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Bible Encyclopedias

Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature

Universalism

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The ultimate restoration of all sinners to happiness and the favor of God is maintained by Universalists (q.v.) on the ground that the final exclusion of any soul from heaven would be contrary to the illimitable love of God; that the wrath of God is only exercised against sin-repentance, even in the future life, bringing about a restoration to his love. But this supposes a distinction between sin and the sinner which is not only without foundation in the Holy Scriptures, but is contradictory to their statements. We are nowhere told, as regards a future state, that God's wrath against sin will only continue so long as sin remains, but that the sinner himself who dies impenitent will be eternally punished.

Again, it is asserted that Scripture has no plain dogmatic statements at all as to the possibility or impossibility of repentance after death (i.e. in hell). There are terrible threats of divine vengeance which will overtake the ungodly; but there are some distinct utterances of a hope embracing all times existence, and states, and the specific question at issue does not seem to be raised by Scripture. Such utterances are supposed to be contained in 1 Corinthians 15:22-28; Ephesians 1:9-10; Philippians 2:9-11; Colossians 1:19-20. Now it may fairly be admitted that the passages cited do appear to favor Universalism, and they might have been so understood, had it been elsewhere taught in Scripture; but they are of no weight whatever in opposition to its clearest and most emphatic declarations. The apostle here says that God will be all in all-that all things shall be subdued unto Christ, reconciled unto him, and that every tongue shall confess that he is Lord of all. But such statements must be viewed in connection with other passages of Scripture which contradict the doctrine of universal salvation, and also according to scriptural usage and the meaning which can only be given to many parallel passages. For example, our Lord says that when lifted up on the cross (referring to the present efficacy of his atonement) he will draw all men unto him (John 12:32). No declaration can be more positive and unequivocal than this; and yet, literally understood, it is not merely untrue, but contradictory to other statements of Scripture, e.g. that no man can come to Christ except the Father draw him, and that they only are drawn who hear and learn of the Father (John 6:44-45) certainly not all men. Such is the usage of Scripture language; a thing is spoken of as being really effected to indicate the certainty of the purpose, and that every provision has been made for its accomplishment, though eventually through man's sinfulness God's benevolence may be frustrated. (See PURGATORY).

Again, Christ died for all men, and God would have all men to be saved- statements obviously leading to the supposition, at least, that all mankind will at last be saved. Yet in other passages of Scripture there is an apparently discordant statement that Christ died for "many," laid down his life for the sheep," and the object of redemption is said to be to "gather together in one the children of God which are scattered abroad" (Blunt, Dict. of Theol. s.v.). These passages are to be reconciled by the ready answer that provision indeed is made for the salvation of all, but its actual effect will depend upon the voluntary embracing or rejecting of it on the part of men individually. (See REDEMPTION).

Dr. Chauncy's arguments in favor of Universalism (Salvation of All Men) are these:

1. Christ died not for a select number of men only, but for mankind universally, and without exception or limitation, for the Sacred Scriptures are singularly emphatic in expressing this truth (John 1:29; John 3:16-17; Romans 5:6; 1 Corinthians 15:3; 1 Thessalonians 5:10; Hebrews 2:9; 1 Peter 3:18; 1 John 2:2).

2. It is the purpose of God according to his good pleasure that mankind universally, in consequence of the death of his son Jesus Christ, shall certainly and finally be saved (Romans 5:12, etc.; 8:19-24; Ephesians 1:9-10; Ephesians 4:10; Colossians 1:19-20; 2 Timothy 1:4).

3. As a means in order to men's being made meet for salvation, God will sooner or later, in this state or another, reduce them all under a willing and obedient subjection to his moral government (Psalms 8:5-6; Matthew 1:21; John 1:29; 1 Corinthians 15:24-29; Philippians 2:9-11; Hebrews 2:6; Hebrews 2:9; 1 John 3:8).

4. The Scripture language concerning the reduced or restored, in consequence of the mediatory interposition of Jesus Christ, is such as leads us into the thought that it is comprehensive of mankind universally (Revelation 5:13). The opponents, however, of Dr. Chauncy and this doctrine observe, on the contrary side, that the Sacred Scriptures expressly declare that the punishment of the finally impenitent shall be eternal (Matthew 12:31-32; Matthew 17:8; Matthew 25:41; Matthew 25:46; Matthew 26:24; Mark 3:29; Mark 9:43; Luke 12:10; Ephesians 2:17; 2 Thessalonians 2:9 Hebrews 1:4; Hebrews 1:6; Hebrews 10:26-27; 1 John 5:16; Judges 1:13; Revelation 9:3; Revelation 14:11). (See HELL).

In short, severe as may seem the doctrine of eternal punishment and however much we may naturally wish to avoid its acceptance, this is not a question for us to solve according to our inclination. We must ask, with reference to all matters connected with the future world, what has God revealed? what has he declared? The Scriptures are the ultimate appeal, and these to candid and thoughtful minds have ever been plain and positive on the subject. Moreover, the same abstract arguments which are often adduced against the everlasting punishment of' sin apply to its present punishment, and, indeed, against the fact of sin itself. If God loves man and loves holiness, why does he suffer him to sin at all? We are thus brought back to Butler's immortal argument, and constrained to bow to the sovereign will of the Almighty. The following judicious remarks are from Van Oosterzee, Christian Dogmatics, 2, 438:

The duration of future punishment is most definitely represented in Holy Scripture as absolutely endless (Mark 9:44-50; Revelation 14:11, etc.). Even if the word eternal does not in itself denote absolute endlessness, it is surely a different matter when eternal pain is without ally limitation associated with eternal life (Matthew 25:46). We will here only call to mind the fact that those who maintain the contrary of restorationism can bring forward numerous and plain statements of the Lord and his witnesses; at any rate, the possibility of an endless misery is most distinctly declared in Matthew 12:31-32; and such words as those in Luke 16:26; Matthew 25:10; Matthew 25:41; Matthew 26:24 could hardly be vindicated from a charge of exaggeration if he who spoke them had himself seen even a ray of light in the outer darkness, and been able and willing to kindle it before others' eyes. In no case could such a ray be seen without previous contrition and conversion but, viewed even psychologically, this latter is certainly nowhere to be looked for less than in a hell of sorrow and despair, not to say that the Gospel nowhere opens up to us a certain prospect of the continuance of the gracious work of God on the other side of the grave. He who here talks of harshness must by no means forget that sinful man is a very partial judge in his own case; that nothing less than the highest grace is boldly and stubbornly set at naught in the case here supposed; and that there always will be, according to the teaching of Scripture, an equitable distinction in the rewards as well as in the punishments of the future (Luke 12:47-48; Romans 2:12 sq.). Ay, even if men might flatter themselves with a diminution or postponement of the punishment, there still would always be a remembrance of the incalculable mischief which they had done to themselves and others, and this would be a dark cloud before the sun of an eventual happiness.

Least of all could they hope for such an end who have known the great salvation, and all their lives ungratefully despised it (Matthew 11:24; Hebrews 2:3). As to the heathen and others who, entirely without their own fault, have missed the way of life, Holy Scripture nowhere compels us to believe that these should summarily, and on that account alone, be the victims of an eternal damnation. While there is only one way of salvation (Acts 4:12), the Merciful One will make it known to men in some way (1 Peter 3:19). We can safely leave to God the justification, even in this respect, of his own government of the world; but we must take careful heed that we do not try to be more merciful land wise than he to whom sin, as long as it continues to be sin, is thoroughly damnable. Even in preaching the Gospel, his servants are not free to leave this darker side entirely unmentioned. The statement of it should always be joined with that of the friendly light of grace, and let the preacher take care that he does not lead his hearers in the way of despairing fear or unbelieving doubt by yielding to the desire to paint hell as black as possible. The best statement of the prospect of the sinner is that of going to his own place, i.e. to the land of his own choice, where he may still continue to dwell." (See PUNISHMENT, FUTURE).

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Bibliography Information
McClintock, John. Strong, James. Entry for 'Universalism'. Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature. https://www.studylight.org/encyclopedias/eng/tce/u/universalism.html. Harper & Brothers. New York. 1870.

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