We have carefully considered the all-important question of the teaching of Holy Scripture. We have noted even in the Old Testament, intimations from the very first of a future blessing, designed to embrace all the race of man. These become more distinct as the plan of God is more fully disclosed; and both psalmists and prophets unite in their promises of an age yet to come, when the knowledge of the Lord shall cover the earth as the waters cover the sea.
Nor have we forgotten the argument for the larger hope from the tendencies of the Bible and from the great principles that pervade its teaching. I have also tried to show how completely the traditional creed misapprehends the language and usage of Scripture in its threatenings, a subject well worth careful study.
The New Testament received the attention, due to its supreme importance. The passages supposed to teach the popular creed, have been carefully considered, and we have seen reason to conclude that they, one and all, while emphatically warning sinners of the wrath to come, teach nowhere an endless punishment.
Lastly, a chapter has been devoted to pointing out how full the New Testament is of passages too often explained away, and yet teaching, or implying, the final salvation of all. So important is this evidence, that I here append a brief summary.
We have seen how to Christ is assigned a kingdom absolutely without bound or limit, how all flesh shall see the salvation he gives. You have read how the Good Shepherd seeks on, till each sheep he has lost is found, and how the Son of Man came to seek and to save, not some of the lost, but simply “that which was lost.” This might also be rendered, “the destroyed,” so little does “destruction” involve final loss. His mission is exactly described as having for its object the salvation of the world, and he is said to take away the sin of the whole world. Do these terms represent a partial salvation? Are they honestly consistent with it?
Again, it is said all things have been given to the Son, and that all that is so given shall come to him. He is repeatedly described as the “Saviour of the world,” which yet he does not save on the popular view. He is called the “Light the world.” He is said not to offer, but to give life to the world, a totally different thing. He says (no words can be more absolute), speaking of his cross, that he will draw all men to himself. He adds, that he came not to judge, but to save the world. Can you, on any fair theory of the meaning of human language, reconcile all this with the horrors of endless evil? If the sin of the whole world be taken away, how shall there be a hell for its endless punishment. If all things without exception (the original is the widest possible) are given to Christ, and all so given to him shall come to him, can you reconcile this with unending misery?
Let us go on, however. We find language employed by the Evangelists quite as decisive against the popular creed as that just quoted. When, for instance, we read in St. John how God’s Son was manifested for the very purpose of destroying the works of the devil, we are forced to inquire if that is consistent by any possibility with preserving these works in hell for ever? Is there no significance in Christ’s telling us that he is “alive unto the ages,” and has the keys of hell and death? Then again, what do the promises to make all things new, and that there shall be no more curse or pain mean? If these be not promises of universal restoration, what are they? Lastly, ponder over the vision of the Apocalypse, where every creature in heaven, on earth, and under the earth (the dead), joins in the song of praise to God. Can you truly say that anything less than a universal salvation can satisfy the plain sense of these words!
To (virtually) evade such words is bad enough, but having done so, to charge universalists with fearing to appeal to Scripture is surely not fair. Take next, a very large body of fresh passages teaching the larger hope, from the Epistles of St. Paul, St. Peter, and Hebrews. St. Paul, especially, is full of glowing anticipation of the assured triumph of Christ’s kingdom over all evil. Thus, Abraham is to receive the world and no less as his portion (i.e., in the elect, all are to be saved). Whatever sin has done to injure man is to be more than repaired by the grace of Christ. But is it possible to undo, in fact, all that sin has done, if a single soul be left in endless evil? Would not St. Paul be speaking untruly in such a case? Surely a fair answer is due to this inquiry (even though a fair answer seems to lead to universalism). Further, the apostle says that the whole creation shall be delivered into the glorious liberty of God’s children. Again, all Israel is to be saved (and being the firstfruits, their salvation involves that of the entire world). The apostle affirms that God’s gifts and calling are irrevocable. This is very significant, for what is the popular creed but an assertion that God’s gifts can be set at naught finally. Further, what St. Paul asserts is echoed in the Epistle to the Hebrews, which assures us of the immutability of God’s counsel. Again, if God has shut up all in unbelief, it is, as St. Paul says, that he may have mercy upon all. Does “all” mean “some” in the latter clause, and not in the former?!
Again, he assures us that if the first Adam brought death universally, then the last Adam brings universal life, and that if sin abounds, much more shall grace abound. However, in saying that the last Adam has failed in myriads of cases to undo the evil caused by the fall, you are giving these words a flat contradiction. Then, as to Christ’s empire, we are told that to him every knee shall bow (i.e., “all creation, all things, whatsoever and wheresoever may be”) and every tongue confess—the original term means thanksgiving, indeed, is the very term used of our Lord’s giving his Father thanks (Matt 11:25). Finally, we are told that one day—at the end—God shall be all in all. It is the Father’s good pleasure to sum up all things in Christ, to reconcile all things unto himself through Christ. Are we indeed to believe that anything can be reconciled to God by being consigned to hopeless evil? For it is a virtual, if unconscious, evasion to say that all things are reconciled to God, if, after countless generations have sent their contingents to the devil, some one generation and those succeeding it, shall be fully saved. Further, the apostle assures us that the living God is the Saviour of all, that Jesus Christ has abolished death, and that the grace of God brings salvation to all men. Are these statements fairly consistent with a partial salvation? Why also, do our opponents never allude to the noble and most inspiring hope, suggested by such a passage as Romans 11:36?
St. Peter, too, speaks to the same effect. He tells of Christ’s preaching the gospel to the dead, who had been disobedient and died—a story whose significance is the greatest possible, as indicating how behind the veil Christ works on to heal and to save even those who died in sin. He adds, that the Lord is not willing that any should perish. Is God’s deliberate counsel—such is the original word—to come to nothing?
Then, in the Epistle to the Hebrews, we have this same remarkable testimony, e.g., the assertion that all things are to be put under Christ. It is stated that his object in dying was to destroy the devil—that once, at the conclusion of the ages, he has appeared to put away (i.e., abolish) sin by his sacrifice of himself. Can anyone explain how the abolition of sin can be consistent with maintaining evil in hell for ever? Thus, the traditional creed seems to stand hopelessly opposed to the teaching of Scripture. Does it not almost deny God himself, because if we are to believe in God at all, there is no room for a defeated God. Therefore, either God really wills to save all men, and if so, he will assuredly accomplish this, or he does not so will. The first proposition involves the larger hope; the second is mere Calvinism. I can see no rational alternative.
Such is a brief outline of the teaching of the New Testament, for I have not quoted all its promises of universal salvation. It is no case of building upon Eastern metaphors, of dogma resting upon mistranslations or misconceptions of the original, as in the case of the traditional creed. It is evidence, clear and unambiguous, and repeated. We have without doubt line upon line, promise upon promise, assertions reiterated, accumulated, yet amid all their variety, closely linked and pointing to one central thought. This thought is none less than the completeness of the triumph of Jesus Christ! It includes the boundless nature of his saving empire over all, to the assurance of a victory won by his incarnation, his death, and his resurrection over all the powers of evil. “The Father willed through Christ to reconcile the universe once more unto Himself, . . . and so to restore all things whatsoever and wheresoever they be.”