August 29, 2014

J. Gresham Machen (1881–1937) on Ezekiel 33:11 and 1 Timothy 2:4

In the second place, the doctrine of predestination does not mean that God rejoices in the death of the sinner. The Bible distinctly says the contrary. Hear that great verse in the thirty-third chapter of Ezekiel: ‘As I live, saith the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked; but that the wicked turn from his way and live.’ [Ezek. 33:11]

It may be the same thing that is taught in the First Epistle to Timothy, where it is said: God ‘will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth.’ [1 Tim. 2:4]

This latter verse cannot possibly mean that God has determined by an act of His will that all men should be saved. As a matter of fact not all men are saved. The Bible makes that abundantly clear; without that all its solemn warnings become a mockery. But if, when as a matter of fact not all men are saved, God had determined that all men should be saved, then that would mean that God’s decree has been defeated and His will overthrown. In that case God would simply cease to be God.

The verse must mean something quite different from that blasphemous thing. That is clear. But what does it mean? I am inclined to think it means very much what that great Ezekiel passage means; I am inclined to think it means simply that God takes pleasure in the salvation of sinners and that He does not take pleasure in the punishment of the unsaved.

Another view has, indeed, been held by some. It has been suggested that the phrase ‘all men’ in the verse in 1 Timothy means ‘all sorts of men,’ and that the verse is directed against those who limited salvation to the Jews as distinguished from the Gentiles or to the wise as distinguished from the unwise. There is perhaps something to be said for such a view because of the context in which the verse occurs. But I am rather inclined to think that the phrase ‘all men’ is to be taken more strictly, and that the verse means that God takes pleasure in the salvation of the saved, and does not take pleasure in the punishment of those who are lost, so that so far as His pleasure in the thing directly accomplished is concerned He wishes that all men shall be saved.

At any rate, that is clearly the meaning of the Ezekiel passage, whatever may be true of the 1 Timothy passage; and a very precious truth it is indeed. The punishment of sinners—their just punishment for their sins—does, as we have seen, have a place in the plan of God. But the Bible makes perfectly plain that God does not take pleasure in it for its own sake. It is necessary for high and worthy ends, mysterious through those ends are to us; it has its place in God’s plan. But in itself it is not a thing in which He delights. He is good. He delights not in the death of the wicked but in the salvation of those who are saved by His grace.
J. Gresham Machen, “Objections to Predestination,” in The Christian View of Man (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust, 1999), 71–73.

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