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John Davenant on 1 Timothy 2:4

December 18, 2008

Davenant:

That we may present every man perfect in Christ Jesus.]

Behold, then, the end and aim of Paul, and so, indeed, of every other Minister of the word; viz. that they may bring all kinds of people to that saving knowledge of Christ in which Christian perfection consists. Now to avoid confusion herein, let us make two separate explanations. The first as to the intention of Paul; the other as to Christian perfection, or the character which constitutes it. In respect of the first, then, it is asked, Is not this intention of Paul either extravagant or absurd, it being most certain that the greater part of mankind will not be brought to Christ after all the efforts of the Gospel ministry? For though many are called, yet few come, i.e. are chosen. Why, then, does he profess an intention which never can be fulfilled?

I answer, Neither is the Apostle’s intention of bringing all men to Christ, though few will in reality be brought, nor are his endeavours to fulfill it extravagant or vain. That it is not extravagant there are two reasons: 1. Because it is in conformity with the rule of Charity, for according to that rule we are to presume favourably of every man until the contrary is shewn: But Ministers have no evidence against any particular man being saved; therefore they are bound to entertain a good hope for every man, and to do every thing they can for promoting his salvation.

2. This desire is not extravagant, because it is in perfect accordance with the revealed will of God. For that revealed will in the promulgation of the Gospel offers salvation to every man without respect of persons; and no man is excluded, unless he exclude himself by his unbelief. Agreeable to this statement is 1 Tim. ii. 4, God will have all men to be saved, and to come to the knowledge of the truth. What, therefore, God himself hath declared to be his will in offering the Gospel, the same also ought to be the will of his Ministers in preaching it.

But here another question is raised from the foregoing: If God would have all men to whom he sends the Gospel of salvation to be saved, why are not all saved; since the will of God, neither in itself nor in the means by which it acts, can be hindered in producing the effect intended? A common answer to this question is taken from Augustine: When God is said to will that all men should be saved, we must make a distribution of individuals into classes, not of classes into individuals; so that the sense will be, God wills that some should be saved of every class of men. But to me the commonly received distinction of the Schoolmen between the will of his good pleasure and his visible will (voluntate signi) is better suited to this passage. We therefore reply, that the will of his good pleasure is always effectually fulfilled, because it is formally and essentially in God, and is his practical absolute will, when employed concerning any future good. But his visible will is not always fulfilled, because it is not formally and essentially in God, and is not his absolute and practical will; but, it is his declarative or approbative will (if I may be allowed such a word) towards us. God is, therefore, said to will, by his visible will, the salvation of all, to whom he proposes and offers the Gospel, which is the ordinary means of effecting salvation. Moreover, we are not to inquire into the secret will of God; but all our actions must be directed according to his revealed will: and we ought, therefore, to wish and aim at the salvation of all those to whom God vouchsafes to grant the saving Gospel.

Neither is the endeavour of this Ministry, in drawing those to Christ who will never come, vain. In the first place, because, whilst they are performing their duty, they are relieving their own consciences. Secondly, because, though the exertions of the ministry in behalf of the reprobate, fail of their intended effect, they abundantly answer their purpose in all those fore-ordained to salvation. Lastly, because by this means infidels and reprobates will be condemned in the day of judgment, and deprived of very excuse for their sins; having disobeyed the calling through the perverseness of their own evil affections.–And thus far as to Paul’s intention.

John Davenant, An Exposition of the Epistle of St. Paul to the Colossians (Edinburgh: The Banner of Truth Trust, 2005), 1:323-325. [Italics original, underlining mine.]

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