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This morning, as I was watching the worship service for First Presbyterian Church on television, I was irked by the Trinity Hymnal’s change in the first stanza of Fanny J. Crosby’s hymn “To God Be the Glory.”

To God be the glory, great things he hath done! 
So loved he the world that he gave us his Son,
who yielded his life an atonement for sin,
and opened the lifegate that we may go in.

The original* reads, “and opened the lifegate that all may go in.” What is so objectionable with the word “all” that necessitated such a change? My own theory is that this offends the Calvinistic sensibilities of us Presbyterians. No, no, we can’t say “all” because Jesus didn’t die for all, only for the elect. No, no, all may not go in because only those whom God has first enabled to believe can go in.

It is so typically Presbyterian that we have to qualify anything with a hint of free will or universal atonement and make sure that everyone knows that really, God chose to show mercy to only certain people and gave his Son to die for only those people. Now, before you try quoting Romans 9 to me, know first that I do in fact believe in predestination and limited atonement. I just don’t think that it needs to be the prism through which we view all of the Bible. When we come across passages that talk about God loving the world or wanting everyone to be saved, I don’t think it is necessary to interpret them by saying that Jesus or Paul is referring to the fact that the gospel is not just for the Jews, but for people of every nation.

I have been thinking about this a lot lately due to my reading of 1 Timothy 2:

1I urge, then, first of all, that requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone2for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. 3This is good, and pleases God our Savior, 4who wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. 5For there is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, 6who gave himself as a ransom for all men—the testimony given in its proper time. 7And for this purpose I was appointed a herald and an apostle—I am telling the truth, I am not lying—and a teacher of the true faith to the Gentiles.

As soon as we Presbyterians read this passage, we point out that Paul obviously didn’t want churches to pray for every single individual. Rather, he wanted us to intercede for all types of people, as the reference to those in authority might imply, and we apply this to verse 6 by saying that Jesus gave himself for all types of people. We make the distinction between the different types of God’s will, and we point out that if God willed all men to be saved, then all men would be saved. If you want a full discussion of this passage from a Reformed perspective, then click here.

I can see how the passage could be emphasizing the fact that God wants men and women from every nation, social position, and economic standing to be saved, but I am not convinced by this interpretation. I think that it is just as legitimate that what Paul is saying here is that God wants everyone to be saved and that he gave Jesus as a ransom for everyone. I think that when Jesus says, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life,” he is opening the door for everyone who believes. I don’t think the passage is meant to be read with the qualifier, “but keep in mind that only those whom God has chosen will believe in him,” as true as that qualifier might be.

Sure, there are many scriptures that emphasize the fixed choice of God and the limited atonement of Christ, but I believe there are other passages that emphasize the free will of man and the unlimited power of the cross. To ignore either aspect of these latter type of verses is to do injustice to them and to how we see God.

At this point in my Presbyterian evolution, I accept free will and find Calvinistic explanations of how it can exist in the presence of God’s sovereignty** to be unsatisfactory. I don’t say that Calvinism is incorrect, but I do say that I don’t spend my time trying to figure out how free will and predestination can coexist. From an eternal perspective, God has chosen a flock for his mercy and given Christ for them. From a human perspective, the cross is open to every individual and we are held responsible for believing or rejecting him. Maybe God is calling us to accept both as a mystery. Maybe he wants people to know that the door is open for them, and maybe he doesn’t want us to insert predestination immediately after that. 

What are your thoughts?

* As far as I can tell, this is the original. Wikipedia lists this version, and it is consistent with Crosby”s Methodist faith.

**Free will is man’s freedom to act according to his nature, but that nature will never choose God unless he changes it.

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