I was browsing through a few articles earlier on the SEA site and came across a recent article looking at a few questions and troublesome scriptural passages that some of our Reformed brethren seem to struggle with. The entire piece is certainly worth running through but one intriguing question caught my attention. How do the Reformed explain 1 Tim 2:4? My experience has been that the Calvinist will defer "all men to be saved" to mean all classes of men yet the suggestion of classes does not seem to be suggested at all in the full context of the passage. When we examine the full context of Paul's instruction to Timothy it is notable that all men or simply all is a common theme from verses 1 through 8. Examining this further we see an exhortation by Paul for the benefit of all men and he focuses even on a subset of men that certainly are not all elect as we know there are ruthless rulers and authoritarians in our day as in his. He follows this with the clear instruction that God desires to see all men saved. Is there any rhyme or reason why the all men of God's desire should be any less than the all men of Paul's supplication? Let's look at the passage from the KJV.
"I exhort therefore, that, first of all, supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks, be made for all men; For kings, and for all that are in authority; that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty. For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour; Who will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth. For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus; Who gave himself a ransom for all, to be testified in due time. Whereunto I am ordained a preacher, and an apostle, (I speak the truth in Christ, and lie not;) a teacher of the Gentiles in faith and verity. I will therefore that men pray every where, lifting up holy hands, without wrath and doubting." (1Ti 2:1-8 AV)
One common objection I encounter with the statement "Who will have all men to be saved" is the rejoinder "Why are all men not saved if God will have them all saved?" I have heard this from the Universalists as well even though I make no connection between Calvinists and Universalists for their own sakes. The reply to such a line of reasoning is found in the context of the whole passage. The phrase does not address what God is going to do but rather offers what God desires and in noting this we also can see the encompassing purpose of the exhortation, that being the vehicle of prayer and supplication. I think it is important to note in grasping this urgency of prayer and intercessions the last phrase of the passage, "without wrath and doubting". The Christian should never pray for the deliverance of souls in any measure of anger at the soul or with so much as a doubt his prayer could be useful. How can we doubt our Gospel message to the soul on the other end of our reach? Paul's intent was to preach, pray, exhort, and entreat to every soul never doubting they too could be reached for he stated God's very word as …
"Who will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth …"