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reason of the apostle's exhorting that supplications and intercessions should be made for all men, was probably this : many of the Jewish christians still so far retained their national prejudices, that they would not pray for the heathen ; looking upon them as reprobates, to whom the grace of God was never to be extended. In opposition to these bigoted narrow notions, the apostle would have them understand that now, in the seed of Abraham, all the families of the earth were to be blessed. That in Christ Jesus, there was no distinction of Greek or Jew, Barbarian, Cythian, bond or free. And therefore that they ought to pray for all men, without any of these discriminations. Or,
2. The meaning of our text may be, that God conditionally designs the salvation of all men ; without exception of one individual : that is, provided they should hear, believe, and obey the gospel. Of the truth of this, there is no reason to entertain a doubt. We are abundantly assured, “With the Lord there is mercy, and with him is plenteous redemption.” Redemption enough, and mercy enough, for the salvation of every penitent believer, if all the human race should repent and believe. To this purpose, very expressly, are the words of Paul, Heb. ii. 9, “ We see Jesus made lower than the angels, that he, by the grace of God, should taste death for every man,"
And the words of John, 1 Epis. ii. chap. 1, and 2, verses, “ If any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. And he is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only, but for the sins of the whole world.”
Hence, in the parable of the royal marriage, the king is represented as sending his servants to say unto them that were bidden, “ Come; for all things are now ready.” This message was sent to those who refused the invitation ; for which reason the lord of the feast declared, that none of them should taste of his supper. And, without a parable, Jesus said to Jerusalem, when given over to remediless destruction; “How often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not !”
Accordingly, the invitations and conditional promises of the gospel, are in universal terms. See Matt. xi, 28, “Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” John vii. 37, “ In the last day, that great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried, saying, If any man thirst, let him come unto me and drink.” And Rev. xxii. 17, “ The spirit and the bride say, Come. And let him that heareth say, Come. And let him that is athirst come. And whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely.”
I know not how to understand these passages otherwise, than as implying, that Christ hath made for the fallen race of man, in point of sufficiency, universal redemption : and that God is willing, and really intends, to have all men saved, in the most unlimited sense, if they will. But,
3. There is yet another sense which the words of our text may well admit, without implying the doctrine of universal salvation. The apostle may be understood to speak of God's preceptive will to us, and not of his own purpose. Divines often distinguish between the secret, and the revealed will of God : and with evident propriety is this distinction made, if by God's secret will be meant what he has decreed; and by his revealed will, what he has commanded. Certainly, God does not determine to bring into effect, every thing which he requires to be done by his creatures. And to no case is this distinction more applicable, than to the one now before us. Though it may not be the design of God to save every man, by the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Ghost ; yet he may have made it our duty, not only
to comply with the proposed terms of salvation ourselves, but to bring all others to a compliance with them, as far as we are able. And this he hath evidently done.
“God now commandeth all every where to repent,” one apostle says : “And this is his commandment,” says another, “ That we should believe on the name of his Son Jesus Christ.” Christians are also required, after repentance and faith, to work out their own salvation with fear and trembling.
Nor is it less evidently enjoined upon us, to the utmost of our power, to promote the salvation of all others. “Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature,” was the command of the risen Saviour to his first disciples. “Go out into the high ways, and bring in as many as ye shall find,” was the order of the king in the parable of the great supper. God would have his servants, Christ would have his ministers and people, in their proper places, do what in them lies for the salvation of men, as universally as possible. And, with manifest propriety might this be mentioned, when the apostle was exhorting, or directing Timothy to exhort, that supplications, prayers, and intercessions, should be made for all men.
II. We will now attend to the other position implied in our text.
That, in order to men's being saved, God would have them come unto the knowledge of the truth.
Here it will be proper to consider, what things are necessary to be known; and what kind of knowledge of them it is requisite for men to have.
Respecting the former, as it opens a wide field, there will be time only just to mention those particulars which seem most essential.
1. Then, that men may be saved, they must come to the knowledge of the truth concerning God.
Though we cannot find out the Almighty unto perfection ; yet we may by searching find out God, in some measure. Though it be a little portion, comparatively, that is heard or can be understood of an infinite Being; yet that little which we may understand, is of everlasting concernment to us.
A knowledge of the only true God, is essential to all true religion, and to all true happiness.
We must have some just conceptions of the being and perfections of the Most High, or we cannot worship him aright, nor have any suitable affections of heart towards him. In Hebrews xi. 6, having said of Enoch, “ He had this testimony that he pleased God," The apostle adds, “ But without faith it is impossible to please him : for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.”
And as some knowledge of the truth concerning God, is requisite that we may please him, or worship and serve him acceptably ; so it is altogether necessary in order to the enjoyment of him, and to all the comfort of a well grounded hope and confidence in him. David says, in the ninth Psalm, “ They that know thy name will put their trust in thee : for thou, Lord, hast not forsaken them that seek thee.” We must have some knowledge and firm belief of the righteousness, faithfulness, and goodness of God, as well as of his omnipotence, omnipresence and omniscience; and also of his immutability, and all-governing Providence, or our minds cannot be so stayed on him, as to be kept in perfect peace.
2. That men may be saved, they must come to the knowledge of the truth, in some measure, concerning the divine law; which is holy, and just, and good, in all that it requires, and in all that it promises and threatens. " The law of the Lord is perfect,” says the Psalmist, “ converting the soul.”
3. That men may be saved, they must come to the knowledge of the truth concerning sin : wherein it consists, and what it deserves.
4. In order to the salvation of men, it is necessary that they should come to the knowledge of the truth respecting themselves.
It highly concerns us to form a just opinion of our natural powers; and not to think more highly or more meanly of ourselves, in that regard, than we ought to think. The former error will make us too conceited and self-suficient : it will make us lean to our own understanding, and rely on our own reason, in matters too high for us. The latter error will lead us to excuse ourselves more than is just, under a mistaken apprehension of inability.
But most of all does it concern us to know what manner of spirit we are of, and what is our true moral character and state. Thinking that they are rich, and increased with goods, and want nothing, in regard to godliness and virtue, is undoubtedy the cause of the ruin and perdition of multitudes. * The whole have no need of the physician, but they that
5. It is necessary that men should come to the knowledge of the truth, respecting the Redeemer and Saviour of sinners. He hath said, John vi. 29, “This is the work of God, that ye believe on him whom he hath sent." He hath said in his prayer to the Father, John xvii. 3, “ This is life eternal, that they might know thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom thou hast sent." And without knowing the latter, what hope of salvation could be deriv. ed from the knowledge of the former ? Could the Father and Lord of all be ever so clearly seen, as the fountain of living waters; yet, without the knowledge of an atoning Mediator, to us sinners, he must be seen as a spring shut up, a fountain sealed. From