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        Calvin on the Gospel Offer


One of the leading lights of the Reformation in Europe, John Calvin (1509-1564) was born in Noyon, Picardy in France. What Martin Luther had begun by God’s mighty power, John Calvin carried on, teaching the doctrine and application of justification by faith alone in the Christ revealed in Scripture alone; and endeavouring to apply Scriptural teaching to every area of life. Pressed by a friend named William Farel to stay in Geneva to preach (that city being a haven for persecuted Christians), Calvin at length complied, and the Genevan Church became a centre of the Protestant Reformation. The Scottish Reformer John Knox spoke of the Church in Geneva as “the most perfect school of Christ since the days of the apostles”.




1 Timothy 2:1-4:

1. I exhort therefore, that, first of all, supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks, be made for all men; 

2. For kings, and for all that are in authority; that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty. 

3. For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour;

4. Who will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth. 


4. Who wishes that all men may be saved. Here follows a confirmation of the second argument; and what is more reasonable than that all our prayers should be in conformity with this decree of God?    


And may come to the acknowledgement of the truth. Lastly, he demonstrates that God has at heart the salvation of all, because he invites all to the acknowledgement of his truth. This belongs to that kind of argument in which the cause is proved from the effect; for, if "the gospel is the power of God for salvation to every one that believeth," (Rom. i. 16,) it is certain that all those to whom the gospel is addressed are invited to the hope of eternal life. In short, as the calling is a proof of the secret election, so they whom God makes partakers of his gospel are admitted by him to possess salvation; because the gospel reveals to us the righteousness of God, which is a sure entrance into life.


Hence we see the childish folly of those who represent this passage to be opposed to predestination. "If God," say they, "wishes all men indiscriminately to be saved, it is false that some are predestined by his eternal purpose to salvation, and others to perdition." They might have had some ground for saying this, if Paul were speaking here about individual men; although even then we should not have wanted the means of replying to their argument; for, although the will of God ought not to be judged from his secret decrees, when he reveals them to us by outward signs, yet it does not therefore follow that he has not determined with himself what he intends to do as to every individual man.


But I say nothing on that subject, because it has nothing to do with this passage; for the Apostle simply means, that there is no people and no rank in the world that is excluded from salvation; because God wishes that the gospel should be proclaimed to all without exception. Now the preaching of the gospel gives life; and hence he justly concludes that God invites all equally to partake salvation. But the present discourse relates to classes of men, and not to individual persons; for his sole object is, to include in this number princes and foreign nations. That God wishes the doctrine of salvation to be enjoyed by them as well as others, is evident from the passages already quoted, and from other passages of a similar nature. Not without good reason was it said, "Now, kings, understand," and again, in the same Psalm, "I will give thee the Gentiles for an inheritance, and the ends of the earth for a possession." (Ps. ii. 8, 10.)


With the same view does he call God our Saviour; for whence do we obtain salvation but from the undeserved kindness of God? Now the same God who has already made us partakers of salvation may sometime extend his grace to them also. He who hath already drawn us to him may draw them along with us. The Apostle takes for granted that God will do so, because it had been thus foretold by the predictions of the prophets, concerning all ranks and nations.


1 Timothy 2:5-6:

5. For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus;

6. Who gave himself a ransom for all, to be testified in due time.  


5. For there is one God. This argument might, at first sight, appear to be not very strong, that God wishes all men to be saved, because he is one; if a transition had not been made from God to men. Chrysostom – and, after him, others – view it in this sense, that there are not many gods, as idolaters imagine. But I think that Paul's design was different, and that there is here an implied comparison of one God with the whole world and with various nations, out of which comparison arises a view of both, as they mutually regard each other. In like manner the Apostle says, "Is he the God of the Jews only? Is he not also of the Gentiles? Yea, it is one God who justifieth the circumcision by faith, and the uncircumcision through faith." (Rom. iii. 29.) Accordingly, whatever diversity might at that time exist among men, because many ranks and many nations were strangers to faith, Paul brings to the remembrance of believers the unity of God, that they may know that they are connected with all, because there is one God of all – that they may know that they who are under the power of the same God are not excluded for ever from the hope of salvation.


And one Mediator between God and men. This clause is of a similar import with the former; for, as there is one God, the Creator and Father of all, so he says that there is but one Mediator,[1] through whom we have access to the Father; and that this Mediator was given, not only to one nation, or to a small number of persons of some particular rank, but to all; because the fruit of the sacrifice, by which he made atonement for sins, extends to all. More especially because a large portion of the world was at that time alienated from God, he expressly mentions the Mediator, through whom they that were afar off now approach.


The universal term all must always be referred to classes of man, and not to persons; as if he had said, that not only Jews, but Gentiles also, not only persons of humble rank, but princes also, were redeemed by the death of Christ. Since, therefore, he wishes the benefit of his death to be common to all, an insult if offered to him by those who, by their opinion, shut out any person from the hope of salvation.


The man Christ Jesus. When he declares that he is "a man," the Apostle does not deny that the Mediator is God, but, intending to point out the bond of our union with God, he mentions the human nature rather than the divine. This ought to be carefully observed. From the beginning, men, by contriving for themselves this or that mediator, departed farther from God; and the reason was, that, being prejudiced in favour of this error, that God was at a great distance from them, they knew not to what hand to turn. Paul remedies this evil, when he represents God as present with us; for he has descended even to us, so that we do not need to seek him above the clouds. The same thing is said in Heb. iv. 15, "We have not a high priest who cannot sympathize with our infirmities, for in all things he was tempted."


And, indeed, if this were deeply impressed on the hearts of all, that the Son of God holds out to us the hand of a brother, and that we are united to him by the fellowship of our nature, in order that, out of our low condition, he may raise us to heaven; who would not choose to keep by this straight road, instead of wandering in uncertain and stormy paths! Accordingly, whenever we ought to pray to God, if we call to remembrance that exalted and inapproachable majesty, that we may not be driven back by the dread of it, let us, at the same time, remember "the man Christ," who gently invites us, and takes us, as it were, by the hand, in order that the Father, who had been the object of terror and alarm, may be reconciled by him and rendered friendly to us. This is the only key to open for us the gate of the heavenly kingdom, that we may appear in the presence of God with confidence.


Hence we see, that Satan has, in all ages, followed this course, for the purpose of leading men astray from the right path. I say nothing of the various devices by which, before the coming of Christ, he alienated the minds of men, to contrive methods of approaching to God. At the very commencement of the Christian Church, when Christ, with so excellent a pledge, was fresh in their remembrance, and while the earth was still ringing with that delightfully sweet word from his mouth, "Come to me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest," (Matt. xi. 28,) there were, nevertheless, some persons skilled in deception, who thrust angels into his room as mediators; which is evident from Col. ii. 18. But what Satan, at that time, contrived secretly, he carried to such a pitch, during the times of Popery, that scarcely one person in a thousand acknowledged Christ, even in words, to be the Mediator. And while the name was buried, still more was the reality unknown.


Now that God has raised up good and faithful teachers, who have laboured to restore and bring to the remembrance of men what ought to have been one of the best-known principles of our faith, the sophists of the Church of Rome have resorted to every contrivance for darkening a point so clear. First, the name is so hateful to them, that, if any one mentions Christ as Mediator, without taking notice of the saints, he instantly falls under a suspicion of heresy. But, because they do not venture to reject altogether what Paul teaches in this passage, they evade it by a foolish exposition, that he is called "one Mediator," not "the only Mediator." As if the Apostle had mentioned god as one out of a vast multitude of gods; for the two clauses are closely connected, that "there is one God and one Mediator;" and therefore they who make Christ one out of many mediators must apply the same interpretation in speaking of God. Would they rise to such a height of impudence, if they were not impelled by blind rage to crush the glory of Christ?



[1] "Christ is said to be the one Mediator in the same sense that God is said to be the one God. As there is but one Creator of man, so there is but one Mediator for men. As God is the God of all that died before Christ came, as well as of those that died after; so Christ is the Mediator of all that died before his coming, as well as of those that saw his day. They had Christ for their Mediator, or some other; some other they could not have had, because there is but one. They might as well have had another Creator besides God, as another Mediator besides the man Christ Jesus. In regard of the antiquity of his mediation, from the foundation of the world, he is represented, when he walks as Mediator 'in the midst of the seven golden candlesticks,' with 'hair as white as wool,' a character of age (Rev. i. 14); as God is described so in regard of his eternity, (Dan. vii. 9.) There is but one God from eternity; but one Mediator, whose mediation hath the same date as the foundation of the world, and runs parallel with it." – Stephen Charnock.





“Commentary upon the Acts of the Apostles,” by John Calvin. Translated by the Rev. William Pringle.