide to have a limb removed, or an eye taken out, even though he certainly does not desire it.”
(Boetner, Loraine, The Reformed Doctrine of Predestination, 1932)

The Arminian theologian Clark Pinnock objects to the idea that God has a secret and revealed will - he calls it the “exceedingly paradoxical notion of two divine wills regarding salvation” (Grace Unlimited, p.13). But Pinnock never really answers the question of why all are not saved (from an Arminian perspective).

Ultimately, Arminians, as well as Calvinists, must say that God wills to preserve something more strongly than he wills the salvation of all people, for in fact all are not saved. Arminians claim that the reason why all are not saved is that God wills to preserve the free will of man more than he wills to save everyone. But is this not also making a distinction in two aspects of the will of God? On the one hand, He wills that all be saved. But on the other hand, He wills to preserve man’s absolute free choice. In fact, He wills the second more than the first. This means that Arminians also must say that 1 Timothy 2:4-6 and 2 Peter 3:9 do not say that God wills the salvation of everyone in an absolute way - they too must say that the verses only refer to one kind or one aspect of God’s will.

Both Calvinists and Arminians agree that God’s commands in Scripture reveal to us what He wants us to do, and both agree that the commands in Scripture invite us to repent and trust in Christ for salvation. Therefore, in one sense, both agree that God wills that man be saved - this is the will that He reveals to us explicitly in the gospel invitation (Acts 17:30).

But both sides must also say that there is something else that God deems more important than saving everyone. Calvinism says that God deems His own glory more important than saving everyone, and that, according to Romans 9, God’s glory is also furthered by the fact that some are not saved. Arminianism also says that something is more important to God than the salvation of all men - namely, the preservation of man’s free will. So in Calvinism, God’s highest value is His glory; but in Arminianism, it appears as if God’s highest value (in his dealings with mankind & this life) is the free will of man (See 1 Cor. 1:26-31).