1Ti 4:10 For to this end we toil and strive, because we have our hope set on the living God, who is the Savior of all people, especially of those who believe.
The question arises concerning the latter half of the verse, concerning those for whom God is Savior. Owen gives his explanation:
Let us look at another proof. Perhaps it will strengthen the uncouth distinction we oppose. It is 1Tim. 4:10, “Who is the Savior of all men, specially of those who believe.” Had it been, “Who is the Mediator of all men, specially of those who believe,” it would have been more likely. What are these men thinking? Is there any word here spoken of Christ as mediator? The words preceding this phrase indicate that it is the “living God” in whom we trust. He is the Savior mentioned here. And is Christ ever called our Savior with regard to his mediation? I showed before that God the Father is often called Savior. And it is the Father who is intended here, as all sound interpreters agree. That is clear from the context, which speaks of the protecting providence of God. It is general towards all, and special, or specific, towards his church. Thus he is said to “save man and beast,” Ps. 36:6. The Hebrew for save, Yasha [OT:3467], is rendered Soter in the Greek [NT:4990, from 4982 sozo], “You shall save or preserve.” It is God, then, who is called the “Savior of all” here. He is the Savior by his deliverance and protection in danger, which is his providence. This providence is specific towards believers. What proof this offers for universal mediation I do not know.
The context of this passage will not allow any other interpretation. The words offer a reason why believers should cheerfully go forward, runing the race that is set before them with joy, despite all the injury and reproaches with which the people of God are continually assaulted. It is because God preserves all (for “in him we live, and move, and have our being,” Acts 17:28; Ps. 145:14-16). He will not allow any of them to be injured or unrevenged, Gen. 9:5. And so he is especially the preserver of those who believe. For they are the apple of his eye, Zech. 2:8; Deut. 32:10. If he allows them to be pressed for a season, the apostle encourages them not to let go of their hope and confidence, nor be weary of well-doing, but still rest on and trust in him. What motive would he have to tell believers that God would save those who will never believe? To say nothing of how strange it would seem to have Christ be the Savior of those who are never saved, to whom he never gives grace to believe, and for whom he refuses to intercede, John 17:9. Yet this intercession is no small part of his mediation by which he saves sinners. Neither the subject nor the context of the phrase “He is the Savior of all men,” is rightly apprehended by those who twist it in support of niversal redemption. For the subject, “He,” is God the Father, not Christ the mediator; and the context is a providential preservation, not a purchased salvation. That is, the providence of God protects and governs all. But God is watching in a special way for the good of those who are his, so that they will not always be unjustly and cruelly slandered and reviled, among other pressures. The apostle also shows that it was God’s course to do so, 2Cor. 1:9, 10. “But we had the sentence of death in ourselves, so that we would not trust in ourselves, but in God who raises the dead: who delivered us from so great a death, and does deliver us: in whom we trust that he will yet deliver us;” for “he is the Savior of all men, specially of those who believe.” Paul reveals the basis for his confidence in going through his labors and afflictions in these words: “Because we hope in the living God,” 1Tim. 4:10. If anyone thinks instead that these words express the sum of the doctrine for which he was so turmoiled and afflicted, I will not oppose it. For then it would only be an assertion of the true God and Paul’s dependence on him. And this dependence is in opposition to all the idols of the Gentiles, and any other vain conceits by which they exalted themselves into the throne of the Most High. But instead, they are saying,
1. that Christ would be a Savior of those who will never be saved from their sins, in the same way that he saves his people, Matt. 1:21; or
2. that he is a Savior of those who never heard one word about saving, or about a Savior; or,
3. that he would be a Savior in a two senses – first for all, and then secondly for believers; or,
4. that believing is the condition by which Christ becomes a Savior in a special way to someone – and that condition was not procured or purchased by Christ.
If that is the sense of this passage, then I say, “credat Judaeus Apella:”1
To me, nothing is more certain than that Christ completely saves those to whom he is in any sense a Savior in the work of redemption. He saves them from all their sins of infidelity and disobedience, with saving grace here, and glory after.
1. Literally, “Let the Jew Apella believe it,” from the Satires of Horace. He could have said, “Tell that to the Marines,” the final authority on tall tales. It refers to an obvious absurdity. See Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase and Fable.