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 glori- fied.” 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.