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The Paradoxical Martin Luther on 1 Tim 2:4-6

January 21, 2008

1) Therefore the prophets and all the saints before Christ cry out so often and so anxiously: “Come, O Lord!” as people desirous of looking upon His glory and that light of the Seed of Abraham and David which all the godly in the New Testament enjoy by God’s great favor.

Moreover, note should be taken of the explanation of the universal principle, “ALL NATIONS SHALL BE BLESSED,” which, of course, in Holy Scripture is a common way of saying that not a single one of the nations is blessed except through this Seed. The same thought occurs in John 1:9: “It enlightens every man,” and also in 1 Tim. 2:4: “God desires all men to be saved”not that all are enlightened, but that the universal blessing, scattered abroad among all nations, comes from this Seed. An exclusive rather than a universal principle is meant, as though one said: “Nowhere is there light, life, and salvation except in this Seed.”

Martin Luther, “Lectures on Genesis,” in Luther’s Works, 4:177

2) There are many arguments against predestination, but they proceed from the “prudence of the flesh.” Therefore he who has not denied himself and learned to subject his questions to the will of God and hold them down will always keep asking why God wills this and does that, and he will never find the reason. And very properly. Because this foolish wisdom places itself above God and judges His will as something inferior, when actually it should be judged by Him. Therefore the apostle in a few words destroys all the arguments; first restraining our temerity so that we do not sit in judgment over the will of God by saying: “But who are you, O man, to answer back to God”? (Rom. 9:20). It is as if he were saying: “You are under the will of God; why do you presume, therefore, to argue with Him and try to catch Him”? Then he adds the express reason: “Has the potter no right over the clay”? (Rom. 9:21)…

The second argument is that “God desires all men to be saved” (1 Tim. 2:4), and He gave His Son for us men and created man for eternal life. Likewise: All things exist for man, and he himself exists for God that he may enjoy Him, etc. These points and others like them can be refuted as easily as the first one. For these verses must always be understood as pertaining to the elect only, as the apostle says in 2 Tim. 2:10 “everything for the sake of the elect.” For in an absolute sense Christ did not die for all, because He says: “This is My blood which is poured out for you” and “for many”–He does not say: for all”–“for the forgiveness of sins” (Mark 14:24, Matt. 26:28).

Martin Luther, “Lectures on Romans,” in Luther’s Works, 25:375.

3) 4. God wants all men to be saved. Elsewhere we read (John 13:18): “I know whom I have chosen.” If anyone wants to be agreeable, he has a hundred arguments which they may oppose. They want only that to be heard which they themselves say. To such people, then, say, “Farewell.” We must answer (1 Cor. 11:16): “If anyone is disposed to be contentious, we recognize no such practice.” On the other hand, those who really want to learn are quiet and at peace. If you say something twice to someone, he should look for another teacher, because our doctrine is the sort which brooks no contention. The Holy Spirit, then, must not fight against Himself. In this vein Augustine says: “No one saves except the one God. Nowhere is there salvation except in God.” John, the illuminator, that teacher, is reported as saying: “All in this city.” This is an exclusive proposition that is expressed in universal terms. Every man is an animal, therefore only man is. In the same way: He causes all men to be saved, therefore He is the only Savior. This is a strong idea and appears to have confirmation from the text:

5. One God. Here the exclusive proposition connects with the universal. That is: No man saves; or, God alone saves. The good and godly heart will not laugh. This is a very fine statement, for outside of God there is no salvation. God is our God. He is salvation. Whatever good happens to anyone comes from God; whatever evil, from Satan. All men (v. 4). That is, He is their Salvation. God saves them with His goodness. Then He also makes these things come true. There is the question whether this means eternal or temporal salvation. We can take Augustine’s statement either way, because no one saves except God alone.

I think he is speaking about general salvation. He saves from the perils of adultery, fornication, poverty, error. Whoever now has escaped some peril escapes as God saves him. Ps. 107 confirms this idea. There God lists all their perils and their many works. He lists prison, poverties, captivity, the perils of the sea; and everywhere He says: “You shall confess, etc.” He is speaking about the most general salvation. Paul says in ch. 4:10: “He is the Savior of all men, especially of those who believe.” That passage clearly distinguishes between “all men” and “those who believe.” The latter He saves eternally, but not the former. Accordingly, when we make a distinction of salvation between faithful and faithless people, we must draw from those passages this conclusion, that Paul here refers to general salvation. That is, God saves all the faithful, but He does not save the faithless in the same way. After all, He gives the victory even to wicked kings, but to David He gave a singular victory. To him, while he was still a mere lad but a pious one, He gave the throne of the kingdom. God preserves from plague both the ungodly and the godly. He gives both the light of the sun. Is this not a general statement? He tells us to pray for all men, because such a prayer for men is acceptable, even if they are wicked. The grace of God is one and the same, even for the faithless. We must therefore pray not only for the faithful but for all men. That prayer offered for them is both heard and pleasing, because He wants it so and desires to save all men. God wants to be asked that we may gain this request from Him, as Paul says Rom. 3:29: “Is He not the God of the Gentiles also”? He commands us to pray, and He accepts our prayer even for the wicked, because He is considering the following: that through our prayers He wants to save even the wicked, to give peace, wife, etc. Prayer for all men is acceptable, because He desires all men to be saved. Paul is not speaking about God’s incomprehensible will–a topic forever secret, as here regarding the will of His command. There is a will which is hidden and reserved for Himself. This He points out to us in word and deed. His other will He reveals with many signs. Therefore we take this passage to refer to the will of His command or work, not to His hidden will. The contentious man, however, does not agree. From the material we have just treated and from other passages which agree you see this, as below in chapter 4 and in the psalm. Why? Because He wants to save all men. God pours out His blessings so that doing this good thing–giving rain, for instance, to all men–pleases Him. It is therefore our duty to pray that the rain come. Satan, on the other hand, has his delight in the wicked, who desire to disturb this peace.

And come to the knowledge. This also refers to the will of the precept: “God wants all men to be saved.” He wants to illumine all men under the sun, because He Himself shows the light of the sun to the whole world. If they wish to ask us: “Why does He make some people blind”?, that is God’s hidden and incomprehensible will. However, I see the sun shining as a sign. In this way He wants “all men to be saved.” You see, He causes the sun of Christ to rise in the world. He has given us the command that we illumine all men: “Go and preach to every creature” (Matt. 28:19), that is, He exposes to absolutely all men the light or knowledge of the truth. This is nothing else than that He wants all men to know this. After all, the Gospel comes that men may know the Gospel. Many do not know it. This relates to His most secret will. But His will which He has given us to teach is incomprehensible. These questions are too deep for you to explore. Adam broke his neck over them. This is beyond us and means nothing to us. We must think about those matters which have been expounded and given to us, for instance, the fact that He has given light to all men, and what they do not perceive with their eyes has still been expounded.

Thus Paul’s statement is very simple. It is our job to pray that we may have a quiet life; that there be one salvation; that a prince have a safe rule and realm on earth; that a husband have a safe home and wife; the state, a safe magistracy; the housefather, a healthy crop. Next, we pray that all men may know the truth; that they may know the source from which they receive their blessings. You see, through our prayer and thanksgiving we indicate that these come from one Man. But these things do not bring one to a knowledge of the truth.

5. For there is one. Here we have the explanation: these things belong not only to Christians but to all men. Therefore we must pray to one God on behalf of all men. He must reveal Himself to the Gentiles that they may know how to have this Word of salvation and all good things. Mediator. What is the knowledge of the truth? It is to know the one God, from whom come those temporal blessings. He is clearly setting down a twofold salvation. There is a true God, who saves all men with a general salvation; and Christ the Mediator, who saves with an eternal salvation which also comes from God but through Jesus Christ. After all, Christ was not incarnate to have kingdoms, wives, and children. We have those gifts without the death of Christ. In those prior things God is our Savior without Christ. However, in our eternal salvation God is not our Savior without the Mediator. You see that Paul is speaking about salvation in general. This he then divides into temporal and eternal salvation. No matter what he assigns to God, this is salvation left to God through Christ. Some people select other gods, but we know the God of all men. He has not left Himself without witnesses that they might see the one God, but this is because they do not know Him.

Between God and men 6. who gave Himself as a ransom for all. It is not clear whether this “for all” means for all men or for all those who are redeemed. It sounds as if he were speaking only about the faithful, because he seems to be making a distinction between temporal and eternal salvation. That is, he seems to say that all who are redeemed are redeemed through Him and not another. Whoever wants to argue may go his own way. He appears to be making a distinction here between faithful and faithless men. Yet he speaks about the faithful in such a way that there is no man among them who makes satisfaction for himself but through Christ. This is a very beautiful passage about redemption, about which Paul is happy to write. He speaks of redemption, or of the price of redemption, which means the price by which captives are ransomed. As Christ pays His life and head for our life and head, He has become the Price by which satisfaction is made for divine justice and wrath on our behalf. Some people think that Christ’s death has been set as an example, a type, an ideal of Christians. This is preaching scarcely half of Christ. He truly is the Price of redemption, which God elsewhere calls the forgiveness of sins. The wrath of God is real, not imaginary. It is no joke. Were it false, mercy would be false. You see, as wrath is, so is the mercy which forgives. May God avert that joke from us. When genuine wrath is at its highest, so is genuine mercy. Thus most truly has Christ taken the wrath of God upon Himself and has carried it on our behalf. He takes this upon Himself not only as an example, but He is the very true Price which is paid for us. If He has placed Himself in His own Person to turn away wrath from us, He has established Himself as the Price for us. If He is the Price, He has given not gold or silver but Himself. But here come the new Enthusiasts and Zwingli, and they say: A man, not the Son of God, has suffered for us. They make the Savior nothing more than a man. They go so far as to say that as God He does not suffer and that therefore only His humanity has been given for us. As proof they use this text, “the man.” This passage we must observe as the rule and must explain other passages according to it, as, for instance, Phil. 2:7 and the passage (John 6:63) “The flesh is of no avail, etc.” The figure alloiosis is a matter of case for case, number for number. The city which I establish they have upset when the word for one nature is used for the other and also in the case of “Son” in Rom. 8:3, where the words “the Son of God” are taken for “man.” Rather, one ought to say: whenever the word for one nature appears, whatever is said about the one nature must be understood as referring to the entire Person. Here, for instance, “man” is the word for one nature; yet the whole Person is referred to. This must be kept in force, etc., whenever the word for the part is attributed to the whole. “The Ethiopian is white,” because he has white teeth. “He struck the son of the king,” but this fellow says: “No, because he was struck in the leg.? In all matters we must note the manner of speaking. Grammar ought to set the norm of speaking. The sophist says: “No. He struck the leg of the king’s son.” But this limb along with the son is one person. They cannot be torn apart in nature. It is the true Son of God and Son of Man who is crucified. It is said in truth: the Son of God is crucified, not as concerns the divine nature but according to the Person.

I had begun to treat the point concerning the communication of attributes, for that error creeps in with the others, and according to that device Christ, the Salvation of the whole world, will be lost. He will follow us who have been redeemed through His humanity alone. That error wants this word used as confirmation through alloiosis, that is, through an exchange. Consequently it has been taken up into an article of our faith and has been set forth in sacred literature that Christ is God in true substance and nature. If that article stands, it follows inevitably that whoever harms one limb of this Person harms the whole Person. He divides that Person, as it were, into two persons. He says that His humanity suffered, but not the divinity. This has outward appeal: “The divinity cannot be killed.” It does not follow, however, that therefore the Son of God was not crucified. Whoever bows down to worship Christ worships the Son of God, because he touches and worships that Person who is God. When I strike the king and touch his arm, I have not struck his skin. “You have struck the tunic with which he was clothed and covered. They did not crucify God but someone clothed as God.” Man. When we hear a term such as this, nature will be such that when people have the term on their side, they let it stand as it is; but if it is against them, they take pride in their full sacks. Then the term signifies a part of that Person, because it is the word for the human nature. But because that Man is in substance a divine Person, “man” here has to mean man in a sense other than elsewhere because of the union of persons.

Mediator. Unless you know this, you will lose Christ. Peter said: “I struck him.” The Enthusiasts say: “How could you? You know that a man is composed of body and soul. How can you touch the soul? Therefore you have injured only the flesh.” The flesh and soul are one person. These are statements from nature. When someone hits a dog in the leg with a stone, because of the injured limb we say that the whole dog is injured. This is synecdoche. In passing, I wanted to warn about this: in what sense Christ is Man in regard to His Person and yet is the Mediator, even if you were to separate Christ?s divinity from His humanity. Christ entered into glory. Here Christ is taken for His human nature according to alloiosis. But “Christ” signifies the entire Person, who is the Son of Man and Son of God. Yet this was before He was glorified. Yet it is truly said that the entire Christ is glorified, although in the other Person. “I live by faith” (Gal. 2:20) even in that Man, because He is one Person. I will attach myself to Christ as to the Person who in work and practice cannot be separated. They can separate Him in their speculations. If I prostrate myself before Christ, I do so before the Son of God as well as before the Son of Man in one Person. Without apology the expression issues from Christ and is directed to the blind man. John 9:36–37: “Who is the Son of God”? “And you have heard Him, etc.” There Christ says that the blind man is hearing and seeing the Son of God. I see the very Person, who is truly God. I look at a man; nevertheless, his intellect is his better part. Yet I hear him. I hear that person which is a real spirit, even if I may not see his reason and intellect. I see that part–the part of the flesh–joined with reason. We must listen to grammar, to the usus loquendi about matters, and to sophist keenness. This deceived Wycliffe, too. They look at the reason for speaking but not at the manner of divine operation. Therefore it deceives them. Christ is established as one Person consisting of God and Man. No suffering, no work can apply to Him without our saying that it touches His entire Person. Martin Luther, “Lectures on 1 Timothy,” in Luther’s Works, 28:261

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