One of my commenters, — anonymous" by name — referring to a criticism I made of Roger Nicole, posted this comment:
Remember that Nicole used the alleged emphatic repudiation to bolster the idea that Calvin taught particularism in the atonement. But in this quote we see Calvin distinctly teaching that God's grace extends to those who ultimately reject it.
How do you explain what Calvin said concerning 1 Tim 2:4:"Since no one but he who is drawn by the secret influence of the Spirit can approach unto God, how is it that God does not draw all men indiscriminately to himself, if he really 'wills all men to be saved'?"
This quote is taken from Part II of Calvin's Calvinism, entitled "A Defence of the Secret Providence of God" by John Calvin, translated by Henry Cole, page 277.
First, we should have the whole quotation:
Since no one but he who is drawn by the secret influence of the Spirit can approach unto God, how is it that God does not draw all men indiscriminately to himself, if he really "willeth all men to be saved" (in the common meaning of the expression)?
Look at the emphasized part of that sentence. Calvin is speaking here of a particular conception of God's will, i.e., the conception of his opponent (who misrepresented Calvin's view as akin to fatalism and appears to have held some form of absolute universalism).
The kind of will that Calvin opposed here was an utterly equal will, such as might result in all men hearing the gospel and all men being the objects of the effectual work of the Spirit. He certainly does oppose that view of God's willing all men to be saved. But Calvin does not, in opposing this view of God's will, thereby oppose any and every view of God's willing all men to be saved. Consider this quote from the same context:
But how, and in what sense it is, that God willeth all men to be saved is a matter not here to be inquisitively discussed.
Secret Providence, page 277. This suggests that there is some sense, in Calvin's mind, in which God does indeed will that all men should be saved. For example, he does say elsewhere (in his commentary on 1Timothy 2:4) that God wishes that all men should hear the gospel. And in an earlier place in Secret Providence he says, "in as far as God 'willeth that all should come unto repentance,' in so far He willeth that no one should perish...." (page 276). And "Nay, if God Himself, who exhorts all men to repentance by His voice.... (page 277). This concept appears in many other places throughout Calvin's body of work.
This concept is tempered, to be sure, by Calvin's strong predestinarianism; but it is equally true that Calvin's predestinarianism is tempered by his view of God's will that all men be saved. Calvin often represents God to us as an indulgent and loving Father, who pleads for the salvation of all men.
The point here is that we have to understand Calvin's view of "God wills", in this passage. It is never wise to blindly latch on to a quote in the hopes that it will comfort us when we run into a difficulty in reading Calvin.