When our Arminian friends appeal to a passage of Scripture in order to try to prove that the death of Jesus was a death for the whole of humanity and that God wishes everyone to be saved, they unwittingly go too far and teach Universalism, a doctrine which they vehemently deny. For example, it is not unusual for an Arminian to appeal to 1 Timothy 2:1-4 where Paul writes, “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.”
With great emotion the Arminian is prone to teach that this text plainly says that God will have “all men to be saved and to come unto the knowledge of the truth.” Therefore, the doctrine of election, predestination, and a limited or definite atonement cannot possibly be true.
A charitable response to this argument is that our Arminian friends are not reading the text carefully or consistently with other portions of Scripture. To begin with, the word “all” does not always mean, “everyone without exception” in the Bible, but, more often, “everyone without distinction.” In context, Paul exhorts prayers be made by the church “for all men.” Since there are billions of people on planet earth this text cannot mean “all men without exception” for it would be impossible to obey. No, what Paul means is that prayer is to be made for all types of men without distinction, and then he lists the various categories: “for kings, and for all that are in authority.”
In like manner, when Paul states that God “will have all men to be saved” He cannot mean that God would have Pharaoh be saved, or Esau, or Judas, and many others, because the Bible clearly reveals Pharaoh was raised up to be an instrument of God’s judgment, Esau was a profane man, and of Judas it was said it would have been better if he had never been born. According to the Arminian, God desires something that will never happen and something that is contrary to His eternal decree. The God of the Arminian is a God that desires something that He cannot accomplish. That is contrary to biblical revelation which declares that God is sovereign, He works His will and no man can frustrate what He undertakes to do. “For the Lord of hosts hath purposed, and who shall disannul it? And his hand is stretched out, and who shall turn it back?” (Isaiah 14:27).
In addition to diminishing the power of God to save, and the sovereignty of God to accomplish His will, the Arminian paves the way for Universalism by teaching that Christ has made atonement for all sins of all men. If that is true, then on what basis is anyone condemned?
The Arminian likes to say that all sins are forgiven except the sin of unbelief. The moment this is said they undermine their own teaching that Jesus paid the debt of sin for “all men” whom God wants to save. Moreover, they too limit the atonement by saying that Christ died for all sins of all men except the sin of unbelief, which is the greatest sin of all. The conclusion is that the Arminian understanding of 1 Timothy 2:1-4 is hopelessly confusing as it limits God who wants “all men” to be saved knowing that “all men” will never be saved, unless the passage is pressed to teach Universalism.
The exhortation comes for our Arminian friends to reconsider their position in light of the whole counsel of God and return to a gospel understanding of salvation based on Romans 8:28-30: “And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose. For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren. Moreover whom he did predestinate, them he also called: and whom he called, them he also justified: and whom he justified, them he also glorified.”
When 1 Timothy 2:4 is read in light of this passage then it becomes clear that the “all men” whom God wants to be saved are those whom He foreknew, predestinated, called unto salvation, justified, or declared righteous, and whom He will glorify.
Let the Arminian be careful of limiting the sovereignty of God and paving the way for the teaching of Universalism.