Are all people, just as they were lost through Adam, saved through Christ?
No, only those who are elected by God and united to Christ by faith. Nevertheless God in his mercy demonstrates common grace even to those who are not elect, by restraining the effects of sin and enabling works of culture for human well-being.
Proof Text: Romans 5:17
For if, because of one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ.
Sovereign Savior, there is salvation in no one but you, and you save everyone who calls upon your name. We would never have called upon you if you had not brought us from death to life. We do not fully understand your electing love, but we confess that neither we nor anyone else deserves it. Amen.
This particular catechism answer strikes a very helpful balance. On the one hand, we learn that not all human beings will be saved. This is taught so clearly in the Bible in so many places that it’s impossible to list all the texts. But let me call your attention to two.
In John 6, Jesus says, “And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day” (v. 39). Jesus is talking about coming for a very specific number of people that he’s been given, and he’s going to raise them up on the last day. Not everyone will be raised up on the last day.
Romans 8:28–30 teaches a similar thing. Paul says in verse 30: “Those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.” Notice, it’s the same number all through. He doesn’t say some of those he called, he justified, as if there were this many called and this many justified. No. All—and only—those he called, he justified. All—and only—those he justified he glorified. It’s a definite number. Not all people will be saved.
On the other hand, this catechism answer talks about common grace. Richard Mouw defines that in his book on this subject: “Is there a non-saving grace that is at work in the broader reaches of human cultural interaction, a grace that expedites a desire on God’s part to bestow certain blessings on all human beings—elect and non-elect alike, blessings that provide the basis for Christians to cooperate with and learn from non-Christians?”
And the Bible’s answer, in places like Romans 1 and 2, is yes. Though not all people are going to be saved, God still gives his gifts of wisdom and insight across the face of the whole human race. Through art and through science and through good government and in other ways, God is making this world a far better place than it would be if only Christians had those gifts. And so, again, here’s that very helpful balance that we should strike. On the one hand, no, not everyone is to be saved. No, not everyone has the saving grace of Jesus Christ in their lives. But on the other hand, we must appreciate the common grace that God gives across the whole human race. We must see that God is helping us and helping in the world through many people who do not believe. We need to appreciate those. We must be grateful for them, and we must respect them. That’s the balance that we must strike.
Historical Commentary by
Who is Martyn Lloyd-Jones?
Common grace is the term applied to those general blessings which God imparts to all men and women indiscriminately as He pleases, not only to His own people, but to all men and women, according to His own will. Or, again, common grace means those general operations of the Holy Spirit in which, without renewing the heart, He exercises a moral influence whereby sin is restrained, order is maintained in social life, and civil righteousness is promoted. That is the general definition. The Holy Spirit has been operative in this world from the very beginning and He has had His influence and His effect upon men and women who are not saved and who have gone to perdition. While they were in this life and world they came under these general, non-saving operations of the Holy Spirit. . . . It is not a saving influence, nor is it a redemptive influence, but it is a part of God’s purpose. . . . If the Holy Spirit were not operative in men and women in this general way, human beings, as a result of the Fall and of sin, would have festered away into oblivion long ago. . . . Next to that is what is generally described as culture. By that I mean arts and science, an interest in the things of the mind, literature, architecture, sculpture, painting, and music. Now, there can be no question at all but that cultivation of the arts is good. It is not redemptive, but it improves people, it makes them live better lives. Now, where do all these things come from? How do you explain men like Shakespeare or Michelangelo? The answer from the Scripture is that all these people had their gifts and were able to exercise them as the result of the operation of common grace, this general influence of the Holy Spirit.