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Gregory of Nyssa: A treatise on First Corinthians 15:28 (In Illud)

Gregory argues that the subjection spoken of by Paul is in both instances not a forced, but a free and joyful subjection, that leads to salvation of all who are subjected to God through Christ.

Christ the Pantokrator, Cathedral of Cefalù, Sicily.

It is sometimes argued that Gregor of Nyssa did not clearly teach universal restitution, as some of his remarks on salvation and eschatology in his Great Catechism seems to only ambivalently assert this issue. But more clear are Gregory’s statements in the short treatise on Paul’s First Epistle to the Corinthians 15:28, where Paul says that “the Son will be subjected to him who has subjected all things to himself”. Gregory argues that the subjection spoken of by Paul is in both instances not a forced, but a free and joyful subjection, that leads to salvation of all who are subjected to God through Christ.

The only available English translation of the treatise – often referred to by its Latin title “In Illud, Tunc et ipse filius” – was made by Casimir McCambley and published under the title “When (the Father) Will Subject All Things to (the Son), Then (the Son) Himself Will Be Subjected to Him (the Father) Who Subjects All Things to Him (the Son). A treatise on First Corinthians 15.28.” in Greek Orthodox Theological Review 28 (1983), p. 1-25.

As I do not own the rights for the translation I will only quote a few passages. The full text is still available here.

[…]

It is time now to quote the apostle himself on these matters. “For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. But each in his own order: Christ the first fruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ. Then comes the end when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death. ‘For God has put all things in subjection under his feet’ [a reference to Ps 8.6]. But when it says, ‘All things are put in subjection under him,’ it is plain that he is accepted who put all things under him. When all things are subjected to him, then the Son himself will also be subjected to him who puts all things under him, that God may be everything to everyone” [1 Cor 15.22-28].

[…]

Paul signifies, by the Son’s subjection, the destruction of death. Therefore, these two elements concur, that is, when death will be no more, and everything will be completely changed into life. The Lord is life. According to the apostle, Christ will have access to the Father with his entire body when he will hand over the kingdom to our God and Father. Christ’s body, as it is often said, consists of human nature in its entirety to which he has been united. Because of this, Christ is named Lord by Paul, as mediator between God and man [1 Tim 2.5]. He who is in the Father and has lived with men accomplishes intercession. Christ unites all mankind to himself, and to the Father through himself, as the Lord says in the Gospel, “As you, Father, are in me, and I am in you, that they may be one in us” [Jn 17.21]. This clearly shows that having united himself to us, he who is in the Father effects our union (sunapheia) with this very same Father .

[…]

The exposition of the term ‘subjection’ as used here does not mean the forceful, necessary subjection of enemies as is commonly meant; while on the other hand, salvation is clearly interpreted by subjection. However, clear proof of the former meaning is definitely made when Paul makes a twofold distinction of the term ‘enemy.’ He says that enemies are to be subjected; indeed, they are to be destroyed. Therefore, the enemy to be blotted out from human nature is death, whose principle is sin along with its [M.1325] domination and power. In another sense, the enemies of God which are to be subjected to him attach themselves to sin after deserting God’s kingdom. Paul mentions this in his Epistle to the Romans: “For if we have been enemies, we have been reconciled to God” [Rom. 5:10]. Here Paul calls subjection reconciliation, one term indicating salvation by another word. For as salvation is brought near to us by subjection, Paul says in another place, “Being reconciled, we shall be saved in this life” [Rom 5.10]. Therefore, Paul says that such enemies are to be subjected to God and the Father; death no longer is to have authority. This is shown by Paul saying, “Death will be destroyed,” a clear statement that the power of evil will be utterly removed: persons are called enemies of God by disobedience, while they who have become the Lord’s friends are persuaded by Paul saying, “We are ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech you by us: ‘Be reconciled to God [2 Cor 6:20] .

According to the promise made in the Gospel, we are no longer slaves of the Lord; but once reconciled, we are numbered among his friends. However, “it is necessary for him to reign, until he places his enemies under his feet.” We reverently take this, I believe, as Christ valiantly holding sway in his power. Then the strong man’s ability in battle will cease when all opposition to the good will be destroyed. Once the entire kingdom is gathered to himself, Christ hands it over to God and the Father who unites everything to himself. For the kingdom will be handed over to the Father, that is, all persons will yield to God [Christ], through whom we have access to the Father.

When all enemies have become God’s footstool, they will receive a trace of divinity in themselves. Once death has been destroyed – for if there are no persons who will die, not even death would exist – then we will be subjected to him; but this is not understood by some sort of servile humility. Our subjection, however, consists of a kingdom, incorruptibility and blessedness living in us; this is Paul’s meaning of being subjected to God. Christ perfects his good in us by himself, and effects in us what is pleasing to him.

From https://www.google.com/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=1&ved=2ahUKEwjrstvPorbdAhXJL1AKHfo-CRIQFjAAegQIABAC&url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.documentacatholicaomnia.eu%2F03d%2F0330-0395%2C_Gregorius_Nyssenus%2C_A_Treatise_on_First_Corinthians_15-28%2C_EN.doc&usg=AOvVaw3hUti6oI_zCh81Hpgkay_b

In memoriam Gary Amirault

Gary Amirault, the founder of Tentmaker Ministries and tentmaker.org, has passed away. The ministry of Gary has been a great blessing to many around the world. Gary died of a broken heart after losing his wife, Michelle. Tentmaker.org is the largest collection of texts on Universal Reconcilation and Christian Universalism available. A great number of people have come to a greater hope in God’s love by, often accidentally, finding tentmaker.org in their search for a more gracious gospel.

Gary Amirault, the founder of Tentmaker Ministries and tentmaker.org, has passed away. The ministry of Gary has been a great blessing to many around the world. Gary died of a broken heart after losing his wife, Michelle.

Gary Amirault’s personal testimony is available here.

Tentmaker.org is the largest collection of texts on Universal Reconcilation and Christian Universalism available. A great number of people have come to a greater hope in God’s love by, often accidentally, finding tentmaker.org in their search for a more gracious gospel.

In recent years Gary Amirault also made videos where he talked on his favorite topics, especially the idea of “hell” in the bible and Church history.

Below are some of Gary Amirault’s videos:

James Relly: The Great Salvation Contemplated, epistle I+II

“There are but few individuals, so crucified to system, so detached from party, as to see and confess this truth much less can they perceive, how those doctrines, so seemingly contradictory, and opposite to each other, should yet be one in Christ, and preaching the same salvation, in the same language. Yet in this light I view them, and hope to speak intelligibly of the matter.”

“There are but few individuals, so crucified to system, so detached from party, as to see and confess this truth much less can they perceive, how those doctrines, so seemingly contradictory, and opposite to each other, should yet be one in Christ, and preaching the same salvation, in the same language. Yet in this light I view them, and hope to speak intelligibly of the matter.” (James Relly)

As readers of this blog have probably noticed I am quite fond of James Relly – the 18th century radical universalist theologian, whose whole theology revolved around the union of Christ and humankind.

I am currently in the process of transcribing his Epistles: Or the Great Salvation Contemplated (which is fairly easy as the OCR has already done most of the job). Below follows the first two letters.

In the first letter, Relly introduces his theme by presenting the traditional alternatives of arminianism and calvinism, as well as universalism. According to Relly most people are too attached to “system” and “parties” to be able to see how these seemingly opposite doctrines are all one in Christ.

In the second letter, Relly presents his take on conditional vs. unconditional salvation. There is an unconditional salvation wrought by Christ for all in eternity, says Relly, but also a conditional salvation depending on faith and obedience in time. This distinction is, in fact, most important for Relly’s arguments in the letters that follow.

EPISTLES: OR, THE GREAT SALVATION CONTEMPLATED; IN A SERIES OF LETTERS TO A CHRISTIAN SOCIETY.

By James Relly

LETTER I.

Dear Brethren,

It grieved me to hear that there were disputings among you, being aware of their evil tendency, but, when the fruit appeared in the loss of your christian simplicity, it made me unhappy indeed. Alas! how destructive to the pure and peaceable spirit of the gospel, is fleshly opinionative knowledge!

More than twelve months are elapsed, since I was first informed of your mutual heats, and trials of skill, respecting knowledge, argument and orthodoxy; during which, I have written sundry letters to you, without taking the least notice of your dissensions in opinion.

From knowledge of human nature I was aware, that my interfering in your disputes at that time would be adding fuel to fire, and would operate as an inflammative in a fever: hence I waited for a favorable crisis, for a happy period, when I might interpose with advantage but this I could not expect, until both parties were reduced to reverence truth alone, though at the expense of the darling, and to the notorious mortification of the selfish principle.

I thank God our Savior, I have not waited in vain: I have now the pleasure to find you united again in that one grand and only interesting subject, Jesus Christ and him crucified: and that you are mutually influenced to lay aside such peculiar tenets or dogmas, as have, for some time past, distinguished your parties; joining in Christian sincerity, to worship God in the Spirit, to rejoice in Christ: Jesus, having no more confidence in the flesh. Under this influence may your souls abide, as they will prosper.

In your last letter, unto which you all subscribed, you assure me, that you are perfectly satisfied with the great salvation, rejoicing in its freeness and fullness: intent alone on knowing and enjoying your personal interest and happiness therein, without the inquiry, Lord, what shall this man do? I cannot but applaud your spirit and conduct; may you persevere therein to the end.

In reply to your desire (that I would give you my thoughts, according to the scriptures, on the subjects which so lately distracted you) I have no objection to communicate to you all that is in my heart concerning these matters. But are you prepared to hear it ? Are not your late divisions on these accounts rather too recent ? May not the former spirit and temper, in some measure, recur, from my attempting a solution of what formerly gave birth to them? You tell me, that your satisfaction and rejoicing in Jesus Christ is such, that whether all, or only a part of the human race, shall be saved, is a point now of the uttermost indifference to you; and that the lights which the scriptures throw on these doctrines, will not again confound nor dazzle your christian eye.

Be it so. But in speaking of the fullness, freeness, and extent of the great salvation, let me premise, that the two former are more immediately necessary to be known and believed by us: for on the belief and experience of these depend our consolations; whereas, whether all mankind will be saved, or not, is, among Christians, rather a question of curiosity than of necessity. Hence, I declare, that the rejoicing which I have in Christ Jesus, neither depends on, nor connects with, either side of the question; but hath its foundation, rise and support, in the report and testimony of the Spirit, speaking by the prophets and apostles, concerning Jesus Christ, and his free and full salvation. Therefore, should I be mistaken in my ideas, respecting the extent of the salvation of Christ, yet, this mistake cannot in the least affect my own interest or rejoicing in that salvation nor can I be distressed, or greatly disappointed, at the detection of error in such opinions, as I neither derived nor expected comfort from.

On the face of the letter, there are, in the holy scriptures, three doctrines, which, to a literal view, are notoriously repugnant to each other; and these occasion no small bustle and deputations among the religious part of mankind: for when men are influenced by either of these doctrines, they conclude themselves under obligation to militate against the others; and this is one of the principal causes of altercation, and of dissensions so prevailing among Christians.

First, there is a conditional salvation, dependent on man’s repentance, faith and obedience. Secondly, there is a free and unconditional salvation of mankind, not dependent on works of righteousness, as wrought by them; but this, from God’s absolute will and pleasure, is limited to a few only whom he has loved and made choice of for that purpose; while the others, which are by far the greater part of mankind, are, by the same will and pleasure, rejected, and excluded from that salvation. Thirdly, a general or universal salvation, where all, who died in Adam, shall be made alive in Christ.

To such, who, in simplicity and christian candor, are conversant with the sacred book, I need go no further for proof, than barely to mention it; that these doctrines, so apparently contradictory, so diametrically opposite, are, nevertheless, contained in that book; and to this, the different professions of Christians bear witness: for, while in particular they explode and deny my assertion, yet, as they are Calvinists, Arminians, or Universalists, they confirm it: and, with a general voice affirm, what, as particular sects, they deny with abhorrence.

Notwithstanding which, there are but few individuals, so crucified to system, so detached from party, as to see and confess this truth much less can they perceive, how those doctrines, so seemingly contradictory, and opposite to each other, should yet be one in Christ, and preaching the same salvation, in the same language. Yet in this light I view them, and hope to speak intelligibly of the matter to you in my next; recommending myself to your esteem, I conclude, with assuring you that I am, in sincerity,

Your affectionate Brother and Servant,

(for Christ’s Sake)

J. R.

LETTER II.

Dear Brethren,

CHRIST Jesus, our Lord, is, in the holy scriptures, eminently called the Truth. Every work and word of God, are only shadowy of him: Christ, as the one only truth, is the consistence and harmony of all the seeming contradictions contained in the scriptures: he hath believed and obeyed, and therefore inherits the promise: — While the people, as united to him, as gathering with him, are, with him, partakers of the same salvation: — All the promises of God being, in him. Yea and Amen, to them: — Jesus, as our fore-runner, is the elect, precious, the predestinated to eternal life; and such are the people in him: He took not on him angels, but he took on him the seed of Abraham: This is their election. Christ also sustained the reprobate character, when made sin for us, and when encompassed with the sorrows of death, and the pains of hell.

And as to universal salvation: He is also the truth of that. For, though we see not yet all the individuals of Adam’s race, as such, brought up, through the knowledge of Christ, to the great salvation; yet, in him, all flesh have seen the salvation of God: in him, all are taught of God: in him, all know God, from the greatest to the least. In him, the whole earth is filled with the knowledge of the glory of God, as the waters cover the sea.

But, to explain this more according to reason and argument, I would observe; that not only the term Salvation, but every other term relating to the thing itself, has divers significations in the scriptures: yet, with consistence of matter, and harmony of spirit. To instance — by salvation, we understand that state and condition in which Jesus Christ, by the purity of his life, the intention of his death, and the power of his resurrection, hath placed mankind before the face of God. This state is called in the scriptures, an everlasting salvation; the great salvation; eternal salvation; and is defended as wrought in the Lord; independent of knowledge, faith, or obedience, on the part of the saved, individually considered; ”God was, in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them.” In this salvation, God beholds us without spot, or blemish, or any such thing: Our iniquities are pardoned, our warfare is accomplished; so that the Lord beholdeth no iniquity in Jacob, nor perverseness in Israel. This is the salvation, in which God ever beholds his creatures, and which the gospel preaches to them as glad tidings, that faith might come by hearing.

Again, Salvation, sometimes in the scriptures, is made to depend on our repentance, belief, and obedience. This I might explain in a twofold sense; either as the voice of the law, in contradistinction to the free unconditional gospel-salvation, spoken of above; or, as relating to the knowledge and joy of that free salvation; a proper explication in either sense, would be true: But, to abide by the subject in hand, I wave the first, and adhere to the second.

This salvation distinguishes the person who believeth on Jesus, from him who believeth not; and, in a gospel sense, is described, as the happy consequence, the only and blessed fruit of believing the report concerning Jesus Christ: i. e. that he is, before God, our free, perfect, and eternal salvation. It consists in a peculiar state of mind, an exemption from guilt, sin and fear, a possession of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Ghost. This is not only to have bread enough in our Father’s house, but to sit down at his table and eat: This salvation may be instantaneous or gradual, as it pleases God to reveal his Son in us.

This salvation, as I hinted before, is obtained, on condition of believing and obeying the truth: nor does it follow, that because faith is the gift of God, and obedience the influence of his free Spirit, that these are not conditional; since we are active in both, our faculties are in exercise in believing and obeying: Hence, “with the heart man believeth unto righteousness, and, with the mouth, confession is made unto salvation.” And, until we have this belief and confession, we attain not to salvation in the above sense.

In a first sense, Repentance, faith and obedience, are what constitute the everlasting righteousness of our Lord Jesus Christ: his repentance confided of strong cries and tears, of the broken heart, and contrite spirit: his deep inexplicable humiliations — such as were heard in that he feared — such as were rewarded with the highest name, and the most glorious exaltation: his faith consisted in believing the promises, which were all made to him: and these he believed, through all the most discouraging scenes of life and death; even when the terrors of death encompassed him, and the pains of hell gat hold on him: And when his faith was perfected by his works.

The obedience of our Lord Jesus Christ, is usually distinguished into active and passive. The one implying his immaculate life, and the other his submission to sufferings, and his obedience to death: all which infinite purity approved of, justifying him in the spirit of holiness, and declaring him the Author of salvation.

These, the Savior, from the success of his undertakings, and his exaltation in consequence thereof, hath full power to reckon over, impute or give to the children of men; “for him hath God exalted with his own right hand, to be a Prince and a Savior, to give repentance unto Israel, and remission of sin.” Our Savior’s repentance, faith, and obedience, are perfect and permanent: but our repentance, faith, and obedience, are neither perfect, nor permanent. But, as that which is perfect, is necessary to give us confidence towards God, he gives us his repentance, faith, and obedience: and when that which is perfect is come, that which is in part only is done away. We no longer depend on or gather with our own repentance, obedience, and faith. The utmost that our faith, or the faith which is in us, can attain to, is to believe, receive, and appropriate, according to his will, the faith, repentance, and obedience of Christ; and in these we find salvation.

But, though it be true, that we know in part, see but in part; yet to experience and rejoice in this salvation, it is necessary that we should know and see in our measure. For it is easily seen, that, except we are personally possessed of faith, we can neither believe, know, nor appropriate the faith of Christ. Hence the necessity of faith in us to this salvation; as there is of eating, to the man who (having bread in his house) would fill his belly therewith.

Repentance, as it respects the exercise and feelings of the human heart, consists of conviction, compunction, and renovation. Light breaks in upon the mind, discovering to us the error of our ways, and the insufficiency of all our own righteousness: Compunction of heart follows, for the deception we have been under, and for the yet corrupt bias of our spoiled nature: we loath, abhor, and detest ourselves, for what we feel: more especially for that vile propensity which is in us (notwithstanding the viciousness and poverty of our nature) to trust in ourselves, and in our own righteousnesses; in opposition to the free-grace and salvation of our Lord Jesus Christ; whom now we languish for, and pant to have every thought brought into captivity to his obedience, counting all things as loss, yea, but dung, that we may win Christ, and be found in him; not having our own righteousness. These particulars manifest a change, a renewal; but this change, this renewal, withstands and over-rules our original bias, not permitting us to look for righteousness and strength into ourselves, but inclines us to Jesus, in whom we have everlasting righteousness, and invincible strength.

In brief, the salvation promised in the scriptures, on condition of believing, obeying, &c. is, that blessed and happy state of mind, which is the assured fruit and consequence of knowing, believing, and obeying Jesus Christ, as the great, finished, eternal, unchangeable salvation: which state consists of righteousness, parity, peace, joy, and full assurance of everlasting life. This is a salvation: for we are here saved from sin, guilt, war, distress, and fear: not physically, as though we were not yet men subject to like passions with others, but legally and imputatively, as the man is saved whole debts are paid, and whole crimes are cancelled, by an equal chastisement; and withal, conscientiously: for the gospel teaches, and we believe, that Jesus Christ, through the whole of his obedience, active and passive, and in all that he obtained thereby, was Hill considered as those whom he came into the world to save.

Hence we have an undoubted right to believe, that we are freed from sin and condemnation; and that he hath presented us to himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that we should be holy and without blemish. If our heart live in contact with this truth, we have, in perfect peace and purity, complete salvation in Jesus; without works of righteousness, as done by us, individually considered; as saith the apostle, “But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that juftifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness.” Obedience here, consists in an entire submission to the will of God, as thus revealed and executed in Christ Jesus; without attempting, by what we may do or suffer, to recommend ourselves to the divine favor, or to qualify ourselves for the reception of it, or to make adequate returns for the blessings received. Thus is Christ the author of eternal salvation, unto all them that obey him. — Of ourselves we are nothing, we have nothing, we can do nothing — but, eating him, we live by him. On the above condition, we have, we inherit, we enjoy the salvation of God, by Jesus Christ.

Thus would I understand and explain conditional salvation, as taught in the scriptures; as what respects the state of believers only, in the ages of time; and not that rest which yet remaineth for the people of God, that final determinate salvation, which God has decreed, and which Jesus has perfected, and ordained, to be the eternal state of man. What influence this salvation has on the mind, is better felt and enjoyed, than explained; nor are there any other means of attaining to it, than the faith and obedience already described: May the testimony of Jesus, by the hearing of which they come, produce and maintain them in all your hearts. This is the prayer and desire of

Your Brother and Servant,

(for Christ’s sake)

J. R

Jesus and the sign of the prophet Jonah

When Jesus talks about the sign of the prophet Jonah, it is not so much about us, but first of all about Jesus. The story of Jonah is a story about the cross and resurrection of Christ. It is Jesus who is to experience the uttermost darkness at the bottom of death, he who is about to go through a radical spiritual crisis in order to experience salvation.

Sermon at Baptistkirken Bornholm in Rønne, August 2018.

Greek depiction of Jonah and the sea creature

“An evil and adulterous generation craves a sign. Yet no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah, because just as Jonah was in the stomach of the sea creature for three days and three nights, so the Son of Man will be in the heart of the earth for three days and three nights.” (Matt. 12:39-40)

In today’s text we hear how Jesus once more has a fallout with the Jewish religious elite. The scribes knew their Bible through and through and ought to have had a sense of what was going on, when Jesus started healing people, driving out demons and proclaiming the presence of the Kingdom of God.

But the Pharisees want a sign. And we can’t blame them. Like them we don’t just accept everything without some kind of proof. But our relation to God is not a matter of proofs. We cannot with reason argue our way to faith. Faith is given by the Holy Spirit. Again and again we see in the New Testament, that it is not the scribes and the religious elite that come to faith, but the “poor in spirit” – those who have nothing but an acute need for God’s grace.

But, says Jesus, if you really want a sign, actually you have already got one, namely the sign of the prophet Jonah: Just as Jonah was in the belly of the sea creature for three days and three nights, so the Jesus will also be in the Realm of Death for three days and three nights.

Of course Jesus was only in his grave for two nights – which is something critics of Christianity like to point out. But the thing is with signs, that signs shouldn’t be taken to literally, as they are signs and not the matter itself. What’s important is what the sign signifies.

When Jesus reads the stories and prophecies from the Old Testament as being about himself, we can learn from this, that the Old Testament first of all has value as a witness about the Gospel. The texts – including the book of Jonah – must be read as a witness about Jesus.

From the earliest days of Christianity, critics have rejected the story of Jonah as way to implausible to be true. Today many biblical scholars have noticed, that the story probably comes from Pagan mythology. But for us, what matters is what Jesus makes of the story, not what is plausible or historical ‘facts’.

So what is the story about? The story of Jonah is first of all a story
about God’s grace and mercy. God has mercy on Nineveh – despite having said that he would destroy the entire city. The verdict had been pronounced, and it wasn’t conditional. Nevertheless, God shows mercy.

There’s a clear evangelic point, that on the other side of all the hard words about judgment and punishment there is a merciful ‘however’. The Gospel is that God is merciful in spite of everything. But Jonah becomes angry. He seems to have been looking forward to the destruction of Nineveh. Finally they would learn a lesson! In this way Jonah is a fitting picture of much religion – and perhaps also us as Christians. We too want order and justice, we want the guilty to be punished and so on. How annoying it is, when God turns out to be merciful!

From Jonah’s point of view, the story probably looks a bit different, though it’s also for him about God’s mercy. From Jonah’s point of view, the story is first of all about his conversion, when he had been swallowed by the sea creature and from its belly prayed for help. According to Jonah’s own word, he has ended up in the Realm of Death (or “the belly of sheol”, Jonah 2:2). Jonah has actually died, but exactly there, in the Realm of Death, Jonah learns that God is merciful. In hopelessness Jonah learns that there is hope. Jonah has faith without proofs or signs: “The earth with its bars closed upon me for ever”, says Jonah, but still he has a hope of God’s mercy. And eventually it did turn out, that Jonah was not to stay in the Realm of Death “for ever”, but only for three days.

The experience that Jonah had, has throughout Church history been seen as an expression of how we experience conversion and salvation: Human beings have to go through some kind of spiritual crisis, the experience of a deep spiritual darkness, leading to a final experience of being born again. From this perspective the book of Jonah shows us that God does not save people from death and hell, but through death and hell.

Following this line of thought, Jonah realizes that God is “present in his absence”. According to the medieval mystic Heinrich Seuse, this has to do with the nature of love as such: It is exactly when we experience the absence of love, that we realize how much love means to us. By experiencing God’s total absence in the Realm of Death, Jonah realizes how important God’s mercy really is.

This way of reading the book of Jonah can be quite edifying. In tough parts of our life it can be helpful to know, that it is not necessarily in life’s happiest moments, that we experience the presence of God, but rather the contrary, that God is closest when we are the most unhappy.

There are, however, also the risk that the idea of Jonah’s experience as an example of spiritual rebirth, can lead to new worries. If we think that salvation only follows after a radical spiritual crisis, we easily end up asking ourselves: “did I have this radical kind of experience, like Jonah?” or “am I really a born again Christian?”. And suddenly it’s all about our own self, our feelings and experiences.

But this is where we need to keep focus – and recall that it is Jesus’ use of the story about Jonah that we need to learn from. When Jesus talks about the sign of the prophet Jonah, it is not so much about us, but first of all about Jesus. The story of Jonah is a story about the cross and resurrection of Christ. It is Jesus who is to experience the uttermost darkness at the bottom of death, he who is about to go through a radical spiritual crisis in order to experience salvation.

This does not mean, of course, that the story is not about us at all. But only because it is a story about Jesus, his death and resurrection, is it also a story about us. We have all died with him – not because we have had some sort of radical spiritual experience, but because we died with him at the cross Christ (2 Cor. 5:14). And because he has risen we will rise again. Because of him we will be born again.

Now, of course Jonah knew nothing about all this. He probably thought about his experience as unique, and he might have seen himself as someone special, as being chosen by God. This at least explains why he couldn’t understand why God suddenly had mercy on Nineveh.

Something similar might have been the case with the Pharisees, the religious elites, whom Jesus debated. They too did not understand that the sign of the prophet Jonah was about something much greater, that it was about the all-embracing grace of God.

The challenge to us today is that we ask ourselves: Do I think that this story is about my own private spiritual rebirth or do I dare to believe, that it is first of all about the death and resurrection of Jesus and through him about all human beings?

Karl Barth: The Epistle to the Romans

Karl Barth, The Epistle to the Romans. Translated from the 6th edition by Edwyn C. Hoskyns, Bart., M.A. with a preface to the English edition by the author (1933). “The Church hopes. Well, this is the hope of the Church. There is no other hope. Would that the Church might comprehend it!”

Karl Barth, The Epistle to the Romans. Translated from the 6th edition by Edwyn C. Hoskyns, Bart., M.A. with a preface to the English edition by the author (1933).

One of the most important theological works of the 20th century was arguably Karl Barth’s commentary to Paul’s epistle to the Romans.

Here Barth developed his version of what would become known as ‘dialectical theology’. Dialectical theology emphasizes the radical contradiction between God and everything human, revealed in the cross. But at the same time God’s judgment is seen to be only the negative side of the matter, always containing God’s mercy. God’s ‘no’ and ‘yes’, the cross and the resurrection, cannot be separated.

While The Epistle to the Romans is famous for its harsh criticism of human religiosity and every attempt at pronouncing absolute negative or positive judgments on human conduct independently of God’s revelation in Christ, the sometimes overlooked core of Barth’s argument is to be found in the chapters on Romans 9-11.

Here, the dialectical approach to theology is worked out by Barth in a renewed understanding of the classical reformed doctrine of double predestination. In traditional accounts, when Paul says that God “has mercy on whomever he wills, and hardens whomever he wills” (Rom. 9:18) this means that some individuals are the object of divine election, while others are the objects of divine reprobation. This theory, however, fails to take into account Paul’s conclusion in Rom. 11, where he famously asserts that “God hath shut up all unto disobedience, that he might have mercy upon all” (Rom. 11:32).

According to Barth the elect and the reprobate are not two separate categories of human beings, but in Christ all are subject to God’s judgment as well as his grace. Most importantly, Barth perceives Paul’s words in Romans 11:32 (“For God hath shut up all unto disobedience, that he might have mercy upon all”) to be the key for understanding Paul’s theology in the Epistle to the Romans as such. Paul’s conclusion is not to be understood, however, as if mercy neatly dissolves judgment in such a way, that judgment is rendered void of meaning. The two are to be understood dialectically, as contradictions that are nevertheless to be held together. This cannot be done through ordinary human logic and reason, but only through faith and hope.

In the Church Dogmatics, Barth would develop a more Christocentric understanding of double predestination, where Christ is the object of both election and reprobation, so that Christ takes part in the rejection of humanity in order that humanity may join in his election, but this is arguably a development of the dialectical understanding, rather than an alternative.

In a chapter of The Epistle to the Romans called ‘The Hope of the Church’, Barth writes:

“‘For God hath shut up all unto disobedience, that he might have mercy upon all’ […] Our understanding or our misunderstanding of what Paul means – and not only Paul  – by the key words, God, Righteousness, Man, Sin, Grace, Death, Resurrection, Law, Judgment, Salvation, Election, Rejection, Faith, Hope, Love, the Day of the Lord, is tested by whether we do or do not understand this summary. How are we to spell out the meaning of those great words? In what context are we to interpret them? Well! it is this passage which provides the standard by which they can be measured, the balance in which they can all be weighed. In its own way, it is the criterion by which every one who reads or hears the Epistle is himself judged; for by it the final meaning of ‘Double Predestination’ seeks to make itself known. Pregnant with meaning is the diving shutting up; pregnant also is the divine mercy. Most significant is the first all; most significant also is the second all – for even these last run the risk of being reckoned among those who, as Calvin says, nimis crasse delirant. Here it is that we encounter the hidden, unknown, incomprehensible God, to whom nothing is impossible, the Lord, who is as such our Father in Jesus Christ. Here is the possibility of God pressing upon us, vastly nigh at hand, vastly rich, but also vastly beyond our understanding. Here is Beginning and End, the road and the goal of the thought of God. Here is the object of faith, which may never be depressed to an ‘object’. Here is the inner meaning of Christianity, which defies analysis. The Church hopes. Well, this is the hope of the Church. There is no other hope. Would that the Church might comprehend it!” (Karl Barth, The Epistle to the Romans, p. 421)

“He came to save all through means of Himself” Irenaeus on the humanity of Christ

For He came to save all through means of Himself — all, I say, who through Him are born again to God — infants, and children, and boys, and youths, and old men.

Irenaeus of Lyon (130-202) is widely acknowledged for his emphasis on the unity of God and the history of salvation. Crucial for the salvation of humankind is the humanity of Christ. In the incarnation of Christ humanity is united to God, Christ becoming the head of fallen humanity instead of Adam.

In his polemic against “the heretics” (Gnostics, etc.) Irenaeus in a central passage developed this idea, and emphasized that Christ lived through a common life in order to have all human beings born again. Irenaeus writes:

Being thirty years old when He came to be baptized, and then possessing the full age of a Master, He came to Jerusalem, so that He might be properly acknowledged by all as a Master. For He did not seem one thing while He was another, as those affirm who describe Him as being man only in appearance; but what He was, that He also appeared to be. Being a Master, therefore, He also possessed the age of a Master, not despising or evading any condition of humanity, nor setting aside in Himself that law which He had appointed for the human race, but sanctifying every age, by that period corresponding to it which belonged to Himself. For He came to save all through means of Himself — all, I say, who through Him are born again to God — infants, and children, and boys, and youths, and old men. He therefore passed through every age, becoming an infant for infants, thus sanctifying infants; a child for children, thus sanctifying those who are of this age, being at the same time made to them an example of piety, righteousness, and submission; a youth for youths, becoming an example to youths, and thus sanctifying them for the Lord. So likewise He was an old man for old men, that He might be a perfect Master for all, not merely as respects the setting forth of the truth, but also as regards age, sanctifying at the same time the aged also, and becoming an example to them likewise. Then, at last, He came on to death itself, that He might be the first-born from the dead, that in all things He might have the pre-eminence, Colossians 1:18 the Prince of life, Acts 3:15 existing before all, and going before all. (Against Heresies II.22.4)

Who are Jesus’ flock? Notes for a sermon on sheep

To belong to the flock of Christ – to be a part of his church – means to confess that he is one with the Father and that all and everything has been put into his hands. This also means to have a hope that is larger than a particular and narrow hope for the elect only. This larger hope is exactly what distinguishes the church from the pharisees of Jesus’ time and indeed all religious elites who want to narrow down the gospel.

Notes for a sermon in the Baptist church of Bornholm, spring 2018

“And it was at Jerusalem the feast of the dedication, and it was winter. And Jesus walked in the temple in Solomon’s porch. Then came the Jews round about him, and said unto him, How long dost thou make us to doubt? If thou be the Christ, tell us plainly. Jesus answered them, I told you, and ye believed not: the works that I do in my Father’s name, they bear witness of me. But ye believe not, because ye are not of my sheep, as I said unto you. My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me: And I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand. My Father, which gave them me, is greater than all; and no man is able to pluck them out of my Father’s hand. I and my Father are one.” (John 10:22-30)

Giovanni Paolo Panini, Christ among the Doctors 1743

“You are not my sheep”.

These are hard words. The Jews in Jesus’ time must have been accustomed to think of themselves as the flock of the Lord. The Old Testament is full of language drawn from shepherding: “The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want”, etc. (Psalm 23).

‘But’, says Jesus when he discusses with the pharisees in front of the temple, ‘you are not my sheep. If you were you would believe in me.’ How are we to understand Jesus’ words?

As I’ve understood it, there’s the thing with sheep that what matters is not so much what exactly is being said, but who says it. Sheep obviously doesn’t understand much, but they recognize the voice of their shepherd, and they follow when they hear his voice.

Notice that Jesus says ‘you don’t believe, because you are not my sheep’. We are used to think of it the other way round. We usually think that we decide whether we want to believe and be disciples of Jesus. As if hearing is a choice.

But the point here is the opposite. Just as the sheep don’t pick and choose their shepherd, we don’t get to choose whether we belong to Jesus’ flock or not. His sheep hear his voice, because they are his flock. They who believe Christ do so because they are his, because he has chosen them.

But who are then Jesus’ flock? Who hears him and believes him? Who, in other words, belong to the church?

Not the self-righteous religious elite. The pharisees are too busy with their identity as the chosen people, their holiness and morality. They are so busy that they have become completely deaf and incapable of hearing God’s address to them in Christ.

Instead, all kinds of sinners, tax collectors and prostitutes gather around Jesus. It turns out that Jesus’ sheep are the unmoral, the unholy, the unrighteous. Not the religious. Not the moral.

But what is it, then, that they hear when they hear his voice? What does it mean to hear the voice of the Lord?

We hear God’s voice in Christ when we understand that he is the Son of God. That he and the Father are one, as he puts it. Those who hear the voice of Christ, follow and obey him, are those who confess that Jesus is the Son of God (1 Jn 5:1). This is to obey Christ.

The identity of Jesus Christ as one with God the Father has been at the core of every Christian confession since the ancient church. Not morality. Not eschatology. Not even soteriology, but Christ himself is the gospel.

That Jesus and the Father are one is good news, as this means that everything which belongs to the Father also belongs to Jesus. ‘What the Father has given me is greater than everything’, says Jesus. In John 3:35 we hear that ‘everything’ has been put in the hands of the Son by the Father.

This lends an important perspective to the words about those who belong to Jesus’ flock and those who don’t.

That everything is in the hands of Jesus means that the Jews are also in his hands – even if they don’t recognize him as their shepherd, even if they do not hear him and obey him.

Yet.

The Jews do not yet follow, obey and confess Christ as the Son of God. Most people don’t. But they will, as we know from Paul. Eventually all will kneel and confess that Christ is Lord (Phil. 2:10).

When the pharisees in front of the temple heard Jesus saying that they were not his sheep, they have probably heard it as a complete rejection of their status as elect. But the Jews have not lost their election. In regards to the gospel they are enemies, but in regards to election they are beloved (Rom. 11:28-31).

We who confess Christ know that they are also in his hands, as all are. To belong to the flock of Christ – to be a part of his church – means to confess that he is one with the Father and that all and everything has been put into his hands. This also means to have a hope that is larger than a particular and narrow hope for the elect only. This larger hope is exactly what distinguishes the church from the pharisees of Jesus’ time and indeed all religious elites who want to narrow down the gospel.

Jacques Ellul on Jonah’s song: “God has been gracious from the very beginning”

Jonah, being a sign anticipating Christ’s death and resurrection, is, according to Jacques Ellul, actually in hell (Sheol, ” the realm of the dead”). But this is exactly where he experiences the grace of God, even if he has not yet seen deliverance.

I’m currently working on a sermon on ‘the sign of Jonah’ in Matthew 12:38-42. Jesus makes it clear that “just as Jonah was in the stomach of the sea creature for three days and three nights, so the Son of Man will be in the heart of the earth for three days and three nights”. This suggests that the book of Jonah is quite relevant for understanding the gospel.

Jonah in the whale, on a door in Waterland (Netherlands)

The story of Jonah needs no further introduction. Jonah was called to be a prophet, but tried to escape. Having been thrown overboard and swallowed by the “sea creature”, Jonah sings a song, that seems to indicate a turning point in the story:

“In my distress I called to the Lord,
and he answered me.
From deep in the realm of the dead I called for help,
and you listened to my cry.
You hurled me into the depths,
into the very heart of the seas,
and the currents swirled about me;
all your waves and breakers
swept over me.
I said, ‘I have been banished
from your sight;
yet I will look again
toward your holy temple.’
The engulfing waters threatened me,
the deep surrounded me;
seaweed was wrapped around my head.
To the roots of the mountains I sank down;
the earth beneath barred me in forever.
But you, Lord my God,
brought my life up from the pit.
“When my life was ebbing away,

I remembered you, Lord,
and my prayer rose to you,
to your holy temple.
“Those who cling to worthless idols

turn away from God’s love for them.
But I, with shouts of grateful praise,
will sacrifice to you.
What I have vowed I will make good.
I will say, ‘Salvation comes from the Lord.’” (Jonah 2:2-9)

Jacques Ellul, The Judgment of Jonah (Eerdmanns 1971)

How are we to understand the song that the prophet Jonah sings at the bottom of the depth? Some possible answers may be found in Jacques Ellul’s book on Jonah (I hope to make use of it when finishing my sermon, we’ll see).

Jonah, being a sign anticipating Christ’s death and resurrection, is, according to Ellul, actually in hell (Sheol, “the realm of the dead“). But this is exactly where he experiences the grace of God, even if he has not yet seen deliverance.

What Jonah realizes is that God’s grace is both eternal and permanent, even when it has not been recognized as such. In this way Ellul develops a core theme in dialectical theology, where God’s ‘yes’ is always implicit in his ‘no’, his mercy in his judgment.

“Jonah, even while he is not saved, even while he is at the nadir of his misery, in hell, suddenly rediscovers the permanence of grace: “I called to the Lord, out of my distress, and he answered me.” Jonah has not been answered if we take the answer to be rescue from the belly of the fish, salvation from hell. But he has been answered if we take the answer to be adoption under the care of God who takes on the totality of our sufferings, dramas and situations. He is answered because grace does not fail in any way, and even if there is no visible, actual and personal sign, Jonah can state that the answer takes place because grace has been granted to him from all eternity. Jonah rediscovers this grace of God at the very moment his situation is hopeless and to all appearances nothing more is to be expected. His refusal and flight were clearly outside grace. Events have taken place without any indication of a favorable intervention, only signs of judgment. But suddenly, when he has accepted his condemnation, when he has acknowledged before God that he was guilty and that God was just, he sees that at no point did God cease to show him grace. Under condemnation in hell he finds the faithfulness which permits him to say: “Thou hast answered me.” In his return to God he comes to know God again. There is no bargain: “I repent and so you show grace.” God has been gracious from the very beginning. He does not change when man returns to him. He simply brings to light his hidden mercy and makes his general and eternal benediction near and actual. In all these twists, in this debate, in the fall of Jonah, grace has never left him. Quite the contrary! But it is in hell that he really comes to take account of it.” (Jacques Ellul, The Judgment of Jonah (Eerdmanns 1971), pp. 48f).

See also: Jacques Ellul: The Judgment of Jonah

Christoph Blumhardt: Action in Waiting

Blumhardt’s dialectical point is that only when we are ready to wait for the coming Kingdom of God are we truly able to act in the world here and now. Our religious practices and affiliations do not bring the Kingdom of God a bit closer: A comfortable Christianity will never change the world, says Blumhardt. Instead we must await the Kingdom in “active expectation”.

Christoph Friedrich Blumhardt, Action in Waiting, Foreword by Rodney Clapp, Afterword by Karl Barth (Plough 1998).

Christoph Blumhardt (1842–1919) was a German pastor whose Christian radicalism and emphasis on the living kingdom of God against bourgeois personal pietism and religion influenced theologians such as Karl Barth and Jürgen Moltmann.

Action in Waiting is a collection of sermons that presents Blumhardt’s thinking in an easily accessible manner. This is not complicated theological speculation, but clear words about the all-embracing grace of the Kingdom of God.

Blumhardt’s dialectical point is that only when we are ready to wait for the coming Kingdom of God are we truly able to act in the world here and now. Our religious practices and affiliations do not bring the Kingdom of God a bit closer: A comfortable Christianity will never change the world, says Blumhardt. Instead we must await the Kingdom in “active expectation”.  Most importantly the Kingdom of God cannot be limited to the “church” or certain pious persons, but must embrace the whole world.

From the book:

“[…] we must begin to speak of God’s kingdom in a new way. In spite of present-day conditions where much of the church and of Christian fellowship is almost dead, we can speak of God’s kingdom to men and women of our time. The kingdom of God is and was and will be the rulership of justice, of order, of power, of authority, of all that is of God, over creation. This is what moves those of us who seek, and this must come more fully into being. And unless our lives are molded according to this rulership, we shall always remain dissatisfied.”

“I am frequently saddened to hear and see how so many people who call themselves Christians, and often even real Christians, cannot bring themselves to wish good to all people as they wish it for themselves. How few are filled with God’s gift of forgiveness! Instead most set themselves apart by setting themselves above oth­ers. But if we are awaiting the Savior, then we are await­ing the forgiveness of the world’s sins, not just our own (1 John 2:2).”

See also: Christoph Blumhardt (1842-1919)

The book can be freely download at Plough Publishing.

Jürgen Moltmann: The Crucified God

In his important work, The Crucified God (first released in German in 1972 as Der gekreuzigte Gott. Das Kreuz Christi als Grund und Kritik christlicher Theologie), Moltmann established the crucified Christ as the criterion of all Christian theology: “Whatever can stand before the face of the crucified Christ is true Christian theology. What cannot stand there must disappear.”

Jürgen Moltmann, The Crucified God (Minneapolis: Fortress Press 2015)

Jürgen Moltmann (1926-) is a German reformed theologian and professor emeritus of systematic theology at the University of Tübingen.

In his important work, The Crucified God (first released in German in 1972 as Der gekreuzigte Gott. Das Kreuz Christi als Grund und Kritik christlicher Theologie), Moltmann established the crucified Christ as the criterion of all Christian theology. Moltmann, with Luther, affirms that the cross is the test of everything which deserves to be called Christian (‘Crux probat omnia’).

Theological reflection cannot start with abstract, philosophical ideas about God or systematic theories about sin, justice, predestination and so on, but must start with the cross. We know first of all God, not as the omnipotent creator and judge, but as the crucified Christ.

When we let the crucifixion of Christ determine our theological concepts, this has radical and all-embracing consequences for how we view the relationship between God and human beings in general. Moltmann further argues, that putting the crucified Christ in center of Christian faith and theology, is the only way for the church to show the world the freedom from the forces of history and society that Christ offers.

Moltmann’s The Crucified God also anticipates his version of a Christian universalism known from his later book The Coming of God. Moltmann, with Christoph Blumhardt, argues that the cross is “Christianity for all the world”, as the cross dissolves all distinctions between human beings, including those “between Christians and non-Christiand, the pious and the godless” (p. 280).

From the book:

“The cross is not and cannot be loved. Yet only the crucified Christ can bring the freedom which changes the world because it is no longer afraid of death.” (p. xix)

Whatever can stand before the face of the crucified Christ is true Christian theology. What cannot stand there must disappear.” (p. xii)

“[…]the theology of the cross is the true Christian universalism. There is no distinction here, and there cannot be any more distinctions. All are sinners without distinction, and all will be made righteous without any merit on their part by his grace which has come to pass in Christ Jesus (Rom. 3:24). As the crucified one, the risen Christ is there ‘for all’. In the cross of the Son of God, in his abandonment by God, the ‘crucified’ God is the human God of all godless men and those who have been abandoned by God.” (pp. 279-280)

See also: Jürgen Moltmann: The Coming of God and “The theology of the cross is the true Christian universalism” – Moltmann on the Gentile centurion and Jesus’ Easter appearances

 

Jacques Ellul: The Judgment of Jonah

Jacques Ellul, The Judgment of Jonah (Wipf & Stock 2011) “What is really intimated is the adventure of Jesus. What happens to Jonah happens to Jesus. For Jesus took on him the fulness of man.”

Jacques Ellul, The Judgment of Jonah (Eerdmanns 1971) (Wipf & Stock 2011)

Jacques Ellul (1912-1994) was a French sociologist, theologian, and professor of law at the University of Bordeaux.

In his short book (a long essay) on the Old Testament book of Jonah, Ellul finds the meaning of the story of Jonah in its prophetic relation to Jesus Christ.

The key to understanding Jonah’s descent into the abyss and his subsequent salvation is Jesus’ own interpretation of “the sign of Jonah” as anticipating his death and resurrection (eg. Matt. 12:38-42).

While the book of Jonah is valuable for reflecting on our own personal experiences with God, its ultimate meaning is unveiled by the gospel about the relation of all human beings to God through Christ.

“What is really intimated is the adventure of Jesus. What happens to Jonah happens to Jesus. For Jesus took on him the fulness of man. We are thus confronted here by the insoluble mystery of the unity of all men in Christ. If all are dead in Adam, all are made alive in Christ. This is why the Book of Jonah, so rich in instruction for each of us (our life, our personal problems), for Israel, and for the Church, is also the prophetic book of Jesus Christ. Jesus truly lives the life of each of us. All that Jonah is in his abandonment, revolt, and misery, and later in his discussions with God, all this Christ has assumed, transformed into prophecy who the Savior and Messiah is and what he will do. Conversely, it is also a revelation that what happens to Christ will all happen to man. If Christ in Jesus takes on our adventures and condition, he gives us in exchange his own sanctity and righteousness. The Book of Jonah is essentially prophetic in this twofold relation.” (p. 59)

“The Book of Jonah has no conclusion, and the final question of the book has no answer, except from the one who realizes the fulness of the mercy of God and who factually and not just mythically accomplishes the salvation of the world.” (p. 103)

See also: Jacques Ellul (1912-1994)

Karl Barth: “God has mercy on us.” Sermon from the Basel prison

The arms of his eternal love, if I may say so, are already outstretched when he makes us prisoners of disobedience. He does so in order to have mercy on all. Barth on Romans 11:32

Picture from http://gregklimovitz.blogspot.com/2016/10/his-name-is-zacchaeus-and-mine-is-too.html

“For God has made all men prisoners, that he may have mercy upon all.” (Rom 11:32)

In his groundbreaking commentary on Paul’s Epistle to the Romans, Swiss reformed theologian Karl Barth, noted that Romans 11:32 is the key to understanding Paul’s theology. God’s all-embracing judgment on everything human has only one purpose: All-embracing mercy. God’s ‘no’ cannot be understood apart from his ‘yes’.

When Barth during his professorship in Basel started preaching for the inmates in the city’s prison, he took up again once more this insight. The thought that God’s grace is close to all, even though we are all imprisoned by sin, is recurrent in Barth’s prison sermons from the period – though perhaps most explicitly, of course, in his sermon on Romans 11:32 from 1957. Can we imagine a more appropriate place to preach, that God has made all prisoners, that he may have mercy on all?

Karl Barth, Deliverance to the Captives (Wipf & Stock Pub 2010)

We must start with the fact that God had mercy and will have mercy on all – that his will and work are determined and governed by his compassion. This he proved in Jesus Christ not only by words, but by the mightiest of his deeds. He gave himself for us in his dear Son and became man, our brother. This is the mighty deed and through it the word of God’s mercy on all has been spoken. We may and we must stick to this truth and ever anew begin with it.

God has mercy on us. He says ‘yes’ to us, he wills to be on our side, to be our God against all odds. Indeed against all odds, because we do not deserve this mercy, because, as we rightly suppose, he should say ‘no’ to us all. But he does not say ‘no’; he says ‘yes’. He is not against us; he is for us. This is God’s mercy.

Contrary to human mercy even in its kindest expression God’s mercy is almighty. It is almightily saving and helpful. It brings light, peace and joy. We need not be afraid that it might be limited or have strings attached. His ‘yes’ is unequivocal, never to be reversed into ‘no’.

Since God’s mercy is divine and not human, it is poured out on all men, as emphasized in our text [Rom. 11:32]. In his letter to the Romans Paul interprets this mercy by insisting that it is extended to the Jews and the Gentiles – to those near, or at least nearer, to God and to those far away from him – to the so-called pious and the so-called unbelievers – to the so-called good and the so-called evil people – truly to all. God has mercy on all, though on each one in his own way. God’s mercy is such as it is described in the parable of the lost sheep, of the lost coin, and of the prodigal son.

Let us pause for a moment. As according to God’s holy word, spoken in Jesus Christ, he has mercy on all, each one of you may and shall repeat – not after me, but after him -‘I am one of them’. God has mercy on me and will have mercy on me. The one great sin for anyone right now would be to think: ‘This is not meant for me. God does not have mercy on me and will not have mercy on me.’ […] The one great sin from which we shall try to escape this morning is to exclude anyone from the ‘yes’ of God’s mercy. […]

‘God has made all men prisoners of disobedience.’ What does this mean? What kind of imprisonment is this? […] The text insists that God has made all men prisoners of disobedience. All, including me, the preacher if this Sunday sermon? Yes, including me! Including the good or at least the better fellows among you? Yes, including them! Including the best people that ever lived or may live on earth? Yes, including these! The all-knowing God declares that all, each one in his own way, yet each and all, are prisoners of disobedience.

We must again pause for a moment. Because this is our common predicament, non shall secretly exempt himself; none shall point to the other fellow as a more obvious target; none shall think of himself as an exception, if only a half-exception or a quarter-exception. My brothers and sisters, everything depends on our readiness not to escape at this point. Not only because there is no escape – but because an escape would work to our disadvantage. Our peace and our joy, our salvation in time and eternity are here determined. We are not to deny, but to acknowledge, not to mutiny against, but to confess: God has made me and you prisoners of disobedience. […]

The arms of his eternal love, if I may say so, are already outstretched when he makes us prisoners of disobedience. He does so in order to have mercy on all. He keeps us, the prisoners of disobedience, togehter like a shepherd his flock. He keeps us in line and holds us in check. He places us on the very spot where his mercy is operative and manifest, he gathers us as his people, transfers us into a community of our Lord Jesus Christ. For he has made Jesus Christ our Saviour by delivering his own beloved and obedient Son to disobedience and death in our place. […] (Karl Barth, Deliverance to the Captives (Wipf & Stock Pub 2010), “All!”, pp. 85ff)

Bonhoeffer: “God goes to all people in their need”

God goes to all people in their need, fills body and soul with God’s own bread, goes for Christians and heathens to Calvary’s death and forgives them both.

The following poem by the German pastor and theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer, was written in 1944, two days before he participated in the failed attempt to kill Hitler. According to Bonhoeffer, to live in the world as a Christian is to partake in the sufferings of Christ by living a ‘wordly’ life, without religion. God is with all people in their sufferings. Bonhoeffer concludes:

Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906-1945)

People go to God when they’re in need,
plead for help, pray for blessings and bread,
for rescue from their sickness, guilt, and death.
So do they all. All of them, Christians and heathens.

People go to God when God’s in need,
find God poor, reviled, without shelter or bread,
see God devoured by sin, weakness, and death.
Christians stand by God in God’s own pain.

God goes to all people in their need,
fills body and soul with God’s own bread,
goes for Christians and heathens to Calvary’s death
and forgives them both.

The original text in German:

Menschen gehen zu Gott in ihrer Not,
flehen um Hilfe, bitten um Glück und Brot
um Errettung aus Krankheit, Schuld und Tod.
So tun sie alle, alle, Christen und Heiden.

Menschen gehen zu Gott in Seiner Not,
finden ihn arm, geschmäht, ohne Obdach und Brot,
sehen ihn verschlungen von Sünde, Schwachheit und Tod. Christen stehen bei Gott in Seinen Leiden.

Gott geht zu allen Menschen in ihrer Not,
sättigt den Leib und die Seele mit Seinem Brot,
stirbt für Christen und Heiden den Kreuzestod,
und vergibt ihnen beiden.

– Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906-1945), Works, Volume 8, Letters and Papers From Prison, pp. 460-61 / Widerstand und Ergebung, DBW Band 8, Seite 515 f

See also: Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906–1945)

Athanasius on eternal election

Nor in any other way was it fitting that our life should be founded, but in the Lord who is before the ages, and through whom the ages were brought to be; that, since it was in Him, we too might be able to inherit that everlasting life.

From Against the Arians, II.22.

75. Nor let the words ‘before the world’ and ‘before He made the earth’ and ‘before the mountains were settled’ disturb any one; for they very well accord with ‘founded’ and ‘created;’ for here again allusion is made to the Economy according to the flesh. For though the grace which came to us from the Saviour appeared, as the Apostle says, just now, and has come when He sojourned among us; yet this grace had been prepared even before we came into being, nay, before the foundation of the world, and the reason why is kindly and wonderful. It beseemed not that God should counsel concerning us afterwards, lest He should appear ignorant of our fate. The God of all then — creating us by His own Word, and knowing our destinies better than we, and foreseeing that, being made ‘good Genesis 1:31,’ we should in the event be transgressors of the commandment, and be thrust out of paradise for disobedience — being loving and kind, prepared beforehand in His own Word, by whom also He created us , the Economy of our salvation; that though by the serpent’s deceit we fell from Him, we might not remain quite dead, but having in the Word the redemption and salvation which was afore prepared for us, we might rise again and abide immortal, what time He should have been created for us ‘a beginning of the ways,’ and He who was the ‘First-born of creation’ should become ‘first-born’ of the ‘brethren,’ and again should rise ‘first-fruits of the dead.’ This Paul the blessed Apostle teaches in his writings; for, as interpreting the words of the Proverbs ‘before the world’ and ‘before the earth was,’ he thus speaks to Timothy ; ‘Be partaker of the afflictions of the Gospel according to the power of God, who has saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace, which was given us in Christ Jesus before the world began, but is now made manifest by the appearing of our Saviour Jesus Christ, who has abolished death, and brought to light life 2 Timothy 1:8-10.’ And to the Ephesians; ‘Blessed be God even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with all spiritual blessing in heavenly places in Christ Jesus, according as He has chosen us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love, having predestinated us to the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to Himself Ephesians 1:3-5.’

76. How then has He chosen us, before we came into existence, but that, as he says himself, in Him we were represented beforehand? And how at all, before men were created, did He predestinate us unto adoption, but that the Son Himself was ‘founded before the world,’ taking on Him that economy which was for our sake? Or how, as the Apostle goes on to say, have we ‘an inheritance being predestinated,’ but that the Lord Himself was founded ‘before the world,’ inasmuch as He had a purpose, for our sakes, to take on Him through the flesh all that inheritance of judgment which lay against us, and we henceforth were made sons in Him? And how did we receive it ‘before the world was,’ when we were not yet in being, but afterwards in time, but that in Christ was stored the grace which has reached us? Wherefore also in the Judgment, when every one shall receive according to his conduct, He says, ‘Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world Matthew 25:34.’ How then, or in whom, was it prepared before we came to be, save in the Lord who ‘before the world’ was founded for this purpose; that we, as built upon Him, might partake, as well-compacted stones, the life and grace which is from Him? And this took place, as naturally suggests itself to the religious mind, that, as I said, we, rising after our brief death, may be capable of an eternal life, of which we had not been capable , men as we are, formed of earth, but that ‘before the world’ there had been prepared for us in Christ the hope of life and salvation. Therefore reason is there that the Word, on coming into our flesh, and being created in it as ‘a beginning of ways for His works,’ is laid as a foundation according as the Father’s will was in Him before the world, as has been said, and before land was, and before the mountains were settled, and before the fountains burst forth; that, though the earth and the mountains and the shapes of visible nature pass away in the fullness of the present age, we on the contrary may not grow old after their pattern, but may be able to live after them, having the spiritual life and blessing which before these things have been prepared for us in the Word Himself according to election. For thus we shall be capable of a life not temporary, but ever afterwards abide and live in Christ; since even before this our life had been founded and prepared in Christ Jesus.

77. Nor in any other way was it fitting that our life should be founded, but in the Lord who is before the ages, and through whom the ages were brought to be; that, since it was in Him, we too might be able to inherit that everlasting life. For God is good; and being good always, He willed this, as knowing that our weak nature needed the succour and salvation which is from Him. And as a wise architect, proposing to build a house, consults also about repairing it, should it at any time become dilapidated after building, and, as counselling about this, makes preparation and gives to the workmen materials for a repair; and thus the means of the repair are provided before the house; in the same way prior to us is the repair of our salvation founded in Christ, that in Him we might even be new-created. And the will and the purpose were made ready ‘before the world,’ but have taken effect when the need required, and the Saviour came among us. For the Lord Himself will stand us in place of all things in the heavens, when He receives us into everlasting life. This then suffices to prove that the Word of God is not a creature, but that the sense of the passage is right. But since that passage, when scrutinized, has a right sense in every point of view, it may be well to state what it is; perhaps many words may bring these senseless men to shame. Now here I must recur to what has been said before, for what I have to say relates to the same proverb and the same Wisdom. The Word has not called Himself a creature by nature, but has said in proverbs, ‘The Lord created me;’ and He plainly indicates a sense not spoken ‘plainly’ but latent , such as we shall be able to find by taking away the veil from the proverb. For who, on hearing from the Framing Wisdom, ‘The Lord created me a beginning of His ways,’ does not at once question the meaning, reflecting how that creative Wisdom can be created? Who on hearing the Only-begotten Son of God say, that He was created ‘a beginning of ways,’ does not investigate the sense, wondering how the Only-begotten Son can become a Beginning of many others? For it is a dark saying ; but ‘a man of understanding,’ says he, ‘shall understand a proverb and the interpretation, the words of the wise and their dark sayings Proverbs 1:5-6.’

Reconciling Conflicting Convictions on the Sovereignty of God and the Freedom of Human Beings: Three Centuries (16th-18th) of Baptist Universalism

Should we emphasize the sovereignty of God at the cost of having to narrow the scope of his love and mercy and the freedom of human beings? Or should we instead emphasize the universal scope of God’s love as well as the freedom of human beings to resist grace at the cost of God’s sovereignty? Questions such as these seem to have been at the core of many theological controversies in the slipstream of the Reformation.

The following is a paper originally presented at a conference at International Baptist Theological Seminary (IBTS) in Amsterdam on how to reconcile conflicting convictions. The paper was also published in Baptistic Theologies (no. 1 Spring 2016).

A central discussion in Protestant orthodoxy has been that between those who affirmed the sovereignty and the predestining election of God on the one hand, and those who affirmed the general scope of the atonement and the freedom of human beings to reject grace on the other. While both assumed an eschatology where only some human beings would finally be saved, a third position was held by theologians who simultaneously affirmed the sovereignty of God and the generality of his love and the atoning sacrifice of Christ. Some of these were Anabaptists or Baptists, who argued that the conflicting opinions in Protestant orthodoxy about the sovereignty of God and the freedom of the human will could be reconciled by applying some sort of biblical universalism.

Introduction

Should we emphasize the sovereignty of God at the cost of having to narrow the scope of his love and mercy and the freedom of human beings? Or should we instead emphasize the universal scope of God’s love as well as the freedom of human beings to resist grace at the cost of God’s sovereignty? Questions such as these seem to have been at the core of many theological controversies in the slipstream of the Reformation.

The broad variety of answers makes the period of Protestant Orthodoxy somewhat confusing: Lutheran Orthodoxy seems to have had more in common with Erasmus, and later the Arminians, than with Luther, who in turn seems to have been more Calvinist than Calvin himself. The High and Hyper-Calvinists of the 18th century were neither Lutheran nor Calvinists in the sense of Calvin, while the Anabaptists and Baptists did not seem to embrace an idea of universal salvation as was claimed in the Augsburg Confession. Or did they? Well, some did, and some even saw the doctrine of universal salvation as a way of reconciling the conflicting beliefs about God’s omnipotence and sovereignty on the one hand and the freedom of the human will to resist the general grace of God on the other. This will be the topic of the following.

My first example is Hans Denck (1500-1527), a contemporary of Erasmus of Rotterdam and Martin Luther, whose opposing views on the freedom of the human will Denck sought to reconcile by applying a concept of yieldedness or Gelassenheit. My second example is Georg Klein-Nikolai (1671-1723), author of The Everlasting Gospel, a work from around 1700 in which a form of restorationism is proposed as a way to reconcile Lutheran Orthodoxy with Reformed theology. My third and final example is the theology of Elhanan Winchester (1751-1797), who believed that a kind of biblical universalism much like that of The Everlasting Gospel could reconcile Calvinism and Arminianism especially as conceived by the Particular Baptists and the General Baptists respectively.

As already suggested in the above, the background of this whole discussion is the problem of how theology should handle the sovereignty and omnipotence of God on the one hand and the responsibility and freedom of human beings to choose between belief and unbelief on the other. This issue was at the core of one of the most important discussions of the Reformation, namely that between Erasmus of Rotterdam and Martin Luther. In 1524 Erasmus released his book On Free Will (De libero arbitrio diatribe sive collatio) in which he argued that human beings possess some degree of freedom in their relationship to God and that the traditional Augustinian doctrine of predestination was not biblical.

Luther, against Erasmus, famously held the view that the human will is not free in relation to God. As he put it, the human will is in bondage – either to God or the Devil. Thus it depends on the predestining decision of God alone whether a person will have saving faith in the Gospel or not. According to his revealed will it is true that God wants all people to be saved (1 Timotheus 2. 4), says Luther, but there is also a hidden will of God outside revelation that will not give all persons the capability of accepting faith.1 In other words, Erasmus defended the general scope of God’s love as well as the freedom of human beings to reject grace in spite of this love, while Luther held that God sovereignly and unconditionally decides who to love and who to hate – and who will as a result of this love have saving faith and who will not.

Yielding to God

With Erasmus many Anabaptists, such as Balthasar Hubmaier, held some notion of the freedom of the human will and the belief that human beings should actively choose to believe in or follow Christ.2 But this was just one of many doctrines which separated the Lutherans from the Anabaptists. Besides the obvious disagreement on baptism another important disagreement seems to lie behind the condemnations against the Anabaptists in the 17th article of the Augsburg Confession. This article condemns the Anabaptists for their alleged belief that there will be an end to the punishments of condemned men and devils.

The condemnations of the 17th article of the Augsburg Confession does not at face value reflect the conflicting opinions on the freedom of the human will. But even so, for those Anabaptists who were subject to the condemnations, there might have been an implicit connection between some sort of soteriological universalism and an alternative view on the freedom of the human will.

This was at least the case for the South German Anabaptist leader Hans Denck. Hans Denck was born in 1500, studied in Ingolstadt and became acquainted with the Anabaptists at the time of the Reformation.3 Hans Denck not only sought a middle way between Erasmus and Luther on the issue of the freedom of the will, but also argued that damnation is only a temporary step on the way to salvation. Damnation and salvation are not irreconcilable opposites but parts of a greater whole.

An important source of inspiration for Hans Denck seems to have been the anonymous work Deutsche Theologie, probably from the 14th century.4 In this work, which was also positively received by the young Martin Luther, a kind of spiritualism in the vein of German medieval mysticism is developed. An important element in the Deutsche Theologie is what has been called resignatio ad infernum. This theme is worked out as the human self is said to be unable of doing any good in and of itself. In order to be saved, the human self must be broken down in a spiritual hell where it is deprived of all hope, and as a result is made to turn to God. This framework was taken over by Hans Denck.

As was also common in the tradition of mysticism, Denck showed a high appreciation of paradoxes. According to Denck theological schisms and sects arise when people take out passages from Scripture and ignore the fact that there are always passages which seem to contradict each other. But truth can only be found, says Denck, by reconciling seemingly contradictory statements.5 Prophets can seem to disagree, but if they lead to God they all lead to truth.6 This approach to theological disagreements was also expressed in Denck’s positive approach to Jews and Judaism. Werner Packull has for this reason called Hans Denck ‘the ecumenical anabaptist’.7

Denck’s desire to reconcile oppositions can be seen clearly in his approach to the discussion on the freedom of the will. At face value there seems to be two possible options, namely that human beings are either free or unfree in their relation to God.8 But, says Denck, both claims are in themselves true. But when made by sinful human beings both claims are at the same time untrue, as they speak about human nature from human nature itself. But it makes no difference whether we call the human will free or in bondage. The truth about human freedom should be found in neither of these two claims, but in a third point. This third point is the breaking down of the human will, free or not, in yieldedness or Gelassenheit.

In his short treatise Divine Order, Denck describes how this works. Denck writes:

God desires everyone to be saved, 1 Timotheus 2. 4, 2 Peter 3, but knows full well that many condemn themselves, Romans 9. If then his will were to force anyone through a mere order, he could say the word this instant and it would happen, Matthew 8, Luke 7. But this would diminish his righteousness.9

So far, this sounds much like usual arguments for the freedom of human the will to choose between belief and unbelief. But Denck goes on to argue that as soon as the godless person rejects God he ‘has come to the place for which he was predestined, which is hell.’ But, says Denck:

He does not necessarily want to nor need he remain there, of course, Psalm 77; for even hell is open to the Lord and damnation has no cover, Job 26. [Hell] is not mightier than his strong arm except in the highest righteousness which we call his wrath, when he inflicts upon us the pains of hell, Psalm 18, and makes us aware of our misery that we might call on him in our despair for him to help us, Hosea 9.10

The point is that God inflicts on us the pains of hell in order to make us aware of our misery, so that we may eventually call upon God and be saved, Denck argues. Denck bases his position on passages in scripture such as Romans 11. 32 where Paul states that God hath shut up all unto disobedience, that he might have mercy upon all (ASV). God, in other words, humbles in order to save. But where this for Paul seems to have worked historically in the relationship between Israel and the Gentiles, for Denck it was more an inner, spiritual experience. Human beings need to go through an existential experience of being lost and damned in order to come to faith and thus salvation. Human beings are not saved from hell, but through hell.

In a similar way Denck in his confession states that the office of Christ is twofold (rather than threefold as, e.g., in Eusebius and Calvin) as Christ through Law and Gospel destroys the unbeliever and brings life to the believer. But, says Denck, ‘all believers were once unbelievers. Consequently, in becoming believers, they thus first had to die in order that they might thereafter no longer live for themselves, as unbelievers do, but for God through Christ […]’. David verifies this, Denck notes, as he says that ‘The Lord leads down into hell and up again’ (1 Samuel 2. 6-8).

While many scholars have held Denck to be a universalist others have argued that he was probably not since he did hold to a belief in some degree of human freedom to reject grace.11 I will not go further into this discussion here, but only mention that it is far from obvious that Denck believed that anyone would in fact keep on rejecting God forever. At any rate, the position of Hans Denck should not be considered a humanism of the Erasmian sort where human beings are not so depraved by nature that they are incapable of choosing their own destiny.12 By nature human beings are only free to do evil. But neither is Denck’s position that of Luther’s. Human beings are not forced into accepting grace, but as God works on the human will it will eventually break down and yield before God.

Hans Denck’s position could be characterized as a kind of critical spiritualism.13 Human beings cannot be said to be good by nature, as they are incapable of doing anything but evil by themselves, says Denck.14 In order to do good human beings must be led to faith by the spiritual crisis inflicted on the self by the judgment of God which breaks down the human self. This is why faith is not a matter of exercising the human will, free or not, but of not exercising the human will in Gelassenheit. In faith human beings become nothing to themselves and thus something to God.15 Human beings are not in this way predestined to belief or unbelief in the strict deterministic sense, but are made to yield by God’s active work in the spirit.

The Everlasting Gospel

While Luther’s view was taken over by Calvin and formulated in terms of a double predestination, a moderate version closer to Erasmus’ view was formulated by Melanchton as the claim that human beings, while not capable of choosing faith in God, are capable of resisting grace. This view became common in subsequent Lutheran Orthodoxy as we know it from the Formula of Concord in which it is repeatedly stated that human beings are capable of resisting the Holy Spirit.16

Thus in the 17th century the positions held by Luther and Erasmus were now more or less represented by Calvinism and Lutheran Orthodoxy respectively. While the Reformed (Calvinist) side on the one hand accentuated double predestination and the belief that God sovereignly saves the elect, Lutheran Orthodoxy emphasized the generality of the atonement and the ability of human beings to resist grace on the other.

Now, a theological strategy somewhat similar to that of Denck’s can be found in Georg Klein-Nikolai’s pseudonymous work Das von Jesu Christo dem Richter der Lebendigen und der Todten, aller Creatur zu predigen befohlene ewige Evangelium, von der durch Ihn erfundenen ewigen Erlösung, wodurch alles dem Richter der Lebendigen und der Todten, aller Creatur zu predigen befohlene ewige Evangelium, von der durch Ihn erfundenen ewigen Erlösung, wodurch alles published in the name Paul Siegvolck.

Georg Klein-Nikolai was an associate of the radical pietist Johann Wilhelm Petersen and his theology seems to have drawn on Petersen, who was in turn influenced by Jane Leade and the Philadelphians. Another source of influence may have been the Schwarzenau Brethren, a radical pietistic group of German Baptists also known as the Neue Täufer or the Tunkers.17 Alexander Mack, the founder of the Schwarzenau Brethren, expressed a belief that after the collapse of several eternities or aeons there would be a final and universal restoration of all things, in which the godless through Christ would finally be saved from their torments in hell.18 It is not, however, necessary to talk or speculate much about it, says Mack. It is much better to practice truth here and now than deliberating about how to escape the torments of hell at a later point. Even though the doctrine of the universal restoration of all things is true, ‘it should not be preached as a gospel to the godless’.

The doctrines of radical pietist universalists such as Mack and Petersen seem to have been derived partly from Jacob Boehme and perhaps Origen. The theology of The Everlasting Gospel was similarly Origenistic in its understanding of the history of salvation as progressing through ages or aeons, culminating in a final telos, the restitution of all things or apokatastasis panton through Christ. But while Origen eagerly emphasized human freedom, The Everlasting Gospel is more reserved.

It does seem, however, that the author of The Everlasting Gospel allows some degree of free choice of human beings between belief and unbelief. Those who chooses not to believe will be subject to harsh punishments in this and the coming world. But this is not an eschatological freedom in the sense that human beings in particular points of time can ultimately choose their final destination. God has designed punishments in order to correct the sinner so that the sinner will eventually be led into salvation – again, in this world or the world to come. Klein-Nikolai writes:

The Holy Scripture declares that wicked men both can and do oppose and resist God; As also that no creature can resist the will of God. Though here seems an apparent contradiction, yet both these positions may well consist together;19

The creatures may resist the will of God, says Klein-Nikolai. This does not mean, however, that there is an ability and power in them, whereby they might repel and conquer the power and might of God that works in and upon them, in such a way that God could never get his will with the rebellious creatures.

The belief that creatures are in all eternity capable of resisting God makes creatures stronger than God and thus opens the way to all kinds of ‘iniquity and atheistic mockery’, says Klein-Nikolai.20 It is only with God’s permission that the creature is allowed to resist God. The purpose is, says Klein-Nikolai, that ‘the creatures, who will not voluntarily choose the salvation and well-being offered to them, may taste of the bitter fruits of their disobedience’. As a result the rebellious creatures will be finally conquered and thus ‘give themselves up to their Creator’, who is ‘able to subdue all’.21

The point is again, as with Hans Denck, that even if human beings have some degree of freedom, this freedom is essentially relative and subordinated to God’s sovereignty. Human beings do not have the ultimate freedom to choose their own destiny. God’s purposes cannot be thwarted. But in distinction to the more Augustinian view of the human will as conceived by High Calvinism, God does not work directly upon the will or mind of human beings but only indirectly. By inflicting suffering on the human person God directs the will of that person into eventually accepting his free grace.

As with Denck it is central for Klein-Nikolai that it is simultaneously true that human beings are capable of resisting God on the one hand and that no creature can resist the will of God on the other. But truths most be reconciled in God’s plan of salvation. And moreover, Klein-Nikolai likewise saw the doctrine of universal salvation as having a reconciliatory potential between conflicting opinions on the freedom of the human will. As he says:

This holy doctrine likewise shows the right foundation of divine election and eternal reprobation, and demonstrates both to Lutherans and Calvinists as well wherein each party is right, as what they want of the understanding of this important point.22

Lutheran Orthodoxy is correct in claiming that God wills the salvation of all human beings and that he saves all who in this life come to faith in Christ. Likewise the Calvinists are right in teaching that all who God wills to be saved shall actually be saved: ‘Those whom God will have to be saved, will actually be saved. Now God plainly declares in his word, that he will have all men to be saved; therefore all men will be really saved at last.’23 Klein-Nikolai adds that the doctrine of universal restoration is also capable of deciding the dispute with the Roman Catholics about purgatory.24

The Everlasting Gospel was made available for the American audience by the German Baptists (Schwarzenau Brethren) of Germantown in Pennsylvania as it was translated and published in English in 1753. It was this book which would become a main source of inspiration for Elhanan Winchester, who will be discussed in the following.

The Outcasts Comforted

Elhanan Winchester was born in Massachusetts, USA, in 1751. He was raised in a Congrationalist setting but after a conversion experience he joined a Free Will (General) Baptist church in which he became a preacher. Winchester seems to gradually have become convinced of a High Calvinist theology in the vein of John Gill, and, after renouncing Arminianism, Winchester became a minister in a Calvinistic (Particular) Baptist church, first in Bellingham (MA) and then in Welsh Neck (SC).

Winchester originally came from a moderate Calvinist standpoint and only subsequently became convinced of the High Calvinism of John Gill, who believed that the Gospel should be preached primarily, or only, to the elect rather than everyone indiscriminately. As suggested by Finn it was his missionary zeal and the possibility to preach repentance and conversion to all human beings that later made Winchester drop High Calvinism. Winchester himself writes that he esteemed John Gill almost as an oracle, but at some point began to adopt a more open and general method of preaching as he found himself stirred up to exhort his fellow creatures to repent and believe the Gospel. Winchester points out, however, that he did not consider whether this was consistent with strict Calvinism or not.25

After a friend of Winchester’s in 1778 brought the English edition of The Everlasting Gospel to Welsh Neck, Winchester became more and more convinced of universalism. Later Winchester would make contact to the German Baptists of Germantown and he would write the foreword for a later edition of The Everlasting Gospel which he published in London in 1792. In the foreword to this edition Winchester noticed that:

The system held out in the following pages appears to me the only one that in the least bids fair to unite the two great bodies of Christians, that have so long and so bitterly opposed each other, viz. those who assert that Christ died for all, and yet that there shall be but few, comparatively, that shall finally derive any saving benefit therefrom; and those who assert that all for whom the savior died shall indeed be saved, but that he died only for a few.26

Winchester notes that it seems highly unlikely that either of these sects should change their principles. The one charges the other with a lack of benevolence while the other charges the one with lacking a proper view on the omnipotence of God. For a reconciliation to take place between these two opinions, it must be ‘on some middle ground where both may meet without giving up their favorite opinions’, says Winchester.27 Such a middle ground is exactly what ‘the system of the Universal Restoration’ offers. As soon as the doctrines of Universal Restoration are accepted, says Winchester, it will bring reconciliation between the two opposing bodies of doctrines in Christian theology.

In Elhanan Winchester’s time and context the conflicting convictions fleshed out in the above were represented by Arminianism and Calvinism. In Reformed theology the opposition between an idea of some degree of freedom of the will to choose faith in the Gospel, and the idea that there is no such freedom, had become most explicit during the controversies on the views of Jacob Arminius (1560-1609) and the Remonstrants who shared his views on conditional election (the condition being foreseen faith) and the general scope of the atonement.

The main points of Arminianism, though maybe not exactly expressive of the views of Jacob Arminius himself, is often formulated something along the following lines: (1) In spite of sin, human beings have the freedom to choose between belief and unbelief, (2) human beings are never so controlled by God that they cannot reject the Gospel, (3) God’s election of the saved is prompted by His foreseeing that they will believe of their own accord, (4) Christ’s death did not ensure the salvation or the gift of faith to anyone, but created a possibility of salvation for all who believe, and (5) it rests with believers to keep themselves in a state of grace by keeping up their faith.

In response to Arminianism a synod was held in Dordrecht (the English name being Dort) in 1618-1619 by the Dutch Reformed Church together with eight voting representatives from foreign Reformed churches. Against the Arminians the Synod of Dort formulated five points which would become known in the English by the T.U.L.I.P. acronym. The acronym is perhaps most famous for its insistence on the unconditionality of election and the irresistibility of grace coupled with its claim that the atonement was limited to the elect.

In the 17th century this debate became relevant for Baptists who formed separate denominations. On the one hand there were the General Baptists who followed the first English Baptists John Smyth’s and Thomas Helwys’ beliefs (similar to the Mennonites) in a general atonement combined with a belief in the freedom of the human will to accept the Gospel and follow Christ. On the other hand there were the Particular Baptists who followed the Synod of Dort in holding to a limited atonement combined with a belief in irresistible grace.28

It was these positions that Winchester sought to reconcile using the universalist doctrines contained in The Everlasting Gospel. For Winchester, universalism offered a way of affirming the key principles of both High Calvinism and Arminianism in ‘one grand system of benevolence’, as he puts it in his dialogues on Universal Restoration.29 This is not to say that Winchester necessarily had a very high view of theological systems. In his dialogues on universal restoration he even suggests that it is exactly because people have preferred systems to the simple truth of the gospel that they have thought it necessary to diminish the omnipotence or love of God: ‘O the mischiefs of bigotry, prejudice, and vain attachment to system!’30.

Even so, in On the Outcasts Comforted it is as a system of thought that universal restoration is thought to reconcile the conflicting bodies of theological doctrine. What Winchester proposes is an ecumenical system of thought. As Robin Parry notes, the universalist system understood as a theological via media seemed to Winchester, perhaps somewhat naïvely, to have some ecumenical potential in bringing Calvinists and Arminians together.31 That Winchester’s ecumenical hopes were really quite naïve is clear from the controversy that his views awoke.

Of course Winchester’s universalism was by many not seen as being very conciliatory – on the contrary. Winchester’s successor in Welsh Neck saw Winchester as the means of dividing the Baptist Church in the city, while Winchester himself relates how he was treated with enmity from former friends.32 In the following years after Winchester’s profession of universalism he and his congregation would experience exclusion and marginalization from the broader evangelical community which would eventually lead to the foundation of an independent Universal Baptist church.

In 1782 Winchester addressed this issue in a sermon delivered at the University in Philadelphia. The sermon was later printed with the title The Outcasts Comforted: A SERMON Delivered at the University in Philadelphia, January 4, 1782 To the Members of the BAPTIST CHURCH, who have been rejected by their Brethren, For holding the Doctrine of the final Restoration of all Things. Winchester argues in the sermon that it is strange that the Universal Baptists are looked upon as heretics when they only affirm the doctrines already held by others:

I have often considered it with astonishment, that two ministers shall preach, and prove what they say from the scriptures, and neither of them shall be looked upon as holding damnable heresy, and yet we shall be looked upon as the worst of heretics by both of them, and all their people, for believing only what both of them put together have asserted.33

Winchester’s attempt to reconcile Arminianism and Calvinism should not be confused with the so-called Middle-Way Calvinism which sought to avoid the doctrinal conflicts between the two, often simply by not mentioning the extreme positions. Rather, Winchester’s position takes in the extremes in a very explicit way and makes them part of a greater system. With Arminianism Winchester affirms that God loves all, while with Calvinism Winchester affirms that all the object’s of God’s love will be saved. And with Arminianism Winchester affirms that God desires all people to be saved, while with Calvinism he affirms that all God’s purposes will be fulfilled. With Arminianism Winchester affirms that Christ died for all, and with Calvinism he affirms that all for whom Christ died will be saved so that the blood of Christ was not shed in vain: One will declare that the blood of Jesus Christ was freely shed for all; the other, that his blood is infinitely sufficient to cleanse and purify all. This is what we believe.’34

So how should we characterize Winchester’s position? Based on Winchester’s own claims Robin Parry suggests that Winchester believed in a general atonement and universal salvation from early on, but suppressed these beliefs in order to ‘conform to the Calvinist theology he had been raised with’.35 This does not, however, match well with Winchester’s other claims of having esteemed John Gill ‘almost as an oracle’, made in the foreword to the dialogues, and the fact that he joined the Calvinist Baptist church in Bellingham (MA).36 According to Finn, Winchester believed in High Calvinism for a period, but ‘did not reject Calvinism for universalism, but rather rejected High Calvinism for Arminianism, though his commitment to universal penal substitutionary atonement encouraged him to eventually affirm universal salvation.’37 Winchester only left the ‘revival-friendly Baptist evangelicalism of his early ministry’ for a similarly revival-friendly conversionistic or eschatologically conscious evangelical universalism.38

But was Winchester an Arminian more than a Calvinist as the above suggests? Hardly. Winchester describes the revelation of Christ’s love that converted him as compelling (‘a manner as constrained me’), so it seems that we are not here dealing with the Arminian freedom to choose between belief and unbelief.39 The counsel of God shall stand and he will perform his pleasure, notwithstanding all the opposition that men can make, says Winchester with reference to Isaiah (Isaiah 46. 10). If God will have all men to be saved, as we hear in the first epistle to Timothy (1 Timotheus 2. 4) and if God is determined to perform his pleasure and if nothing is impossible with God, as stated in Luke 1. 37, then ‘is not the doctrine of the Restoration true?’, Winchester asks rhetorically.40

God gets his will by inflicting pain on the human self in order to make it yield. In this way Winchester, as Denck and Klein-Nikolai, affirms that God only punishes in order to correct: ‘Punishment to a certain degree, inflames and enrages, in a most amazing manner; but continued longer, and heavier, produces a contrary effect–softens humbles, and subdues.’41 But God is love from the beginning, and his love towards human beings does not only begin in the moment that persons are converted. It seems that for Winchester, when the love of God is revealed to a person it does not begin at that point but is simply made manifest.42 This looks like the idea of eternal justification (not to be confused with supralapsarianism, though apparently compatible with this idea) which can be found in High Calvinism where the sinner is not redeemed in the moment of faith but from eternity, so that the moment of faith is only the point in time where the sinner realizes that he or she is already justified and redeemed from before creation.

It does not seem that Winchester dropped Calvinism for Arminianism, or that he was never really a Calvinist, but rather that he found a way to combine what he saw as the core principles of both. Winchester took in and kept Calvinism’s belief in the sufficiency of the cross to redeem sinners and that God in his sovereignty will in the end get his will and save all the objects of his love. It was only the soteriological particularism of Calvinism that Winchester left behind as he embraced universalism and an Arminian method of preaching.

The more precise way of characterizing Winchester’s position would be that he was both a Calvinist and an Arminian, in so far as he simultaneously emphasized the sovereignty and omnipotence of God on the one hand and the love of God and the generality of the atonement on the other. In this he was not far from Hans Denck and Georg Klein-Nikolai.

Conclusion

The views described above were not new. Gregory of Nyssa argued in the 4th century that the perfections of God implies all His other perfections, since the opposite of one perfection can never be reconciled with other perfections.43 For Gregory this meant that God’s goodness and his righteousness are never exclusive but rather two sides of the same coin – and that all would eventually because of this be saved, not from but through death. It was this kind of theology which can be recognized later in, e.g., the anonymous Deutsche Theologie – the 14th century anonymous work that influenced Hans Denck so much, and which seems to have had a greater impact on Protestant theology than has often been acknowledged.

The ecumenical potential in reconciling conflicting positions on the omnipotence and love of God and the freedom of human beings was noticed by theologians of different streams in the 19th and 20th centuries. But in a Protestant context this tradition of thinking to a large degree originated in a (b)aptist setting. The future will show if baptists are capable of learning from this aspect of their tradition. This is not to say that all baptists should suddenly turn soteriological universalists (something which is unlikely to happen, though miracles do occur, also among baptists), but rather that we can learn from the theological method of bringing together opposites in a larger whole as a way of reconciling conflicting convictions.

This is not to say that we should at all costs construct complex theological systems, but rather that we may also have to learn to keep apparent as well as very real contradictions, paradoxes and conflicts alive without ultimately choosing the one pole over the other. That many modern protestants have become better at at least respecting differences among themselves seem to be clear, but respect for differing opinions must not be confused with post-modern relativism or subjectivism, but can just as well be seen as a particular theological method which can be found in the larger baptist tradition.

As Robin Parry remarks, one of the truly inspiring things about Winchester was his belief that Christians must debate with love and gentleness, and with an openness to being persuaded to change their views in the light of Scripture.44 While Klein-Nikolai may have been more stern in his views, he too held an ecumenical hope. A similar hope seems to have been held by Hans Denck who may have been even more cautious than Winchester in his attempts to avoid controversy and reconcile conflicting opinions. At the end of the day, what they all teach us is that insisting on God’s love and sovereignty is not a bad way of overcoming doctrinal disputes, no matter what positions we may hold.

Bibliography

Hans Denck, Schriften. T. 1-3, Quellen und Forschungen zur Reformationsgeschichte / Bd. 24.6. (ed. Walter Fellman, 1956)

Nathan A. Finn, ‘The Making of a Baptist Universalist: The Curious Case of Elhanan Winchester’, Paper Presented to the Baptist Studies Group Evangelical Theological Society San Francisco, California November 16, 2011 <https://www.academia.edu/4404295/The_Making_of_a_Baptist_Universalist_The_Curious_Case_of_Elhanan_Winchester> [accessed 24 November 2015]

Rufus M. Jones, Spiritual Reformers in the 16th and 17th Centuries (London: Macmillan & Co., 1914)

Georg Klein-Nikolai, The Everlasting Gospel (Copenhagen: Apophasis, 2015) <http://www.apophasis.dk/wp-content/uploads/2015/11/The-Everlasting-Gospel.pdf>

Morwenna Ludlow, ‘Why Was Hans Denck Thought To Be a Universalist?’, in The Journal of Ecclesiastical History Issue 2 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004), pp. 257-274.

Martin Luther (ed.), Eyn Deutsch Theologia, etc. (Wittenberg 1518)

Alexander Mack, Rights and Ordinances; trans. H. R. Holsinger, History of the Tunkers and the Brethren Church (Oakland, Cal.: Pacific Press Publishing Co., 1901).

Kirk R. MacGregor, ‘Hubmaier’s Concord of Predestination with Free Will’, in Direction: A Mennonite Brethren Forum 35, no. 2 (2006), pp. 279-99.

Werner O. Packull, Mysticism and the Early South German-Austrian Anabaptist Movement 1525-1531 (Pennsylvania: Herald Press, 1977).

Robin A. Parry, ‘The Baptist Universalist: Elhanan Winchester (1751-97)’ <https://www.academia.edu/8643336/_The_Baptist_Universalist_Elhanan_Winchester_1751_97_> [accessed 24 November 2015]

Johannes Aakjær Steenbuch, ‘Kærlighedens dialektiker: Karakteristik af Hans Dencks kritiske spiritualisme’, in Dansk Teologisk Tidsskrift 77/3 (Copenhagen: Anis, 2014), pp. 218-234.

Peter Toon, The Emergence of Hyper-Calvinism in English Nonconformity,1689-1765 (London: The Olive Tree, 1967).

Elhanan Winchester, The Universal Restoration: exhibited in a series of dialogues between a minister and his friend: comprehending the substance of several conversations that the author hath had with various persons, both in America and Europe, on that interesting subject, wherein the most formidable objections are stated and fully answered (UR) (London: Gillet, 1788).

Elhanan Winchester, The Outcasts Comforted. A sermon delivered at the University of Philadelphia, January 4, 1782 (Philadelphia: Towne, 1782).

Elhanan Winchester, Letter to the Rev. C. E. De Coetlogon, A.M. Editor of President Edwards’s lately revised sermon on the eternity of Hell-torments (London: Scollick, 1789).

1E.g., Martin Luther, De Servo Arbitrio (1525), WA 18,685.

2Kirk R. MacGregor, ‘Hubmaier’s Concord of Predestination with Free Will’, in Direction: A Mennonite Brethren Forum 35, no. 2 (2006), pp. 279-99; Morwenna Ludlow, ‘Why Was Hans Denck Thought To Be a Universalist?’, in The Journal of Ecclesiastical History Issue 2 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004), pp. 257-274.

3See Clarence Bauman, The Spiritual Legacy of Hans Denck (Leiden: Brill, 1991).

4Eyn Deutsch Theologia, etc. (Wittenberg 1518); Bernard McGinn, The Harvest of Mysticism (New York: The Crossroad Pub. Co., 2005), p. 393.

5Hans Denck, Schriften. T. 1-3, Quellen und Forschungen zur Reformationsgeschichte / Bd. 24.6. (ed. Walter Fellman) (Gütersloh, 1956); Denck II.68.14; Denck II.58.18-21.

6Denck II.65.33.

7Werner O. Packull, Mysticism and the Early South German-Austrian Anabaptist Movement 1525-1531 (Pennsylvania: Herald Press, 1977).

8Denck II.107.24-25.

9Denck II.90.23-26.

10Denck II.92.10-17.

11Ludlow 2004, pp. 257-274.

12In this I tend to disagree with, e.g., Rufus Jones, Werner Packull and others. See Rufus M. Jones, Spiritual Reformers in the 16th and 17th Centuries (London: Macmillan & Co., 1914); Packull 1977, p. 58.

13See Johannes Aakjær Steenbuch, ‘Kærlighedens dialektiker: Karakteristik af Hans Dencks kritiske spiritualisme’, in Dansk Teologisk Tidsskrift 77/3 (Copenhagen: Anis, 2014).

14Denck II.54.1-10.

15Denck II.33.15-24. Baptism, by the way, should follow this inner experience as an outward sign of an already present inner reality, says Denck.

16E.g. Formula of Concord, XI. 39; 41; 73; 78.

17It is not clear how closely associated Klein-Nikolai was with the Schwarzenau Brethren, or whether he was one of them, but his theology seems to express some basic ideas of theirs.

18Alexander Mack, Rights and Ordinances; trans. H. R. Holsinger, History of the Tunkers and the Brethren Church (Oakland, Cal.: Pacific Press Publishing Co., 1901), pp. 113-115.

19Georg Klein-Nikolai, The Everlasting Gospel (Copenhagen: Apophasis, 2015 (1700)), p. 18

20Klein-Nikolai, p. 19

21Klein-Nikolai, pp. 16-17

22Klein-Nikolai, p. 176

23Klein-Nikolai, p. 177

24Klein-Nikolai, pp. 176-178.

25Winchester, The Universal Restoration, pp. viii-ix.

26Winchester 1792, foreword to The Everlasting Gospel.

27Winchester 1792, foreword to The Everlasting Gospel.

28A leading proponent of Particular Baptist theology was the English Baptist pastor and biblical scholar John Gill (1697-1771) whose views are sometimes described as Hyper-Calvinism. Peter Toon, The Emergence of Hyper-Calvinism in English Nonconformity, 1689-1765 (London: The Olive Tree, 1967).

29Winchester, The Universal Restoration II.A3 (chapter II, answer 3).

30Winchester, The Universal Restoration III.A10.

31Parry 2011, p. 31.

32Church records of Welsh Neck, Pee Dee, Sept. 5; Winchester, The Universal Restoration, p. xvii.

33Winchester 1782, The Outcasts Comforted.

34Winchester 1782, The Outcasts Comforted.

35Parry 2011, p. 3.

36Winchester, The Universal Restoration, pp. viii-ix.

37Nathan A. Finn, ”The Making of a Baptist Universalist”, p. 12.

38Nathan A. Finn, ”The Making of a Baptist Universalist”, p. 15. Finn distinguishes this form of universalism from the non-conversionistic universalism of John Murray and others who believed that the general atonement of Christ was sufficient for saving all without conversion in this life.

39Winchester, The Universal Restoration III.A2.

40Winchester, The Universal Restoration III.A5.

41Winchester, The Universal Restoration IV.A22.

42Winchester, The Universal Restoration III.Q9 (chapter 3, question 9).

43Gregory of Nyssa, Orationes viii de beatitudinibus IV, GNO 118-119.

44Robin Parry 2011, p. 35.

“The theology of the cross is the true Christian universalism” – Moltmann on the Gentile centurion and Jesus’ Easter appearances

There is no distinction here, and there cannot be any more distinctions. All are sinners without distinction, and all will be made righteous without any merit on their part by his grace which has come to pass in Christ Jesus (Rom. 3:24)

Detail from Rubens, Christ on the Cross

I recently got the chance to finally read Jürgen Moltmann’s theological classic The Crucified God. I’ll post more on that later. Below is an excerpt where Moltmann contemplates the confession of the Gentile centurion, who stood in front of Jesus as he died: “Surely this man was the Son of God!” (Mark 15:39) and how that relates to Jesus’ appearances to his disciples after his resurrection.

Jürgen Moltmann, The Crucified God (Minneapolis: Fortress Press 2015)

“The confession of faith does not come from a pious disciple of Jesus, nor even from a Jew, who might have some understanding, but from the Gentile, Roman centurion who was presumably in charge of the execution squad. Whereas only the disciples who had fled had a part in the Easter appearances, and they shared with the Jews a certain common context in which to set Jesus’ ‘resurrection from the dead’ when they began to preach, according to Mark the passion and the cross of Jesus is directed immediately towards the Gentiles. If the Easter appearances were only perceived in the utmost privacy by the disciples, and if the message of the resurrection was at first understandable only in the realm of Israelite apocalyptic traditions, this happened publicly through the crucifixion of Jesus. Indeed, it even happened outside the gate of the city of Jerusalem with its temple, and therefore outside the boundary of Israel, on Golgotha, and outside the ‘hedge of Israel’, i.e., its legal tradition. It happened, in fact, on the boundary of human society, where it does not matter whether a person is Jew or Gentile, Greek or barbarian, master or servant, man or woman, because death is unaware of all these distinctions. So the crucified one does not recognize these distinctions either. If his death is proclaimed and acknowledged as the death of the Son of God ‘for many’, as by that centurion, then in this death God’s Son has died for all, and the proclamation of his death is for all the world. It must undermine, remove and destroy the things which mark men out as elect and non-elect, educated and uneducated, those with possessions and those without, the free and the enslaved. The Gentile-Christian proclamation concerns all men, because confronted with the cross all men, whatever the differences between them and whatever they may assert about each other, ‘are sinners and fall short of the glory of God’ (Rom. 3:23). ‘Here there is no distinction’ (Rom. 3:23a). Gentile-Christian proclamation must therefore essentially be the proclamation of the crucified Christ, i.e. the word of the cross (1 Cor. 1:18). The proclamation of the cross is ‘Christianity for all the world’ (Blumhardt), and may not erect any new distinctions between men, say between Christians and non-Christians, the pious and the godless. Its first recognition leads to self-knowledge: to the knowledge that one is a sinner in solidarity with all men under the power of corruption. Therefore the theology of the cross is the true Christian universalism. There is no distinction here, and there cannot be any more distinctions. All are sinners without distinction, and all will be made righteous without any merit on their part by his grace which has come to pass in Christ Jesus (Rom. 3:24). As the crucified one, the risen Christ is there ‘for all’. In the cross of the Son of God, in his abandonment by God, the ‘crucified’ God is the human God of all godless men and those who have been abandoned by God.” (Jürgen Moltmann, The Crucified God 2015, pp. 279-280)

“Who is my opponent? I, he says, am the Christ.” Melito of Sardis On the Passover

“Who is my opponent? I, he says, am the Christ. I am the one who destroyed death, and triumphed over the enemy, and trampled Hades under foot, and bound the strong one, and carried off man to the heights of heaven, I, he says, am the Christ.”

Melito of Sardis (d. c. 180) was bishop of Sardis in Asia minor. In his Easter sermon (On the Passover) Melito explained, among other things, how the Old Testament prefigured the coming and suffering of Christ, the “Passover lamb” who was fully God and fully man. The mystery of Passover, explains Melito, is both new and old, eternal and temporal.

In the final part of his sermon Melito superbly describes how Christ has defeated death by dying himself after being judged for the condemned:

“Who is my opponent? I, he says, am the Christ. I am the one who destroyed death, and triumphed over the enemy, and trampled Hades under foot, and bound the strong one, and carried off man to the heights of heaven, I, he says, am the Christ.” (On the Passover §102)

Joakim Skovgaard, Christ’s Descent Into Hades (Kristi nedfart til dødsriget)

Melito of Sardis On the Passover (excerpts)

Introduction

1. First of all, the Scripture about the Hebrew Exodus has been read and the words of the mystery have been explained as to how the sheep was sacrificed and the people were saved.

2. Therefore, understand this, O beloved: The mystery of the passover is new and old, eternal and temporal, corruptible and incorruptible, mortal and immortal in this fashion:

3. It is old insofar as it concerns the law, but new insofar as it concerns the gospel; temporal insofar as it concerns the type, eternal because of grace; corruptible because of the sacrifice of the sheep, incorruptible because of the life of the Lord; mortal because of his burial in the earth, immortal because of his resurrection from the dead.

4. The law is old, but the gospel is new; the type was for a time, but grace is forever. The sheep was corruptible, but the Lord is incorruptible, who was crushed as a lamb, but who was resurrected as God. For although he was led to sacrifice as a sheep, yet he was not a sheep; and although he was as a lamb without voice, yet indeed he was not a lamb. The one was the model; the other was found to be the finished product.

5. For God replaced the lamb, and a man the sheep; but in the man was Christ, who contains all things.

6. Hence, the sacrifice of the sheep, and the sending of the lamb to slaughter, and the writing of the law–each led to and issued in Christ, for whose sake everything happened in the ancient law, and even more so in the new gospel.

7. For indeed the law issued in the gospel–the old in the new, both coming forth together from Zion and Jerusalem; and the commandment issued in grace, and the type in the finished product, and the lamb in the Son, and the sheep in a man, and the man in God.

8. For the one who was born as Son, and led to slaughter as a lamb, and sacrificed as a sheep, and buried as a man, rose up from the dead as God, since he is by nature both God and man.

9. He is everything: in that he judges he is law, in that he teaches he is gospel, in that he saves he is grace, in that he begets he is Father, in that he is begotten he is Son, in that he suffers he is sheep, in that he is buried he is man, in that he comes to life again he is God.

10. Such is Jesus Christ, to whom be the glory forever. Amen.

[…]

4. Predictions of Christ’s Sufferings

57. Indeed, the Lord prearranged his own sufferings in the patriarchs, and in the prophets, and in the whole people of God, giving his sanction to them through the law and the prophets. For that which was to exist in a new and grandiose fashion was pre-planned long in advance, in order that when it should come into existence one might attain to faith, just because it had been predicted long in advance.

58. So indeed also the suffering of the Lord, predicted long in advance by means of types, but seen today, has brought about faith, just because it has taken place as predicted. And yet men have taken it as something completely new. Well, the truth of the matter is the mystery of the Lord is both old and new–old insofar as it involved the type, but new insofar as it concerns grace. And what is more, if you pay close attention to this type you will see the real thing through its fulfillment.

59. Accordingly, if you desire to see the mystery of the Lord, pay close attention to Abel who likewise was put to death, to Isaac who likewise was bound hand and foot, to Joseph who likewise was sold, to Moses who likewise was exposed, to David who likewise was hunted down, to the prophets who likewise suffered because they were the Lord’s anointed.

60. Pay close attention also to the one who was sacrificed as a sheep in the land of Egypt, to the one who smote Egypt and who saved Israel by his blood.

61. For it was through the voice of prophecy that the mystery of the Lord was proclaimed. Moses, indeed, said to his people: Surely you will see your life suspended before your eyes night and day, but you surely will not believe on your Life.     Deut. 28:66.

62. And David said: Why were the nations haughty and the people concerned about nothing? The kings of the earth presented themselves and the princes assembled themselves together against the Lord and against his anointed.     Ps. 2:1-2.

63. And Jeremiah: I am as an innocent lamb being led away to be sacrificed. They plotted evil against me and said: Come! let us throw him a tree for his food, and let us exterminate him from the land of the living, so that his name will never be recalled.     Jer. 11:19.

64. And Isaiah: He was led as a sheep to slaughter, and, as a lamb is silent in the presence of the one who shears it, he did not open his mouth. Therefore who will tell his offspring?     Isa. 53:7

65. And indeed there were many other things proclaimed by numerous prophets concerning the mystery of the passover, which is Christ, to whom be the glory forever. Amen.

5. Deliverance of Mankind through Christ

66. When this one came from heaven to earth for the sake of the one who suffers, and had clothed himself with that very one through the womb of a virgin, and having come forth as man, he accepted the sufferings of the sufferer through his body which was capable of suffering. And he destroyed those human sufferings by his spirit which was incapable of dying. He killed death which had put man to death.

67. For this one, who was led away as a lamb, and who was sacrificed as a sheep, by himself delivered us from servitude to the world as from the land of Egypt, and released us from bondage to the devil as from the hand of Pharaoh, and sealed our souls by his own spirit and the members of our bodies by his own blood.

68. This is the one who covered death with shame and who plunged the devil into mourning as Moses did Pharaoh. This is the one who smote lawlessness and deprived injustice of its offspring, as Moses deprived Egypt. This is the one who delivered us from slavery into freedom, from darkness into light, from death into life, from tyranny into an eternal kingdom, and who made us a new priesthood, and a special people forever.

69. This one is the passover of our salvation. This is the one who patiently endured many things in many people: This is the one who was murdered in Abel, and bound as a sacrifice in Isaac, and exiled in Jacob, and sold in Joseph, and exposed in Moses, and sacrificed in the lamb, and hunted down in David, and dishonored in the prophets.

70. This is the one who became human in a virgin, who was hanged on the tree, who was buried in the earth, who was resurrected from among the dead, and who raised mankind up out of the grave below to the heights of heaven.

71. This is the lamb that was slain. This is the lamb that was silent. This is the one who was born of Mary, that beautiful ewe-lamb. This is the one who was taken from the flock, and was dragged to sacrifice, and was killed in the evening, and was buried at night; the one who was not broken while on the tree, who did not see dissolution while in the earth, who rose up from the dead, and who raised up mankind from the grave below.

[…]

III. The Final Triumph of Christ

100. But he arose from the dead and mounted up to the heights of heaven. When the Lord had clothed himself with humanity, and had suffered for the sake of the sufferer, and had been bound for the sake of the imprisoned, and had been judged for the sake of the condemned, and buried for the sake of the one who was buried,

101. he rose up from the dead, and cried aloud with this voice: Who is he who contends with me? Let him stand in opposition to me. I set the condemned man free; I gave the dead man life; I raised up the one who had been entombed.

102. Who is my opponent? I, he says, am the Christ. I am the one who destroyed death, and triumphed over the enemy, and trampled Hades under foot, and bound the strong one, and carried off man to the heights of heaven, I, he says, am the Christ.

103. Therefore, come, all families of men, you who have been befouled with sins, and receive forgiveness for your sins. I am your forgiveness, I am the passover of your salvation, I am the lamb which was sacrificed for you, I am your ransom, I am your light, I am your saviour, I am your resurrection, I am your king, I am leading you up to the heights of heaven, I will show you the eternal Father, I will raise you up by my right hand.

104. This is the one who made the heavens and the earth, and who in the beginning created man, who was proclaimed through the law and prophets, who became human via the virgin, who was hanged upon a tree, who was buried in the earth, who was resurrected from the dead, and who ascended to the heights of heaven, who sits at the right hand of the Father, who has authority to judge and to save everything, through whom the Father created everything from the beginning of the world to the end of the age.

105. This is the alpha and the omega. This is the beginning and the end–an indescribable beginning and an incomprehensible end. This is the Christ. This is the king. This is Jesus. This is the general. This is the Lord. This is the one who rose up from the dead. This is the one who sits at the right hand of the Father. He bears the Father and is borne by the Father, to whom be the glory and the power forever. Amen.

 

The woman with the alabaster jar

This is what the story of the woman with alabaster jar reminds us: That the kingdom of God explodes all our narrow concerns and ideas of justice. Instead we are to look to Jesus as the woman did. When we do that we are ready to help the poor, who are always with us in the kingdom. The justice of the kingdom of God does not exclude worldly justice, but includes it and brings it all into a much wider perspective.

Notes for a sermon for Palm Sunday, March 2018.

Mosaic from the Cappella della “Casa incontri cristiani” a Capiago

“While Jesus was in Bethany in the home of Simon the Leper, a woman came to him with an alabaster jar of very expensive perfume, which she poured on his head as he was reclining at the table. When the disciples saw this, they were indignant. “Why this waste?” they asked. “This perfume could have been sold at a high price and the money given to the poor.” Aware of this, Jesus said to them, “Why are you bothering this woman? She has done a beautiful thing to me. The poor you will always have with you, but you will not always have me. When she poured this perfume on my body, she did it to prepare me for burial. Truly I tell you, wherever this gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her.” (Matt. 26:6-16)

In the story of Jesus’ anointment by the woman at Bethany we have a peculiar measuring stick for whether the gospel is being preached or not: Wherever the gospel is preached, says Jesus, the story of this woman will also be told! I think the story is best told, though, with the immediate context in mind.

When Jesus had entered the city Palm Sunday riding on a donkey the crowd was hyped: ”Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!” (Matt. 21:9). Jesus was being hailed as the coming Messiah that was to bring back Israel’s lost greatness. In the eyes of the people he was a political leader, who was about to become king, fight the Romans and rebuild David’s kingdom.

Not long after Jesus’ entrance in Jerusalem he went to Bethany to dine in the house of a man called Simon the Leper. It was while seated there with his disciples, that suddenly a women came to Jesus, and poured expensive perfume over his head.

The disciples obviously saw this as quite inappropriate. Couldn’t this precious oil have been used for more reasonable purposes? Think of all the money that could have been released for the poor by selling it! And here she goes wasting it all!

But Jesus welcomes the woman and uses her devotion as a symbol: By anointing him with oil the woman has anointed Jesus to his coming death. Now, according to John the perfume was made from spikenard oil, a kind of oil used for anointing the dead on the on hand, but also for anointing kings on the other.

The point could be made here, I think, that when the woman anoints Jesus, she doesn’t just anoint him for his death, but also for his coming kingship. Or rather, these are two sides of the same coin. It is exactly through his death that Jesus becomes king. This is why he entered Jerusalem – not to become a worldly king or political leader like David, but to die on the cross.

This is what his disciples does not understand. Jesus’ disciples seem to have been more concerned about worldly justice, than with the righteousness of the kingdom of God. Often this is exactly what we do as well, even if we come to different conclusions. From a typical ”right-wing” standpoint we could argue that the woman, having the property rights over the perfume, had the right to do as she wanted with it. Or we could argue from a ”left-wing” standpoint, like the disciples, that the oil should have been sold and the money given to the poor.

But Jesus doesn’t care too much about our worldly ideas of justice. Our ideas of justice must die on the cross with Jesus, just as the crowd’s worldly ideas of the Messiah and his kingdom must go. But just as Jesus does stay in the grave, our concept of justice are not to stay dead either. Rather they are to be transformed by the kingdom of God.

We are to understand that in the light of Jesus’ resurrection, true justice and righteousness is something infinitely greater and wider and deeper, than anything we can imagine with our narrow concepts of justice. Jesus is himself the righteousness of God!

This is what the story of the woman with alabaster jar reminds us: That the kingdom of God explodes all our narrow concerns and ideas of justice. Instead we are to look to Jesus as the woman did. When we do that we are ready to help the poor, who are always with us in the kingdom. When we loose our concepts of justice we gain the possibility of true solidarity as we realize that we are one with the poor. The justice of the kingdom of God does not exclude worldly justice, but includes it and brings it all into a much wider perspective.

”Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!” (Matt. 21:9)

Why the gospel is not ‘universalism’, but good news for all

The gospel is simply the good news that Jesus Christ is the savior of the world, that he died for all, and that all has been and will be made righteous by his death. Theological ideologies, ’-isms’, are the attempts of human beings to impose limitations on the gospel, making it true only for some.

The gospel is simply the good news that Jesus Christ is the savior of the world, that he died for all, and that all has been and will be made righteous by his death. Theological ideologies, ’-isms’, are the attempts of human beings to impose limitations on the gospel, making it true only for some.

I don’t usually describe myself as a “universalist”. Here are some thoughts on why that is.

Angels with the “everlasting gospel”

The gospel not an “-ism”

We are often quick to define the Christian message in terms of one of the many theological systems that have been developed by theologians throughout history with the purpose of explaining how exactly it is that people are saved by Christ.

But the Christian message, the gospel, is not in itself a ”system” not an ”-ism”, as in ”Pelagianism”, ”Augustinianism”, ”Lutheranism”, ”Arminianism”, ”Calvinism”, ”Methodism”, and so on. The gospel is not one ’-ism’ to be pitted against other ’-isms’, but simply the message that God in Jesus Christ has died and become alive in order to save humankind from sin and death.

To be a Christian simply means to confess Christ as the son of God and risen savior, not to adhere to this or that theological system.

Most theological systems, however, attempt to limit the gospel, by claiming that it is only partially good news, or only good news for some. Theological ideologies typically start out with the good news, but then add one or more conditions that must be fulfilled for the gospel to be true – e.g., ”…if you believe” or ”…if you are among the ’elect’” or ”…if you do certain things right”.

In either case the gospel is said to be limited by something other than the gospel, i.e. by the will of human beings or, perhaps, an obscure election and predestination made by some ’hidden God’ with ’two wills’ (Luther, Calvin). But ”the word of God is not chained” (2 Tim. 2:9). The good news cannot be limited by our theological systems.

What is the gospel?

The gospel is – to put it shortly – that God is ”light” and ”love” (1 John 1:5), that the kingdom of God is near (Mark 1:15), that God himself have become one of us in Jesus Christ (Luke 2:10) and that Jesus died as a propitiation for the sins of the whole world (1 John 2:2) in order to make our entrance into his kingdom possible – even if it is impossible for us as human beings (Matt. 19:26).

The gospel is that God has reconciled the whole world to himself through Jesus Christ (2 Cor 5:19). By his death Jesus has destroyed the power of death (Heb. 2:14).

But what about faith? Are we not required to willingly accept salvation in order for the gospel to be true ’for us’? Yes and no. We are freed from the fear of death when we believe the gospel and confess Jesus Christ as risen lord and savior. This is salvation here and now.

But as James Relly pointed out, even if we don’t believe, the gospel is still true for us, which is exactly why it should be believed. It is Jesus Christ alone that makes the good news true for all those for whom he died, not our decision to confess Jesus as lord. We can confess Jesus as lord because he already is lord.

Not “universalism”

The gospel does not in itself contain conditions that limit its scope. Universalists have claimed that the gospel is true for all human beings. But the gospel rightly understood isn’t for that reason universalism”, if by this we mean a theological system designed to convince people, that all will be saved eventually, etc.

Saying that ’all’ have been reconciled to God through Jesus’ sacrifice for the sins of the whole world, is not automatically ”universalism”. The gospel is not a theological system comparable to other theological systems like ”particularism” or ”conditionalism”. Elhanan Winchester clearly saw this when he exclaimed “O the mischiefs of bigotry, prejudice, and vain attachment to system!”. For Winchester it was our human systems that limited our experiences of the universal love of God, the theme of the gospel.

That God out of love has reconciled the world to himself through Christ, leading to acquittal and life for all human beings who became unrighteous in Adam (Rom 5:18-19), is simply the gospel, nothing more, not a theological system, an -ism or an ideology.

From this perspective there is something problematic in the formation of “universalist” denominations or churches based upon certain “universalist” theological systems. The gospel should be preached in all churches and all denominations, even those trying to limit its scope.

Is it still the gospel when limited?

The important thing is who you say Christ is. Being a Christian is first of all a matter of who you confess Christ to be: ”Whosoever shall confess that Jesus is the Son of God, God dwelleth in him, and he in God.” (1 John 4:15). That’s why all creeds for the first four or five hundreds years were all about who Christ is, and don’t even mention how many will be saved.

The fact that we are simultaneously sinners and justified (simul peccator et justus) does not first of all show in flawed morality or bad habits, but in our bad theology. No one has a pure faith and understanding of the gospel without flaws and influences from human ideology.

The gospel is the good news that Jesus is the savior of the world, but most people have narrow and limited conception of what that means. This is only natural, however, as God has only revealed the truth in fragments for them. We still see in a mirror, darkly (1 Cor. 13:12).

Most Christians do not perceive the radicalism of the gospel. But those who hold to the unlimited gospel of infinite grace need not for that reason distance themselves from Christians with more limited conceptions of the gospel.

The gospel might still be the gospel even if expressed in a way that seems to limit its scope. What matters is whether the preacher cherishes the gospel or what limits the gospel most. If someone affirms the gospel as the core of Christian preaching, but also for some reason believes there to be limits to the gospel, then this might be excused as a result of a limited understanding of the gospel.

But if someone knowingly values the ’ifs’ and ’buts’ against the infinite character of the gospel and for this reason constantly tries to limit the gospel, then we might ask ourselves if we are not dealing with someone who does not believe the gospel at all? Only then is it time to leave and find a different church.

Tarek Saleeby interviews Robin Parry

Tarek Saleeby (Lebanon) interviews Robin Parry (GB), author of The Evangelical Universalist. Parry explains his reasons for believing that everyone will eventually be saved through Christ. He also convincingly argues that Christian universalism is inside the scope of traditional Christian orthodoxy and should not as such be considered as ‘liberal’ heterodoxy.

Tarek Saleeby (Lebanon) interviews Robin Parry (GB), author of The Evangelical Universalist. Parry explains his reasons for believing that everyone will eventually be saved through Christ. He also convincingly argues that Christian universalism is inside the scope of traditional Christian orthodoxy and should not as such be considered as ‘liberal’ heterodoxy.

What does it mean that Jesus fulfilled “all righteousness” when he was baptized?

What does it mean that Jesus fulfilled “all righteousness” when he was baptized? Jesus’ whole life, his ministry, beginning from his baptism by John in the Jordan until his suffering and death on the cross, is the “baptism” that fulfills all righteousness.

Just as all died with him on the cross (2 Cor 5:15), all were baptized with him in Jordan.

Some thoughts on the ordinance of baptism in the light of Epiphany.

At Epiphany, January 6, many Christians have traditionally celebrated the revelation of God as incarnate in Jesus Christ. One of the things commemorated at Epiphany is the baptism of Jesus (especially in the eastern church).

Ethiopian Biblical Manuscript U.Oregon Museum Shelf Mark 10-844.

But why did Jesus need to be baptized in the first place? John’s baptism was a baptism of repentance (Acts 19:4), but Jesus, being free of sin, did obviously not need to “repent”.

This was clear from John’s reluctance to baptize him. But Jesus replied, “Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness.” (Matt. 3:15). Then John consented to baptize Jesus.

So what does it mean that Jesus fulfilled “all righteousness” when he was baptized? Didn’t this only happen later, when he died at the cross?

I think we need to be aware, that the New Testament has a broad concept of “baptism”. Besides the baptism in water, there’s the baptism of the spirit, of course. But more important in this context, Jesus talks of his suffering and death as a baptism:But I have a baptism to undergo, and what constraint I am under until it is completed!” (Luke 12:50).

This is the baptism that fulfills all righteousness. Or rather, we might say that Jesus’ whole life, his ministry, beginning from his baptism by John in the Jordan until his suffering and death on the cross, is the “baptism” that fulfills all righteousness.

Perhaps we might even say, that just as all died with him on the cross (2 Cor 5:15), all were also baptized with him in Jordan. This seems to have been James Relly’s view, when he concluded that through our eternal union with Christ we have also by his baptism fulfilled all righteousness: “Has he fulfilled all righteousness? So have we. Is he justified? So are we.” (Relly 1776, pp. 125f).

James Relly and later Judith Murray concluded from the fact that we have in a sense already been baptized with Christ in Jordan, that we don’t need to be baptized in water now (though we need the baptism of the Spirit to know that we are justified by Christ). The ordinance of baptism in water they felt to be outdated.

I can follow the reasoning of Relly and Murray, though I don’t agree with their conclusion regarding the ordinance of baptism. It’s true that it is not our individual baptism in water that justifies us or unites us to Christ, as the sacramentalist churches have traditionally claimed. But this doesn’t mean that we should stop baptizing.

Baptists (like Richardson and Gill) have in distinction from sacramentalist churches traditionally claimed, like Relly and Murray, that it is Christ alone that justifies (and not, e.g., sacraments). But they have not for this reason stopped baptizing. Rather, individual baptism in water is our response to a reality that is already there.

Similarly, Karl Barth also taught that we are justified by Christ alone before we believe and are baptized. When Jesus was baptized he repented on behalf of the whole world, which was then reconciled to God. But like traditional baptists Barth also saw individual baptism as a response to our justification by Christ (Church Dogmatics IV,4).

This logic runs parallel to Paul’s when he says that God has reconciled the whole world to himself in Christ, but then goes on to exhort us to “be reconciled to God!” (2 Cor 5:17-20). We are reconciled, but are to be reconciled. Notice that this does not mean that our reconciliation by Christ is only ‘potential’, so that it must be put in effect by our choice and efforts (this would be an unevangelic synergistic conception). Our personal reconciliation to God is simply our response to the reconciliation that God has already put in effect for us in Christ.

Perhaps we could say in a similar vein, that we are already baptized with Christ on the one hand, but that we are still to respond to this baptism with him in our own baptism on the other. This logic of baptism would accentuate believer’s baptism as the most appropriate form of baptism, but it wouldn’t (as traditional baptist accounts of baptism) exclude those baptized as infants as being ‘unbaptized’.

We are all baptized with Christ, but there are individual baptisms which are all signs of this “one baptism” (Eph. 4:5) which we confess together with the “one lord” who was baptized – some more, some less adequate, but never invalid (though this may seem to pedobaptists to devalue infant baptism it should be rather uncontroversial that as a sign believer’s baptism more closely corresponds to Jesus’ baptism).

Our baptism can never be a way to righteousness, but only a sign corresponding to the one incarnate Christ who has already fulfilled “all righteousness”. Happy Epiphany!

“Fear not! I bring you good news of great joy, that shall be to all the people.”

When Jesus comes to us, he comes to us in all our poverty. He was born on the edge of civilisation, in a manger. Jesus comes to us as one without possesions. Restless, like Cain. But unlike him Jesus accepts his situation. He comes to us as one who does not rely on wealth, but on God alone. And he tells his disciples to do the same.

Notes based on a sermon @ Café Grace in Copenhagen.

“And lo, a messenger of the Lord stood over them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they feared a great fear. And the messenger said to them, `Fear not, for lo, I bring you good news of great joy, that shall be to all the people — because there was born to you to-day a Saviour — who is Christ the Lord — in the city of David” (Luke 2:9-11, YLT)

Prayer: Heavenly Father, Jesus Christ, our Lord and savior. We are gathered in your name, and we thank you for being present among us. We pray that you will send your Spirit, and teach us what it means when you tell us not to fear. We have heard that a thousand times, but we still need to understand it, not just with our heads, but also with our hearts. In your name. Amen.

Fear not, for I bring good news of great joy“. This is the message of Christmas: Do not fear. It’s the message of Christmas, and, in fact, the message of  the whole bible – if we read it carefully, with the gospel in mind.

We have often heard that the phrase ‘do not fear’ appears 365 times in the bible. That’s one time for each day in the year. So we know very well that we are not supposed to worry. That we don’t need to. David writes about this in some of his Psalms:

“Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.” (Psalm 23:4)

But still, David was often frigthened, worried, fearful and full of sorrows. It’s not only Jesus who says ‘my God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’ David also says that once. It seems that often, it doesn’t really help much telling ourselves that we don’t need to worry. David can tell himself that the Lord is his light and salvation, and that he does not need to fear. But when things doesn’t work out, and fear, sorrow and death knocks at our door, we need to hear it from God himself: “Do not fear.”

In the new testament, the first time we hear that we don’t need to fear is perhaps when Jesus is born. Luke tells us about that. The shepherds are sitting in the fields, when suddenly an angel appears before them, with amazing light and sound, and so on. Of course they were scared, but the angel tells them: “do not fear!, I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people.” Why did Christ come to us as a human being? To free us from the fear of death. Hebrews tells us:

“Seeing, then, the children have partaken of flesh and blood, he himself also in like manner did take part of the same, that through death he might destroy him having the power of death — that is, the devil — and might deliver those, whoever, with fear of death, throughout all their life, were subjects of bondage” (Heb. 2:14-15)

Icon of the transfiguration

Throughout his ministry Jesus repeatedly told people not to fear. One episode is what we call the ‘transfiguration’, when Jesus brings some of his disciples to the mountain Tabor, up in northern Israel. Suddenly Jesus is surrounded by light, his face is shining, and the disciples see Moses and Elijah, two of the great prophets from the old testament, talking with Jesus. One of Jesus’ disciples, Peter, immediately starts chatting, he says ‘Lord, it is good for us to be here. If you wish, I will put up three shelters—one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah’. But while he was still speaking, a bright cloud covered them, and a voice said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!” (Luke 9:28-36). When the disciples heard this, they fell to the ground, terrified. But Jesus came and touched them: “Get up,” he said. “Don’t be afraid.” When they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus.

In the transfiguration it again becomes clear that Jesus has the authority to say ‘do not be afraid’. From now on, we don’t need the prophets. God himself has told us that it’s Jesus we need to listen to. So what is it that Jesus says? He says: ‘Get up, don’t be afraid!’ He doesn’t say: ‘it’s alright’, or ‘it’s probably not that bad’. He doesn’t start giving us reasons not to worry. No, he commands us to not be afraid! If any random person you met on the street told you that you don’t need to worry, you would shake your head. That’s just silly, what does strangers know about your problems? Maybe you don’t know where to sleep tonight. Maybe you don’t know where to get your next meal. But Jesus commands you: ‘Do not be afraid, do not worry!’. And he can do that, because he is not just anyone, but the son of God. And like a soldier in the army is not expected to ask all kinds of questions about how and why, Jesus don’t expect you to ask ‘why?’. He doesn’t give you all kinds of reasons. That he tells you not to worry is enough.

Not to worry is a commandment. But we still worry. We don’t follow Jesus’ commandment. And that’s the problem. Worrying is not just one of many problems. Worrying is actually at the root of sin itself! You probably remember the story of Cain and Abel? Cain and Abel were brothers. Abel a nomad, Cain a farmer. Abel was doing fine, but not Cain. And out of envy Cain killed Abel. Now God has mercy on Cain, and tells him that he will protect him, on the condition that he will live as a nomad, without a permanent home, just as his brother had done. God leaves a mark in Cain’s forehead, and tells him, that if anyone kills him he will be avenged. You can probably imagine, that Cain was thinking, ‘right, as if that would help me anything, being avenged after I’m killed.’

At any rate, Cain chooses not to follow God’s offer. Cain turns his back on God, and instead of living like a nomad, he builds the first city, Enoch. Enoch means something like ‘a new beginning’. It wouldn’t be strange if Cain was worried to death. Cain worries and builds a city. By building a city, a house with a roof, walls to protect him, he tries to find safety. But by inventing his own protection, he also rejects God’s protection. The bible is full of stories like that, about people who want to rely on what they have and possess and what they can do themselves, instead of on what God gives them. Always having great plans and ideals for the future, instead on relying on God. When we start worrying about what we have, that’s when we start competing about things. That’s when we start judging others. That’s when we start judging ourselves, and finally God. That’s sin. That’s death.

When Jesus comes to us, he comes to us in all our poverty. He was born on the edge of civilisation, in a manger. Jesus comes to us as one without possesions. Restless, like Cain. But unlike him Jesus accepts his situation. He comes to us as one who does not rely on wealth, but on God alone. And he tells his disciples to do the same. This is what Jesus talks about in the sermon on the mount.

“You cannot serve both God and Mammon. That is why I tell you not to worry about everyday life—whether you have enough food and drink, or enough clothes to wear. Isn’t life more than food, and your body more than clothing? Look at the birds. They don’t plant or harvest or store food in barns, for your heavenly Father feeds them. And aren’t you far more valuable to him than they are? Can all your worries add a single moment to your life? And why worry about your clothing? Look at the lilies of the field and how they grow. They don’t work or make their clothing, yet Solomon in all his glory was not dressed as beautifully as they are. And if God cares so wonderfully for wildflowers that are here today and thrown into the fire tomorrow, he will certainly care for you. Why do you have so little faith? So don’t worry about these things, saying, ‘What will we eat? What will we drink? What will we wear?’ These things dominate the thoughts of unbelievers, but your heavenly Father already knows all your needs. Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need. So don’t worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring its own worries. Today’s trouble is enough for today.”

I think that when those of us, who are well off, hear this, we often hear it as something pretty and sweet. Like: don’t worry, be happy, it’s gonna be alright. Take it easy. But for others, it might rather sound like something that’s hard to believe. But really, don’t we all worry? And if we do, at the end of the day our worries are the same: Whether we worry about small things, like what pants to wear today, or whether we worry about how we will get fed tonight, at the end of our worries is always the same thing – death. Death is the one big worry that it all comes down to, death is the horizon of all our fears. We worry because we are afraid to lose what we have – ultimately our life.

But Jesus knows that we worry. When Jesus tells us not to worry, that’s good news. Jesus knows that his disciples worry, that’s why he tells them not to! But how do we stop worrying? Listen to the gospel: We know, that God knows what it means being a human being. Christ was one of us. He has been through death itself. Do you think he was feeling ‘alright’ when he was hanging on that cross? No! He was scared to death. My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? But by going through death, Jesus also conquered death. He came out on the other side, resurrected, in body and soul.

God is love and has done what it takes to save us from the powers of death. God’s love is no mother’s love. It’s no soft love that protects you from all suffering and harm. He will let you go the same way as Jesus. Through death, at some point. But because of what Jesus did, on the other side of death, there’s life. Even here and now. There is a whole landscape of fear and worries, but beyond the horizon there is something completely new. This is why we do not need to fear – even death.

These notes are based on a sermon in Café Grace in Copenhagen 2013.

Charles Jennens & Georg Friedrich Händel: Messiah (1742)

Händel’s popular masterwork is not just one of the most marvelous pieces of music ever written. The libretto by Charles Jennens also happens to present a perfect compilation of Bible verses from the King James versions of the Old Testament (especially Isaiah) and the New Testament.

No Christmas without G.F. Händel’s oratorio Messiah. Händel’s popular masterwork is not just one of the most marvelous pieces of music ever written. The libretto by Charles Jennens also happens to present a perfect compilation of Bible verses from the King James versions of the Old Testament (especially Isaiah) and the New Testament. According to wikipedia, musicologist Watkins Shaw described it as “a meditation of our Lord as Messiah in Christian thought and belief”, which “amounts to little short of a work of genius”. This is pure gospel.

Jennens wasn’t completely satisfied with Händel’s composition (“He has made a fine entertainment of it, though not near so good as he might and ought to have done”), but Händel’s work has become one of the most well known classical pieces of all times.

The performance below is from the Czech Republic (conducted by Václav Luks) (I’m not sure if it’s the “best performance”, but it’s good!). Then follows the libretto.


Libretto copied from http://opera.stanford.edu/iu/libretti/messiah.htm

PART ONE

 

1. Sinfonia (Overture)

2. Accompagnato

Tenor

Comfort ye, comfort ye my people, saith your God.
Speak ye comfortably to Jerusalem, and cry unto her, that her warfare is accomplished, that her iniquity is pardoned.
The voice of him that crieth in the wilderness; prepare ye the way of the Lord; make straight in the desert a highway for our God.

(Isaiah 40:1-3)

3. Air

Tenor

Ev’ry valley shall be exalted, and ev’ry moutain and hill made low; the crooked straight and the rough places plain.

(Isaiah 40:4)

4. Chorus

And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together:for the mouth of the Lord hath spoken it.

(Isaiah 40:5)

5. Accompagnato

Bass

Thus saith the Lord, the Lord of hosts:Yet once a little while and I will shake the heavens and the earth, the sea and the dry land.
And I will shake all nations; and the desire of all nations shall come.

(Haggai 2:6-7)

The Lord, whom ye seek, shall suddenly come to His temple, even the messenger of the Covenant, whom you delight in; behold, He shall come, saith the Lord of hosts.

(Malachi 3:1)

6. Air

Alto or soprano

But who may abide the day of His coming, and who shall stand when He appeareth? For He is like a refiner’s fire.

(Malachi 3:2)

7. Chorus

And He shall purify the sons of Levi, that they may offer unto the Lord an offering in righteousness.

(Malachi 3:3)

8. Recitative

Alto

Behold, a virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call His name Emmanuel, God with us.

(Isaiah 7:14; Matthew 1:23)

9. Air and Chorus

Alto

O thou that tellest good tidings to Zion, get thee up into the high mountain. O thou that tellest good tidings to Jerusalem, lift up thy voice with strength; lift it up, be not afraid; say unto the cities of Judah, behold your g od!

(Isaiah 40:9)

Arise, shine, for thy light is come, and the glory of the Lord is risen upon thee.

(Isaiah 60:1)

Chorus
O thou that tellest. . . etc.

10. Accompagnato

Bass

For behold, darkness shall cover the earth, and gross darkness the people; but the Lord shall arise upon thee, and His glory shall be seen upon thee.
And the Gentiles shall come to thy light, and kings to the brightness of thy rising.

(Isaiah 60:2-3)

11. Air

Bass

The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light;
and they that dwell in the land of the shadow of death, upon them hath the light shined.

(Isaiah 9:2)

12. Chorus

For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given, and the government shall be upon His shoulder; and His name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, the mighty God, the Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace.

(Isaiah 9:6)

13. Pifa (“Pastoral Symphony”)

14a. Recitative

Soprano

There were shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flocks by night.

(Luke 2:8)

14b. Accompagnato

Soprano

And lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them, and they were sore afraid.

(Luke 2:9)

15. Recitative

Soprano

And the angel said unto them:”Fear not, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.
For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.”

(Luke 2:10-11)

16. Accompagnato

Soprano

And suddenly there was with the angel, a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God, and saying:

(Luke 2:13)

17. Chorus

“Glory to God in the highest, and peace on earth, good will towards men.”

(Luke 2:14)

18. Air

Soprano

Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion; shout, O daughter of Jerusalem!
Behold, thy King cometh unto thee; He is the righteous Saviour, and He shall speak peace unto the heathen.
Rejoice greatly. . . da capo

(Zechariah 9:9-10)

19. Recitative

Alto

Then shall the eyes of the blind be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped.
Then shall the lame man leap as an hart, and the tongue of the dumb shall sing.

(Isaiah 35:5-6)

20. Air (or Duet)

(Alto &) soprano

He shall feed His flock like a shepherd; and He shall gather the lambs with His arm, and carry them in His bosom, and gently lead those that are with young.

(Isaiah 40:11)

Come unto Him, all ye that labour, come unto Him that are heavy laden, and He will give you rest.
Take his yoke upon you, and learn of Him, for He is meek and lowly of heart, and ye shall find rest unto your souls.

(Matthew 11:28-29)

21. Chorus

His yoke is easy, and His burden is light.

(Matthew 11:30)

 

PART TWO

22. Chorus

Behold the Lamb of God, that taketh away the sin of the world.

(John 1:29)

23. Air

Alto

He was despised and rejected of men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.

(Isaiah 53:3)

He gave His back to the smiters, and His cheeks to them that plucked off His hair:He hid not His face from shame and spitting.
He was despised. . . da capo (Isaiah 53:6)

24. Chorus

Surely He hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows!
He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities; the chastisement of our peace was upon Him.

(Isaiah 53:4-5)

25. Chorus

And with His stripes we are healed.

(Isaiah 53:5)

26. Chorus

All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way. And the Lord hath laid on Him the iniquity of us all.

(Isaiah 53:6)

27. Accompagnato

Tenor

All they that see Him laugh Him to scorn; they shoot out their lips, and shake their heads, saying:

(Psalm 22:7)

28. Chorus

“He trusted in God that He would deliver Him; let Him deliver Him, if He delight in Him.”

(Psalm 22:8)

29. Accompagnato

Tenor

Thy rebuke hath broken His heart:He is full of heaviness. He looked for some to have pity on Him, but there was no man, neither found He any to comfort him.

(Psalm 69:20)

30. Arioso

Tenor

Behold, and see if there be any sorrow like unto His sorrow.

(Lamentations 1:12)

31. Accompagnato

Soprano or tenor

He was cut off out of the land of the living:for the transgressions of Thy people was He stricken.

(Isaiah 53:8)

32. Air

Soprano or tenor

But Thou didst not leave His soul in hell; nor didst Thou suffer Thy Holy One to see corruption.

(Psalm 16:10)

33. Chorus

Lift up your heads, O ye gates; and be ye lift up, ye everlasting doors; and the King of Glory shall come in.
Who is this King of Glory? The Lord strong and mighty, The Lord mighty in battle.
Lift up your heads, O ye gates; and be ye lift up, ye everlasting doors; and the King of Glory shall come in.
Who is this King of Glory? The Lord of Hosts, He is the King of Glory.

(Psalm 24:7-10)

34. Recitative

Tenor

Unto which of the angels said He at any time:”Thou art My Son, this day have I begotten Thee?”

(Hebrews 1:5)

35. Chorus

Let all the angels of God worship Him.

(Hebrews 1:6)

36. Air

Alto or soprano

Thou art gone up on high; Thou hast led captivity captive, and received gifts for men; yea, even from Thine enemies, that the Lord God might dwell among them.

(Psalm 68:18)

37. Chorus

The Lord gave the word; great was the company of the preachers.

(Psalm 68:11)

38. Air (or « duet and Chorus »)

Soprano or alto (or soprano, alto and Chorus)

How beautiful are the feet of them that preach the gospel of peace, and bring glad tidings of good things.

(Isaiah 52:7; Romans 10:15)

39. Chorus (or air for tenor)

Their sound is gone out into all lands,
and their words unto the ends of the world.

(Romans 10:18; Psalm 19:4)

40. Air (or « Air and Recitative »)

Bass

Why do the nations so furiously rage together, and why do the people imagine a vain thing?
The kings of the earth rise up, and the rulers take counsel together against the Lord, and against His anointed.

(Psalm 2:1-2)

41. Chorus

Let us break their bonds asunder, and cast away their yokes from us.

(Psalm 2:3)

42. Recitative

Tenor

He that dwelleth in Heav’n shall laugh them to scorn; The Lord shall have them in derision.

(Psalm 2:4)

43. Air

Tenor

Thou shalt break them with a rod of iron; thou shalt dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel.

(Psalm 2:9)

44. Chorus

Hallelujah:for the Lord God Omnipotent reigneth.

(Revelation 19:6)

The kingdom of this world is become the kingdom of our Lord,
and of His Christ; and He shall reign for ever and ever.

(Revelation 11:15)

King of Kings, and Lord of Lords.

(Revelation 19:16)

Hallelujah!

 

PART THREE

45. Air

Soprano

I know that my Redeemer liveth, and that He shall stand
at the latter day upon the earth.
And though worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God.

(Job 19:25-26)

For now is Christ risen from the dead, the first fruits of them that sleep.

(I Corinthians 15:20)

46. Chorus

Since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead.
For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive.

(I Corinthians 15:21-22)

47. Accompagnato

Bass

Behold, I tell you a mystery; we shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet.

(I Corinthians 15:51-52)

48. Air

Bass

The trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed.
For this corruptible must put on incorruption and this mortal must put on immortality.
The trumpet. . . da capo

(I Corinthians 15:52-53)

49. Recitative

Alto

Then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written:”Death is swallowed up in victory.”

(I Corinthians 15:54)

50. Duet

Alto & tenor

O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?
The sting of death is sin, and the strength of sin is the law.

(I Corinthians 15:55-56)

51. Chorus

But thanks be to God, who giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

(I Corinthians 15:57)

52. Air

Soprano alto

If God be for us, who can be against us?

(Romans 8:31)

Who shall lay anything to the charge of God’s elect? It is God that justifieth, who is he that condemneth? It is Christ that died, yea rather, that is risen again, who is at the right hand of God, who makes intercession for us.

(Romans 8:33-34)

53. Chorus

Worthy is the Lamb that was slain, and hath redeemed us to God by His blood, to receive power, and riches, and wisdom,
and strength, and honour, and glory, and blessing.
Blessing and honour, glory and power, be unto Him that sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb, for ever and ever.
Amen.

(Revelation 5:12-14)


Initially input by Pierre Degott (degott@zeus.univ-metz.fr); HTML conversion by Potharn Imre (pubi@altavista.net)

The king is coming! Notes for a sermon for Advent

This is the meaning of advent: That Jesus is coming – the Kingdom of God is coming. Not just somewhere far off in the future, but every day, in all circumstances of your life. He is coming right now, and with him he brings peace and light to everyone who lives in darkness.

Notes for a sermon in Blovstrød kirke, november 2017.

”The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light: they that dwelt in the land of the shadow of death, upon them hath the light shined.” (Isaiah 9:2, ASV)

For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and of peace there shall be no end” (Isaiah 9,6-7, ASV)

We are approaching that time of year which in our parts of the world from pre-christian times has been called ’Yule’. Originally this was a festival celebrating midwinter and the return of the sun. The days have been getting shorter and darker, but soon the sun will be returning, the light is coming back.

We still celebrate that, of course, but with the Christian gospel we celebrate a much greater light, a light that is not forever cyclically fading and coming back just to fade away again, but a light that is lit for us eternally. At Christmas we celebrate the birth of Christ.

We celebrate that God has come to us in Jesus, that God became a human being for us. Jesus Christ, born in Bethlehem, was the child, the son “given unto us”, that would bring peace. This was the bright light, that would shine upon everyone living in the shadows of death. Jesus is the promised Messiah, Immanuel, God with us, the king that the ancient Jewish people waited for – the one who we in fact all waited for, the Heathen too. Knowingly or not.

The time before Christmas is called Advent. It means the ’coming’ or the ’arrival’. In advent time we remember how we waited for Christ. In advent time we are waiting for the King.

Now, when Christ came he didn’t come as an ordinary king. He came as a poor servant. He entered Jerusalem on a donkey, not on a horse: See, your king comes to you, righteous and victorious, lowly and riding on a donkey” (Zechariah 9:9). He didn’t come with great power, not with tanks or guns. He wasn’t that kind of king.

He came as a servant, humble in peace. And with him he brought the Kingdom of God – a kingdom of peace, forgiveness, mercy and righteousness for all. With his sacrifice, with his death on the cross and his resurrection from the dead, he opened the narrow gates to his Kingdom so that everyone could now enter.

So where is this kingdom? Jesus said: You can’t see it. The Kingdom of God is among you (Luke 17:21). It’s near, it’s right here, but you can’t see it: “Days will come, when you will desire to see”, but it’s invisible.

Obviously. So much we see – we live in a world where there is still much injustice, war, violence and evil. We might see the Kingdom in flashes, when we experience love or when we hear the word of God. But we are still waiting to see the Kingdom of God.

Jesus said: I am the first and the last, the beginning and the ending, he who is, and was and is to come (Rev 1:8). This is the meaning of advent: That Jesus is coming – the Kingdom of God is coming. Not just somewhere far off in the future, but every day, in all circumstances of your life. He is coming right now, and with him he brings peace and light to everyone who lives in darkness.

Let us pray, that God will give us the eyes to see His light.

A “great kindness to Man”: Death as divine gift according to Patristic theologies

It’s a common idea in Patristic theology that death is not just a punishment but also in a way a gift, as it puts a limit to sin, and makes it possible for God to recreate fallen creature through the resurrection.

Michelangelo, Expulsion from Garden of Eden (1509-1510)

It’s a common idea in Patristic theology that death is not just a punishment but also in a way a gift, as it puts a limit to sin, and makes it possible for God to recreate fallen creature through the resurrection. Often there is also the idea that between death and the resurrection, there will be a time of purification and disciplining. Theophilus of Antioch (168 A.D.) explained:

”God showed great kindness to man in this, that He did not suffer him to remain in sin for ever; but, as it were, by a kind of banishment, cast him out of Paradise, in order that, having by punishment expiated, within an appointed time, the sin, and having been disciplined, he should afterwards be restored. Wherefore also, when man had been formed in this world, it is mystically written in Genesis, as if he had been twice placed in Paradise; so that the one was fulfilled when he was placed there, and the second will be fulfilled after the resurrection and judgment. For just as a vessel, when on being fashioned it has some flaw, is remoulded or remade, that it may become new and entire; so also it happens to man by death. For somehow or other [or: by force] he is broken up, that he may rise in the resurrection whole; I mean spotless, and righteous, and immortal.” (Theophilus of Antioch, ad Autolycum, ii, 26, thanks to Alex for this quote)

In a popular translation of this passage it is added that Adam was broken up ”by force”. As far as I can tell this must be the Greek ”δυνάμει” (meaning force, power or capability) which is here translated as ”somehow or other”. I like the emphasis of the alternative rendering, though, where death is said to be God’s way of breaking up humankind by force or power, as this makes it crystal clear, that this is not something that we can or even will do ourselves, but something that must be done against our will.

Screendump from PG Migne’s Patrologia Graecae vol. 6

Irenaeus of Lyons (182 A.D.) said something quite similar to Theophilus, when he argued that God took life from Adam in order to put an end to evil:

”Wherefore also he drove him out of paradise and removed him far from the tree of life, not because He envied him the tree of life, as some dare assert, but because He pitied him and desired that he should not be immortal and the evil interminable and irremediable.” (Irenaeus, Contr. Haer. iii. c. 23, § 6)

In other words: Death is the punishment or ”the wages” of sin (Paul), but the resurrection is the revelation of God’s ’yes’ in his ’no’, as Karl Barth would later put it. Christ’s death and resurrection is the principle that transforms our death into life. This notion is clearly present in Gregory of Nyssa in the fourth century:

”Nevertheless one who regards only the dissolution of the body is greatly disturbed, and makes it a hardship that this life of ours should be dissolved by death; it is, he says, the extremity of evil that our being should be quenched by this condition of mortality. Let him, then, observe through this gloomy prospect the excess of the Divine benevolence.” (The Great Catechism §VIII)

Gregory of Nyssa (c. 335-395 AD)

Gregory then describes how human nature was ”enveloped” in the ”liability to death” in order to secure that we may part with evil and through the resurrection be reformed and created anew. Gregory later in his Catechism famously explains that the mystery of God’s plan was that, instead of preventing the dissolution of His body by death he decided to bring back life through the resurrection, so that Christ might become the ”meeting-ground” (or boundary, μεθόριον) of life and death, and thereby the originating principle (γενόμενος ἀρχὴ) for the resurrection (The Great Catechism §XVI, GNO III 16,79-86). In this way we are saved from evil by Christ through death and resurrection.

Like Theophilus in the above quote, Gregory clearly believed that there will be a process of purification after death before the resurrection (but possibly also after?). This idea, however, is not essential to the notion of death as not just a punishment but also a divine gift. I think it should be possible to ’demythologize’ the Patristic ideas of purification and disciplining, so that they are instead seen to be something this-worldly (as it so often is in both the Old and New Testament), pertaining to human history here and now. Even so, the main idea still holds true, that God’s judgment and mercy are not separate things. God’s mercy is always hidden in his judgment.

Hans Denck and yieldedness as the solution to the problem of the (un)free will

According to Denck, God lets human beings feel the consequences of sin, in order to teach us that we cannot rest on our own will. God is not the cause of sin, but he uses what is apparently evil, as a means of salvation.

Hans Denck (c. 1500-1527) might have looked something like this.

Is the human will free or unfree? Is there a third option? While Erasmus of Rotterdam (1466-1536) defended the idea that human beings have a free will to choose the good, Martin Luther (1483-1546) defended the Augustinian idea that the human will is determined by God, and is thus unfree: God is ‘absolute’ and ‘necessary’, and thus determines human beings who are ‘relative’ and ‘contingent’ (On the Bondage of the Will).

There is a third option, however. According to Luther’s contemporary Anabaptist reformer Hans Denck (1500-1527), both determinism (Luther) and anti-determinism (Erasmus) are, in themselves, true. But they are both lies too, says Denck, and both claims are used as an excuse for boasting, and for not wanting God get his will (Divine Order §7, p. 258).

To get to a true conception of the human will, determinism and anti-determinism must be reconciled. Denck’s strategy rests on his dialectical methodology, as explained briefly in his ‘Paradoxa’:

“Two opposites must both be true. But one is contained in the other, as the lesser is in the greater, time in eternity, finitude in infinity. One who leaves antitheses without reconciling them lacks the ground of truth.” (Paradoxa, p. 29)

Denck explains that there is a radical distinction between God and human beings. This means that when human beings rely on their own will they will always sin, even when they try to do good:

“There are essentially two, God and humankind. Since they are two, each one does what is appropriate to his nature, good and evil (Is. 55).” (Divine Order §5, p. 254)

God lets human beings feel the consequences of sin (separation from God), in order to teach us that we cannot rest on our own will. God is not the cause of sin (this would follow from determinism), but he uses what is apparently evil, as a means of salvation (Divine Order §5, p. 254). Salvation begins, says Denck, “when the Lord places us in the remotest part of hell.” (Divine Order §4, p. 253).

“When we are deepest in damnation we allow ourselves and everything that relates to us to us to be torn asunder with unspeakable pain […] This is the eye of the needle through which the uncouth camels have to pass, yet cannot. Indeed, we cannot do it ourselves but must suffer God to do it for us[…]” (Divine Order §6, p. 256)

To allow ourselves to be torn asunder is not a matter of exercising will, free or unfree, but of yielding to God. It is in this ‘yieldedness’ (Gelassenheit) that determinism and non-determinism is reconciled. It is this yieldedness that allows human beings to make the required ‘leap of faith’, to borrow a term from Kierkegaard, which is not a matter of exercising free will, but of letting God do what he wills (Denck, Whether God is the Cause of Evil).

This is why Denck can say in his confession that:

“all believers were once unbelievers. Consequently, in becoming believers, they thus first had to die in order that they might thereafter no longer live for themselves, as unbelievers do, but for God through Christ” (Denck, Confession)

We are, in other words, not saved from spiritual death but through the spiritual death which creates yieldedness.

I like Denck’s dialectical way of thinking, as he is clearly aware that God’s judgment and mercy are not separate things, but two sides of the same coin. The problem with his spiritualistic idea of Christ’s death and resurrection as something in which the believer participates by subjective experience is, of course, that it leaves Christ’s actual death on the cross ineffectual for the believer before faith. Here I clearly prefer e.g. Relly’s idea of union as “of old”, meaning that we have actually died with Christ in his death even before we come to subjective faith. Faith is the apprehension of our death with Christ on the cross, the result of union with Christ, rather than the condition of union. This also means that we were justified and even in some sense saved before we even had the chance to make a choice of faith. Our choice – free or unfree – can only be a matter of how we relate to the fact that we have already been reconciled to God through Christ. This, it seems to me, is a fourth option which is more Christocentric than Erasmus, Luther and Denck who all rely on some degree of subjectivism. Perhaps we could talk of faith as yielding to the facts?

Btw: Denck’s idea of yieldedness is not unique. Something similar can be found, e.g. in the Quaker theologian Robert Barclay a century later. The opposition between Erasmus and Luther is more or less similar to that between Calvinism (determinism) and Arminianism (anti-determinism), which Barclay sought to overcome in his thinking.

Read more about Hans Denck at Gameo.

Passages are quoted from ‘Selected writings of Hans Denck, 1500-1527’ [edited and translated by] E. J. Furcha: 1989.

When Mr. Murray met a “young lady”

Central to James Relly, John and Judith Murray, was the idea, that it is not our faith that makes Jesus our savior, but rather that our faith is a recognition of the fact that he is our savior even before we believe. In his memoirs John Murray tells the story of how he was first presented to this argument when he met a young lady in his church, who was influenced by Relly.

John Murray (1741-1815)

Central to James Relly, John and Judith Murray, was the idea, that it is not our faith that makes Jesus our savior, but rather that our faith is a recognition of the fact that he is our savior even (in some sense) before we believe. If he wasn’t, our unbelief would not make him a liar (1 John 5:10).

In his memoirs John Murray tells the story of how he was first presented to this argument when he met a young lady in George Whitefield’s congregation, of which he was a member. The young lady was clearly influenced by Relly.

“I recollect one instance in particular, which pierced me to the soul. A young lady, of irreproachable life, remarkable for piety, and highly respected by the tabernacle congregation and church, of which I was a devout member, had been ensnared; […] she was become a believer, a firm, and unwavering believer of universal redemption! […] The young lady received us with much kindness and condescension; while, as I glanced my eye upon her fine countenance, beaming with intelligence, mingled pity and contempt grew in my bosom. After the first ceremonies, we sat for some time silent; at length I drew up a heavy sigh, and uttered a pathetic sentiment, relative to the deplorable condition of those, who live, and die in unbelief; and I concluded a violent declamation, by pronouncing, with great earnestness, He that believeth not, shall be damned.

“And pray, Sir,” said the young lady, with great sweetness, “Pray, Sir, what is the unbeliever damned for not believing?”

What is he damned for not believing, Why, he is damned for not believing.

“But, my dear Sir, I asked what was that he did not believe, for which he was damned?”

Why, for not believing in Jesus Christ, to be sure.

“Do you mean to say, that unbelievers are damned for not believing there was such a person as Jesus Christ?”

No, I do not; a man may believe there was such a person, and yet be damned.

“What then, Sir, must he believe, in order to avoid damnation?”

Why he must believe that Jesus Christ is a complete Savior.

“Well, suppose he were to believe that Jesus Christ was the complete Savor of others, would this belief save him?”

No, he must believe that Christ is his complete Savior.”

“Why, Sir, is Jesus Christ the Savior of any unbelievers?”

No, madam.

“Why, then, should any unbeliever believe that Jesus Christ is his Savior, if he be not his Savior?”

I say, he is not the Savior of any one, until he believes.

“Then, if Jesus be not the Savior of the unbeliever until he believes, the unbeliever is called upon to believe a lie. It appears to me, Sir, that Jesus is the complete Savior of unbelievers; and the unbelievers are called upon to believe the truth; and that, by believing, they are saved, in their own apprehension, from all those dreadful fears, which are consequent upon a state of conscious condemnation.”

No, madam; you are dreadfully, I trust not fatally misled. Jesus never was, nor never will be, the Savior of any unbeliever.

“Do you think Jesus is you Savior, Sir?”

I hope he is.

“Were you always a believer, Sir?”

No, madam.

“Then you were once an unbeliever; that is, you once believed that Jesus Christ was not your Savior. Now, as you say, he never was, nor ever will be, the Saviour of any unbeliever; as you were once an unbeliever, he never can be your Savior.”

He never was my Savior till I believed.

“Did he never die for you till you believed, Sir?”

Here I was extremely embarrased, and most devoutly wished myself out of her habitation; I sighed bitterly, expressed deep commiseration for those deluded souls, who had nothing but head-knowledge; drew out my watch, discovered it was late; and, recollecting an engagement, observed it was time to take leave.

I was extremely mortified; the young lady observed my confusion, but was too generous to pursue her triumph. I arose to depart; the company arose; she urged us to tarry; addressed each of us in the language of kindness. Her countenance seemed to wear a resemblance of the Heaven which she contemplated; it was stamped by benignity; and when we bade her adieue, she enriched us by her good wishes.” (John Murray, The Life of Rev. John Murray (1833), p. 100ff)

The argument, which the young lady had most likely got from James Relly, reappears in Judith Sargent Murray’s catechism (written when her name was still Judith Sargent  Stevens) from 1782. Here we find the same argument in the answer to the question “Yet is there not a condemnation spoken of to those who believe not the efficacy of this great redemption?”

The text says, he that believeth shall be saved, and he that believeth not shall be damned. Again, he that believeth not is condemned already. Thus is damnation and condemnation synonymous in scripture: now it is evident, that if I believe not that Jesus died for my sins, I am condemned, in that I make God a lyar! in not believing his record; which record declares, that God hath given to us eternal life, and this life is in his son. Moreover, if I look to myself, I must feel the sentence of death; nor can I be saved therefrom, ’till I look unto the Lamb of God, who taketh away my sin. Those who assert that this damnation consequent upon unbelief is eternal, forget that every believer was once an unbeliever: and further, that in that day when they shall be all caught up to meet the Lord in the Heavens, they shall all see, and seeing, they shall with Thomas, believe; nor shall a son or daughter of Adam, be then left in ignorance.”

The phrase that “every believer was once an unbeliever”  can also be found in the 16th century anabaptist Hans Denck. I’ll have to look further into possible connections.

Karl Barth on the universality of the atonement and the particularity of the work of the Spirit

In the first volume of the fourth part of his Church Dogmatics Karl Barth argued that the atonement was true and real for all human beings as a result of the work of Jesus Christ. The difference between Christians and non-Christians, is that Christians are those who have heard the Gospel, and as a result know that the atonement is real for them also. This is the work of the Holy Spirit.

barth2In the Swiss Reformed theologian Karl Barth’s famous doctrine of election, Jesus is the one elect of God, elected to bear our rejection in a way that all human beings are elected in him (Church Dogmatics II.2). This also means that all human beings have been reconciled to God in Christ alone before coming to faith.

In the first volume of the fourth part of his Church Dogmatics – on the doctrine of reconciliation –  Karl Barth argued that the atonement was true and real for all human beings as a result of the work of Jesus Christ. Being truly God and truly human Christ is united to humankind in such a way, that all human beings have kept the covenant with him. The purpose of the atonement was the conversion of the world to God through Christ as the representative of the world.

Barth argues that the atonement is true for all and does not need to be “realized” or “applied” in order to be effectual. The difference between Christians and non-Christians, is that Christians are those who have heard the Gospel, and as a result know that the atonement is real for them also. This is the work of the Holy Spirit.

“The hand of God the Reconciler is over all men. Jesus Christ was born and died and rose again for all. The work of atonement, the conversion of man to God, was done for all. The Word of God is spoken to all. God’s verdict and direction and promise have been pronounced over all. To that extent, objectively, all are justified, sanctified and called. But the hand of God has not touched all in such a way that they can see and hear, perceive and accept and receive all that God is for all and therefore for them, how therefore they can exist and think and live. To those who have not been touched in this way by the hand of God the axiom that Jesus Christ is the Victor is as such unknown. It is a Christian and not a general axiom; valid generally, but not generally observed and acknowledged. Similarly, they do not know their sin or even what sin is, since it can be known only in the light of that axiom. And naturally they do not know their justification, sanctification and calling as they have already taken place in Jesus Christ. But the hand of God has touched and seized Christians in this way – which means the presence and activity of the Holy Spirit. In this special sense Christians and only Christians are converted to Him. This is without any merit or co-operating on their part, just as the reconciliation of the whole world in Jesus Christ is without its merit or co-operation. But they are really converted to God in the special sense. The free grace of the sovereign God has in relation to them the special form that they themselves can reach after it. They can understand it as the grace directed to the world and therefore to them. They can live in the light and power of it – under its judgment, but all in all, under the Word, and readily and willingly under the Word, under the divine sentence and direction and promise. Therefore the being and work of Jesus Christ, the One and All of His achievement and the relevance of it has also this – shall we call it for the sake of clarity subjective? – dimension, in which the same One and All is now in the eyes and ears and hearts, in the existence of these men, Christian, who are specially taken and determined by His Holy Spirit. They have over the rest of the world the one inestimable advantage that God the Reconciler and the event of reconciliation can be to them a matter of recognition and confession, until the day when He and it will be the subject of His revelation to all eyes and ears and hearts, and therefore of the recognition and confession of all men.” (Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics VI.1, §58. p. 149)

Notice that Barth is not here dealing with a general, but merely outward and ineffectual calling, as opposed to an inner and effectual, but particular calling that only the few ‘elect’ will hear for some mysterious reason. In Christ all are elect and called, but the effects of this calling only becomes real subjectively and existentially for each particular person through the work of the Holy Spirit.

There are obvious similarities between Karl Barth’s theology and James Relly’s doctrine of union. Relly similarly confirmed that Christ is the elect one who are united to humankind in such a way that he partakes in the judgment against our sin on the cross in order that we may partake in his righteousness in the resurrection. Being saved by faith means coming to know that one already partakes in the death and resurrection of Christ through our eternal union with him. But where Relly finally took the consequences of this idea and argued that this must also mean that all will finally be saved, Barth was more cautious, as he saw the final salvation of all as something we can only hope for. The above passage at least suggests, however, that the Rellyan conclusion is – should we say – rather plausible from the Barthian perspective as well.

James Relly on the “Grace and truth of Union”

James Relly’s theology revolved around the idea of union. Everything which can be said about Christ can now be said of those who are united with him. Relly developed the core aspects of this idea in his Union: or, a Treatise of the Consanguinity and Affinity between Christ and his Church from 1759. Below are some excerpts from his book.

relly
James Relly (1722-1778)

More on James Relly.

James Relly’s theology revolved around the idea of the eternal union between Christ and his church. Christ is united to His Church to such a degree that Christians have already died with him on the cross. Everything which can be said about Christ can be said of those who are united with him.

In this way the sin of sinners are rightly punished in Christ. God does not judge and punish Christ instead of sinners (in the sense that sinners are not subject to judgment), but he judges sinners in Christ. Through their union with Christ sinners are simultaneously judged and counted righteous as they also participate in Christ’s perfect righteousness. This is union is eternal as a result of election, and realized in the incarnation.

“[U]nion of Christ, and his Church, hath been of old, before faith, before time: and remains to be indissolvable , and unchangeable.” (Relly, Union, p. 117)

Faith is not the condition of this union, but a knowledge of the fruits of the union with Christ. Faith is a knowledge of the identity the believer already has in Christ before coming to know this through faith. No inner, spiritual rebirth or conversion need to take place to create this union with Christ, which is true even before conversion. It is the faith of Christ that justifies sinners, not their own faith, which is always unstable and weak.

See also: James Relly: “Has he fulfilled all righteousness? So have we. Is he justified? So are we.”

Relly developed the core aspects of this idea in his Union: or, a Treatise of the Consanguinity and Affinity between Christ and his Church from 1759. The doctrine of union later became pivotal in the development of Relly’s universal soteriology, as he came to believe that the whole humankind was united to Christ in this way. The unsaved who do not yet have faith are those who do not yet know, that they are already united with Christ and thus also participate in his death and resurrection whereby they are made righteous before God.

Btw.: If Relly’s doctrine of union sounds like Karl Barth’s doctrines of election and justification, it’s because they are virtually similar, as far as I can tell. Barth similarly emphasizes the death that humankind dies with Christ on the cross in whom all are simultaneously rejected and elected. In Christ we are what we are not. More on this later.

Below are some excerpts from Relly’s book.

“What is impossible with Man, is possible with God. If we read the Scriptures out of Christ, they require impossibilities of us: hence it is, that some who are aware of this, and yet ignorant of the power of God, are obliged to have recourse unto new Laws; Laws of their own making, where, by a sincere intention, and all possible Obedience, they would evade the force of the scripture perfection, and put a foil upon the sword of the spirit: But truth needs no artifice, unto this sword, unfoiled, sharp, and two-edged as it is, piercing through the soul and spirit, joints, and marrow, discerning the thoughts, and intents of the heart, Jesus bared his Bosom: and sheathing it in his own Heart’s Blood, the divine, glutinating power thereof, hath rendered it impossible to draw it again to another execution; God is Just, and true, and will not; Men or Devils cannot.” (Union, p. 150)

“When we read the Scriptures in Christ, we determine according to the possibility of things with God, unto him who believeth, all things are possible. The impossibilities, and Jarrings, with which the Letter abounds: such as the demands of perfect obedience, of satisfaction for sin, of salvation by Grace, by Works, of the forgiveness of Sin by Christ, and yet Judged according to the Deeds done in the Body, and giving an account at that day for every idle word, &c. all this, I say hath its harmony and perfection in Jesus […] in him, as the representative of Man as having the people in himself, and he in them, the preceptive part is fulfilled perfectly;- And all the threatenings executed upon the Sinner, in him: in Him saved by Grace, in Him Justified by works, accepted in Him, having redemption in His Blood the forgivenness of sin. Our account for the idle word, is, that in ourselves we are carnal, sold under sin, and have no good thing; but, that in Christ we are fulled, in him sanctified, in him accepted, and therefore appeal from the first Adam, unto the second.” (Union, p. 150-152)

“Again, from the Grace and truth of Union, the Christian hath a right to reckon of Himself, of his state, and condition towards God, according to Christ; according to the state and Condition which He is in: hence saith the Apostle, reckon ye yourselves to be Dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord (Rom. 6:11). And O (what grace is this!) that we helpless worms, whose every word, work, and thought is unholy, yea, in whom according to the strongest testimony of our senses, and reason, there is yet found the motions, life, and love of sin; should have a right to reckon ourselves dead unto sin: dead unto what we yet feel the life of, dead unto what we yet feel the love of, dead unto what is yet stronger than we, and against which, our utmost efforts when compared with its strength, are feebleness itself; it esteems all our Iron as straw, and our Brass as rotten wood; and, yet to reckon ourselves dead unto this, what an amazing reckoning it is! Yea, not only dead unto sin, whereby we are exempted from its filfth, guilt, and condemnation:- But we are to reckon ourselves positively Holy, Righteous, and fruitful, Alive unto God! and that in Opposition to all we see, feel, or understand of ourselves, according to sense. What are we then to reckon of ourselves by? by Jesus Christ our Lord;” (Union, p. 153)

Download the book here.

James Relly: “Has he fulfilled all righteousness? So have we. Is he justified? So are we.”

The central doctrine in Relly’s theology was the belief that the atonement and justification must be understood in terms of union with Christ. All human beings died with Christ on the cross. Faith is not a condition for justification, but only the knowledge that one has already been justified by Christ.

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James Relly (1722-1778)

This summer I have enjoyed studying James Relly’s Epistles, or the Great Salvation Contemplated from 1776. James Relly (1722–1778) was a Methodist minister, but his theology differed much from fellow Methodists. The central doctrine in Relly’s theology was the belief that the atonement and justification must be understood in terms of union with Christ. Humankind is united to Christ in such a way that all human beings are considered as one person with Him. This is a well-known idea in classical and modern theology (compare Relly’s thought with, e.g., Athanasius and Barth), but Relly takes the consequences against the widespread over-emphasis on faith as the condition for justification in much ‘evangelical’ theology:

”When Christ was made a curse for us, all the threatenings wherewith the sinner and the ungodly are threatened, were executed on them in him: the authority and equity of which transaction have their rise, 1. from the will of God; 2. from Christ’s voluntary undertaking; and, 3. from the kindred oneness subsisting between him and the people. According to which, through the whole of his obedience and death, He and they were considered in the eye of justice, as one person: and sinners without distinction, were chastised in him. This is what is called in the Old Testament, “the day of the Lord, a day of darkness, gloominess, and of the shadow of death. The day of Christ’s sufferings, is the day of which the prophet spake: the day which should burn as an oven, and the character of the sinner cease from man, as presented unto God in Christ.” (Relly 1776, pp.72f)

Just as all human beings became sinners with Adam, all became righteous with Christ. As all human beings died with Christ at the cross, all have received the due punishment for sin already. There can hardly be said to be a ’transaction’ of righteousness from Christ to believers through faith, but all human beings suffered the just punishments for sin as they all died with Christ on the cross. Faith is not the condition for union with Christ, but the knowledge, that one has already died with Christ. The only distinction between ’saved’ believers and ’unsaved’ unbelievers is that believers enjoy the comfort of this knowledge here and now, while unbelievers are still unaware that they are already saved in principle. On the words of Psalm 65:2, ”Unto thee shall all flesh come”, Relly argues that this promise is already fulfilled, in the person of Christ:

”Jesus hath, in himself, brought up, all flesh to God; unto whom he hath presented them holy and irreprovable: nor will he cease to rule, until what is true in him, shall be true in them also: until all flesh shall come to the knowledge and enjoyment of his salvation.” (Relly 1776, p. 40)

All human beings have been crucified with Christ, and are thus in principle dead from their sins. This is what Paul meant when he said that he was ”crucified with Christ” in Gal. 2:20:

”Mankind were so comprehended in the person of Christ, through all that he did and suffered, that the soul that sinned died, and every man suffered for his own sin. This is a doctrine familiar to an apostolic christian, who can say as the apostle said, “I am crucified with Christ.”” (Relly 1776, p. 110)

But not only did all human beings die with Christ on the cross. As Christ has fulfilled ”all righteousness”, so have human beings who were united with him.

”Our obligation to obey the law, in order to life eternal; our sins, and penalties due to them, were all made Christ’s in his doings and sufferings; and his resurrection state, in all its success, power, and purity, is ours: “he being made sin for us, that we might be made the righteousness of God in him.” Upon this view and faith of the gospel, the judgment which we form of ourselves, is according to Christ. Has he fulfilled all righteousness? So have we. Is he justified? So are we. Is he accepted of God? So are we. Does he live for ever? So do we: for he hath said, “Because I live, ye shall live also:” hence, we are taught to reckon ourselves dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God by Jesus Christ our Lord.” (Relly 1776, pp. 125f)

Jesus Christ has kept the commandments for us, so that we are considered righteous in him. This might sound like the traditional (protestant) doctrine of Christ’s passive and active vicarious obedience, but notice that Relly is not saying, that Jesus has kept the commandment in our place, but rather that we in some indirect sense have actually kept the commandments through our union with him.

”Therefore, the perfect character of loving God, and keeping his commandments, belongs to Jesus Christ our Lord, and to him only: but as we are made the righteousness of God in Christ, as Christ occupied our nature and persons, in all his doings, sufferings, and obtainments, he has cloathed us with his own garment of salvation, and robe of righteousness; nor is he ashamed to call us brethren. Hence, we are of him who loved God and kept his commandments, and therefore we obtain mercy.” (Relly 1776, p. 111)

A central argument in Relly’s thought is that unbelief in the Gospel can only really be termed unbelief, if the Gospel is true independently on belief. Only if a person is actually saved by Christ can it be said to be an instance of unbelief, if that person does not believe that he or she is saved. To deny the gospel is to deny the fact, that one is already saved, but this denial does not change that fact, which is why it can be said that unbelief makes God ”a liar” (1 John 5:10). To die in ”one’s sins” (John 8:24) means to die while holding the mistaken belief, that one has not been forgiven:

”And thus I would understand the text: “If you believe not that I am he, you shall die in your sins.” But this has no allusion to the final state of man: for, from the text, it is manifest, that their being and dying in their sins, is wholly owing to their ubelief: but unbelief is a lye against the truth; the truth is, that Jesus is their Saviour, who hath saved them from their sins: that he is their wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption: but unbelief influencing the mind to reject the truth, the conscience formed on the principle, retains, in its sense, and guilt, and fear, the very iniquity which the blood of Jesus has expiated; and which God remembers no more. Unbelief in its term, supposes a resistance of truth, yea of revealed truth, yea, of permanent unchangeable truth. For on that moment, the matter which unbelief opposes, ceases to answer to the characters of truth; the opposition ceaseth to be, unbelief is no longer unbelief: it is no longer criminal, but praise worthy.” (Relly 1776, p. 127)

That the gospel is true even before it is believed means that faith is not a condition of participation in Christ, but rather a result of coming to know, that one has already died with Christ as a result of the union between Christ and humankind:

”What is not true, until it is believed, affords no foundation to build upon: it is drawing the line, or plummet, over chaos; and laying the foundation upon space. And yet, that God loves us, and laid the iniquities of us all upon Jesus, that Jesus died for our sins, and put them away by the sacrifice of himself; though preached in the gospel, is not (according to modern systems) true until it is believed. Thus man’s faith is made to give virtue and dignity to the blood of Jesus, and what renders it propitiatory for sin. Yea, Christ himself is formed by faith, if we are to believe, that “an unapplied Christ is no Christ at all.”” (Relly 1776, p. 234)

As was the case with many primitive Particular Baptists such as Samuel Richardson and later John Gill, this meant for Relly, that human beings were made righteous by Christ before coming to faith (though, of course, for the Particular Baptists this was only true in respect of the few ’elect’). Faith is not a means of or a condition for righteousness, but only the revelation of a righteousness which is already there. On 1 Tim. 2:6, where Jesus Christ is said to be ”a ransom for all, to be testified in due time”, Relly says:

”If Jesus gave himself a ransom for all, then are all ransomed: the prey is taken from the mighty, and the lawful captives are delivered: they are ransomed from the dominion of sin, from the curse of the law, and from everlasting death. Thus stands the case with all the children of Adam, as ransomed by Jesus Christ, who, in consequence thereof, are spotless before God. But this is to be testified in due time, i.e. to be made appear or known — which intends, that there is a time with God called the due time, when this truth, that all mankind are ransomed from sin, and from all its consequences, by Jesus Christ, shall be published on the housetop, shall be made manifest to all; not in the report only; but in the blessed, full, and eternal enjoyment thereof.” (Relly 1776, p. 60f)

Perseverance to eternal life is not due to faith, but to Christ (Relly 1776, p. 231). The fact that some do not have faith yet, does not mean that they are not already ”saved” in an eternal sense, but only that those without faith are not aware of their salvation.

”All the children of Adam do not at present know, that judgment came upon them to condemnation by his offence; nay, there are thousands who deny it. But does it follow from thence, that it is not true? Quite the reverse. Their ignorance and opposition confirm the proposition, that all are dead in him. Neither does man’s ignorance of it, nor even his opposition to it, indicate, that the free gift is not come upon him to jusitification of life. It is rather a proof of the free gift.” (Relly 1776, pp. 45f)

Jesus Christ is, says Relly, simultaneously reprobate and the elect, who is predestinated to eternal life, and in him are human beings elected and predestinated to life. Thus Relly’s doctrine of election and atonement is similar to Karl Barth’s in many aspects.

”Jesus, as our fore-runner, is the elect, precious, the predestinated to eternal life; and such are the people in him: He took not on him angels, but he took on him the seed of Abraham: This is their election. Christ also sustained the reprobate character, when made sin for us, and when encompassed with the sorrows of death, and the pains of hell.” (Relly 1776, p. 10f)

In other words, ”When the scriptures speak of the blessed man, Christ is intended: and when they speak of the miserable man, they still mean Christ.” (Relly 1776, p. 227ff). Those who we call ’the elect’, i.e. the church of believers, are not elected at the expense of the non-elect, but are simply those to whom the truth of the gospel is revealed here and now:

”Hence, I propose, that the elect are not a people chosen to be the objects of God’s love and salvation, to the final exclusion of others: but a people chosen to believe the truth, and to rejoice in the salvation of Jesus in time; while others yet remain in a state of ignorance, of what they are equally entitled to with the elect.” (Relly 1776, pp. 27f)

Faith results from God’s choice, i.e. election, not the other way around. Against the erroneous belief in conditional salvation, e.g. Arminianism, Relly argues in traditional Calvinist manner, that God is sovereign and that grace is irresistible:

”The will of God our Saviour is absolute, immutable, and irresistible. The scriptures teach this. After many trials, possibly experience corroborates it. Is it then a mark of humility, self-denial, or lowliness of heart, to submit to his will, the fixed unalterable will of God, which neither men nor angels can resist? Nay, there is no virtue in submitting to what we cannot avoid.” (Relly 1776, p. 56)

In his interpretation of Jesus’ eschatological parables Relly turns out to suggest a preterist reading, i.e., that the judgments of God are not future, but past events:

”I am not persuaded, that the separation of the sheep and the goats, spoken of by our Saviour, is yet future. It was so indeed to the time of our Lord’s speaking it; because he was not then glorified. But why may it not be supposed, that he was then speaking of matters to be effected by his decease, which he was to accomplish at Jerusalem? I can easily conceive his cross to be the throne of his gloty; and that all nations were gathered there before him, and that he there made the separation between the sheep and the goats, i.e. between mankind and their sins, as a shepherd divideth the sheep from the goats:” (Relly 1776, p. 77)

This does not mean, however, that there will be no distinction after death between those who ”die in their sins” and those who have faith. Those who die without knowing the gospel, will be in a state of fear of future torments. God does not inflict punishments, but the mere belief that one will be punished, even if mistaken, is in itself a kind of torment. But, again, this distinction between those who believe and those who do not is merely a matter of knowledge, as all human beings have been made righteous through their union with Christ:

”[…]at the general resurrection, some will arise in a perfect consciousness of righteousness and salvation; and are therefore said to come forth to the resurrection of life; while such whose conscience retain their iniquities, will, under that consciousness, arise to the resurrection of damnation. Thus I take the text to mean the different apprehensions, under which mankind will arise at the last day: some in full assurance of a resurrection to life, and others under an apprehension of a resurrection to damnation. But it does not follow they must suffer what they fear.” (Relly 1776, p. 93)

It should be noticed, that even if he defends the belief, that all human beings will eventually be saved, Relly does not state this belief dogmatically. We can only hope, that all human beings will eventually know that they were already saved, as Christ finally reveals himself to all, when all knees will bow, etc.

As is also the case with Elhanan Winchester and others, Relly believed that true experiental knowledge of God’s grace leads to a belief in the infinite scope of grace. Only when limited by human reasoning and systems of thought, is grace believed to be limited to a few:

”Who, that has tasted that God is gracious; who, that has considered his loving-kindness, can yet hesitate to believe, that God is good and gracious unto every man; yea, that his great good will extends to the children of men universally, without respect of persons?” (Relly 1776, p. 35)

When theologians have tried to limit the scope or efficiency of grace, this is only due to their natural dispositions to impose their own limited ideas of goodness and love to God:

”It is customary among men, yea, it is natural to them, to consider their own frames, dispositions, feelings, and opinions, as picturesque of sacred Deity-Hence they aim at setting bounds to the goodness of God, and to the riches of his love: to the freeness, fulness, and extent of his salvation, they constantly object, ‘it is too good to be true;’ as if the human mind had a capacity to conceive of goodness, beyond the power, the love, or will of God, to exercise towards his creature!” (Relly 1776, p. 159)

But rather than trying to impose our systems to Scripture we should be aware, that the Scripture sometimes take the perspective of limited human beings:

”The scriptures speak of things, sometimes as they are with God, and at other times, as the ignorance, unbelief, and fears of man represent them; […] where they speak of the resurrection of the just, and of the unjust; and of some arising to the resurrection of life, and others to the resurrection of damnation; they respect the different consciousness under which mankind are in their death, and at their resurrection: […] But it does not follow, that they stand thus distinguished in the eye and purpose of God; who having loved mankind, and given them grace in Christ, he beholds them only in that grace and person.” (Relly 1776, p. 173f)

This is great stuff. Download it here: James Relly – Epistles, or the Great Salvation Contemplated (pdf)

Jacques Ellul: “A theology of grace implies universal salvation.”

Quoted from What I Believe (1989) by French theologian and professor of law, Jacques Ellul (1912-1994). I am taking up here a basic theme that I have dealt with elsewhere but which is so essential that I have no hesitation in repeating myself. It is the recognition that all people from the beginning of time … Continue reading Jacques Ellul: “A theology of grace implies universal salvation.”

Quoted from What I Believe (1989) by French theologian and professor of law, Jacques Ellul (1912-1994).

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Jacques Ellul, What I Believe (Eerdmans 1989)

I am taking up here a basic theme that I have dealt with elsewhere but which is so essential that I have no hesitation in repeating myself. It is the recognition that all people from the beginning of time are saved by God in Jesus Christ, that they have all been recipients of his grace no matter what they have done.

This is a scandalous proposition. It shocks our spontaneous sense of justice. The guilty ought to be punished. How can Hitler and Stalin be among the saved? The just ought to be recognized as such and the wicked condemned.

But in my view this is purely human logic which simply shows that there is no understanding of salvation by grace or of the meaning of the death of Jesus Christ. The proposition also runs counter to the almost unanimous view of theology. Some early theologians proclaimed universal salvation but almost all the rest finally rejected it. Great debates have taken place about foreknowledge and predestination, but in all of them it has been taken for granted that reprobation is normal.

A third and the most serious objection to the thesis is posed by the biblical texts themselves. Many of these talk about condemnation, hell, banishment into outer darkness, and the punishment of robbers, fornicators, idolaters, etc. As we proceed we must overcome these obstacles and examine the theological reasons which lead me to believe in universal salvation, the texts that seem to be against it, and a possible solution.

But I want to stress that I am speaking about belief in universal salvation. This is for me a matter of faith. I am not making a dogma or a principle of it. I can say only what I believe, not pretending to teach it doctrinally as the truth.

My first simple thesis is that if God is God, the Almighty, the Creator of all things, the Omnipresent, then we can think of no place or being whatever outside him. If there were a place out side him, God would not be all in all, the Creator of all things. How can we think of him creating a place or being where he is not present? What, then, about hell? Either it is in God, in which case he is not universally good, or it is outside him, hell having often been defined as the place where God is not. But the latter is completely unthinkable. One might simply say that hell is merely nothingness. The damned are those who are annihilated. But there is a difficulty here too. Nothingness does not exist in the Bible. It is a philosophical and mathematical concept. We can represent it only by a mathematical sign. God did not create ex nihilo, out of nothing. Genesis 1:2 speaks of tohu wabohu (“desert and wasteland” RSV “formless and void’) or of tehom (“the deep’). This is not nothing.

Furthermore, the closest thing to nothingness seems to be death. But the Bible speaks about enemies, that is, the great serpent, death, and the abyss, which are aggressors against God’s creation and are seeking to destroy it. These are enemies against which God protects his creation. He cannot allow that which he has created and called good to be destroyed, disorganized, swallowed up, and slain. This creation of God cannot revert to nothing. Death cannot issue in nothingness. This would be a negation of God himself, and this is why the first aspect seems to me to be decisive. Creation is under constant threat and is constantly upheld.

How could God himself surrender to nothingness and to the enemy that which he upholds in face and in spite of everything? How could he allow a power of destruction and annihilation in his creation? If he cannot withstand the force of nothingness, then we have to resort to dualism (a good God and a bad God in conflict and equal), to Zoroastrianism. Many are tempted to dualism today. But if God is unique, if he alone has life in himself, he cannot permit this threat to the object of his love.

But it is necessary that “the times be accomplished,” the times when we are driven into a corner and have to serve either the impotence of the God of love or the power of the forces of destruction and annihilation. We have to wait until humanity has completed its history and creation, and every possibility has been explored. This does not merely imply, however, that at the end of time the powers of destruction, death, the great serpent, Satan, the devil, will be annihilated, but much more. How can we talk about nothingness when we receive the revelation of this God who will be all in all? When all things are subjected to him, then the Son himself also will be subjected to him who put all things under him, that God may be all in all (1 Cor. 15:28).

If God is, he is all in all. There is no more place for nothingness. The word is an empty one. For Christians it is just as empty as what it is supposed to denote. Philosophers speak in vain about something that they can only imagine or use as a building block, but which has no reality of any kind.

The second and equally essential factor is that after Jesus Christ we know that God is love. This is the central revelation. How can we conceive of him who is love ceasing to love one of his creatures? How can we think that God can cease to love the creation that he has made in his own image? This would be a contradiction in terms. God cannot cease to be love.

If we combine the two theses we see at once that nothing can exist outside God’s love, for God is all in all. It is unthinkable that there should exist a place of suffering, of torment, of the domination of evil, of beings that merely hate since their only function is to torture. It is astounding that Christian theology should not have seen at a glance how impossible this idea is. Being love, God cannot send to hell the creation which he so loved that he gave his only Son for it. He cannot reject it because it is his creation. This would be to cut off himself.

A whole theological trend advances the convenient solution that God is love but also justice. He saves the elect to manifest his love and condemns the reprobate to manifest his justice. My immediate fear is that this solution does not even correspond to our idea of justice and that we are merely satisfying our desire that people we regard as terrible should be punished in the next world. This view is part of the mistaken theology which declares that the good are unhappy on earth but will be happy in heaven, whereas the wicked are successful on earth but will be punished in the next world. Unbelievers have every reason to denounce this explanation as a subterfuge designed to make people accept what happens on earth. The kingdom of God is not compensation for this world.

Another difficulty is that we are asked to see God with two faces as though he were a kind of Janus facing two ways. Such a God could not be the God of Jesus Christ, who has only one face. Crucial texts strongly condemn two-faced people who go two different ways. These are the ones that Jesus Christ calls hypocrites. If God is double-minded, there is duplicity in him. He is a hypocrite. We have to choose: He is either love or he is justice. He is not both. If he is the just judge, the pitiless Justiciar, he is not the God that Jesus Christ has taught us to love. Furthermore, this conception is a pure and simple denial of Jesus Christ. For the doctrine is firm that Jesus Christ, the Son of God, died and was willing to die for human sin to redeem us all: I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself (John 12:32), satisfying divine justice. All the evil done on earth from Adam’s break with God undoubtedly has to be judged and punished. But all our teaching about Jesus is there to remind us that the wrath of God fell entirely on him, on God in the person of the Son. God directs his justice upon himself; he has taken upon himself the condemnation of our wickedness. What would be the point, then, of a second condemnation of individuals?

Was the judgment passed on Jesus insufficient? Was the price that was paid-the punishment of the Son of God-too low to meet the demands of God’s justice? This justice is satisfied in God and by God for us. From this point on, then, we know only the face of the love of God.

This love is not sentimental acquiescence. It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God (Heb. 10:31). God’s love is demanding, “jealous,” total, and indivisible. Love has a stern face, not a soft one. Nevertheless, it is love. And in any case this love excludes double predestination, some to salvation and others to perdition. It is inconceivable that the God of Jesus Christ, who gives himself in his Son to save us, should have created some people ordained to evil and damnation.

There is indeed a predestination, but it can be only the one predestination to salvation. In and through Jesus Christ all people are predestined to be saved. Our free choice is ruled out in this regard. We have often said that God wants free people. He undoubtedly does, except in relation to this last and definitive decision. We are not free to decide and choose to be damned. To say that God presents us with the good news of the gospel and then leaves the final issue to our free choice either to accept it and be saved or to reject it and be lost is foolish. To take this point of view is to make us arbiters of the situation. In this case it is we who finally decide our own salvation.

This view reverses a well-known thesis and would have it that God proposes and man disposes. Without question we all know of innumerable cases in which people reject revelation. Swarms are doing so today. But have they any real knowledge of revelation? If I look at countless presentations of the Word of God by the churches, I can say that the churches have presented many ideas and commandments that have nothing whatever to do with God’s revelation. Rejecting these things, human commandments, is not the same as rejecting the truth. And even if the declaration or proclamation of the gospel is faithful, it does not itself force a choice upon us.

If people are to recognize the truth, they must also have the inner witness of the Holy Spirit. These two things are indispensable, the faithful declaration of the gospel, the good news, by a human being and the inner witness in the hearer of the Holy Spirit, who conveys the assurance that it is the truth of God. The one does not suffice without the other. Thus when those who hear refuse our message, we can never say that they have chosen to disobey God.

The human and divine acts are one and the same only in the Word of Jesus. When he told his hearers not to be unbelieving but to believe, if they refused then they were rejected. In our case, however, we cannot say that there is an act of the Holy Spirit simultaneously with our proclamation. This may well be the point of the well-known text about the one sin that cannot be pardoned, the sin against the Holy Spirit (cf. Matt. 12:31-32). But we can never know whether anyone has committed it. However that may be, it is certain that being saved or lost does not depend on our own free decision.

I believe that all people are included in the grace of God. I believe that all the theologies that have made a large place for damnation and hell are unfaithful to a theology of grace. For if there is predestination to perdition, there is no salvation by grace. Salvation by grace is granted precisely to those who without grace would have been lost. Jesus did not come to seek the righteous and the saints, but sinners. He came to seek those who in strict justice ought to have been condemned.

A theology of grace implies universal salvation. What could grace mean if it were granted only to some sinners and not to others according to an arbitrary decree that is totally contrary to the nature of our God? If grace is granted according to the greater or lesser number of sins, it is no longer grace-it is just the opposite because of this accountancy. Paul is the very one who reminds us that the enormity of the sin is no obstacle to grace: Where sin increased, grace abounded all the more (Rom. 5:20). This is the key statement. The greater the sin, the more God’s love reveals itself to be far beyond any judgment or evaluation of ours. This grace covers all things. It is thus effectively universal.

I do not think that in regard to this grace we can make the Scholastic distinctions between prevenient grace, expectant grace, conditional grace, etc. Such adjectives weaken the thrust of the free grace of the absolute sovereign, and they result only from our great difficulty in believing that God has done everything. But this means that nothing in his creation is excluded or lost.

Jacques Ellul, What I Believe (Eerdmans 1989), pp. 188-192.

Christoph Blumhardt (1842-1919)

“There can be no question of God’s giving up anything or anyone in the whole world, either today or in all eternity. The end has to be: Behold, everything is God’s!”

Christoph_Blumhardt,_ca._75jährigChristoph Friedrich Blumhardt (1842-1919) was born at Möttlingen in 1842. Christoph Blumhardt, as his father, Johann Christoph Blumhardt, became known as a mass evangelist and faith healer. The preaching of the Blumhardt’s was radically oriented toward the coming kingdom of God.

For a time Christoph Blumhardt was involved with politics as a Social Democrat, but came disillusioned with politics. He gradually developed the idea, that the most radical and active involvement in the world is in fact in waiting upon God.

Christoph Blumhardt’s theology, preaching and ministry influenced important theologians of the 20th century, such as Karl Barth and Jürgen Moltmann. According to Blumhardt the purpose of God’s judgments was the conversion of the sinner aiming at the final salvation of all.

“I am frequently saddened to hear and see how so many people who call themselves Christians, and often even real Christians, cannot bring themselves to wish good to all people as they wish it for themselves. How few are filled with God’s gift of forgiveness! Instead most set themselves apart by setting themselves above oth­ers. But if we are awaiting the Savior, then we are await­ing the forgiveness of the world’s sins, not just our own (1 John 2:2).” (Christoph Blumhardt 1842-1919)

“There can be no question of God’s giving up anything or anyone in the whole world, either today or in all eternity. The end has to be: Behold, everything is God’s! Jesus comes as the one who has borne the sins of the world. Jesus can judge but not condemn. My desire is to have preached this as far as the deepest depths of hell, and I shall never be confounded.” — Christoph Blumhardt (1842-1919)

“One may ask what kind of judging the disciples were supposed to do while sitting on their thrones. Here we must remember that according to Paul at the end all of Israel will be saved (Rom. 11:26). And, Romans 11:32: ‘For God has consigned all men to disobedience, that he may have mercy on all.’ Thus this judgment by the disciples is no judgment toward damnation; rather it is a preparation for submission and for acceptance of salvation […] Even in the Old Testament the word ‘judging’ is sometimes used in the sense of ‘setting right’, as for instance when it says ‘Zion must be judged by right and justice.’ […] The ‘judgment’ shall be a means to brings as many as possible back into the fold. Finally, all knees shall be bent and all tongues confess that Jesus Christ is Lord. In order to make this possible there will have to be a lot of judgment-work done.” (Blumhardt quoted from Christian T. Collins Winn, “Jesus Is Victor!”: The Significance of the Blumhardts for the Theology of Karl Barth)

“Jesus sees every person as abnormal but gives up no one as lost. If people were not as they are, they would have no need of Salvation. So, in the next place, Jesus allows all to come to him as they are: sinners and righteous, poor and rich, healthy and sick. Jesus gives himself to each person as he is; and people ought not play up their own piety and put down that of others.”

Jeff Martin: Optimism Out of Control: A clarification of the gospel of Jesus Christ

Jeff Martin, wrote the book “Optimism Out of Control.” Like many he has defended Universal Restoration with Biblical arguments concerning 1) God’s free will to save mankind, 2) mankind’s lack of free will to save ourselves, 3) the meaning of “aion”, 4) the temporal nature of afterlife punishment, 5) and Christ’s atonement of all mankind … Continue reading Jeff Martin: Optimism Out of Control: A clarification of the gospel of Jesus Christ

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Jeff Martin: Optimism Out of Control: A clarification of the gospel of Jesus Christ (2016)

Jeff Martin, wrote the book “Optimism Out of Control.” Like many he has defended Universal Restoration with Biblical arguments concerning 1) God’s free will to save mankind, 2) mankind’s lack of free will to save ourselves, 3) the meaning of “aion”, 4) the temporal nature of afterlife punishment, 5) and Christ’s atonement of all mankind as the Second Adam and new federal head of all humanity. These arguments are nothing new.

Continue reading Jeff Martin: Optimism Out of Control: A clarification of the gospel of Jesus Christ

Heaven’s Doors: Wider Than You Ever Believed!

New book by George W. Sarris, author, speaker and performer.

“For the first 500 years after Christ, most Christians believed that God would ultimately redeem all of his creation. Hell was real, but it had a positive purpose, and it didn’t last forever.”

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George W. Sarris: Heaven’s Doors: Wider Than You Ever Believed! (GWS Publishers 2017), 270 pages.

New book by George W. Sarris, author, speaker and performer.

Also see: George Sarris at the Eric Metaxas Show

Continue reading Heaven’s Doors: Wider Than You Ever Believed!

Is “Origenism” heresy? On the fifth ecumenical council in 553

It might come as a surprise to some, that the doctrine of universal restitution or “apokatastasis”, let alone the belief that all human beings will be saved eventually, has never as such been condemned by any of the ancient ecumical church councils. Sometimes, however, it is claimed that the doctrine was condemned at the fifth … Continue reading Is “Origenism” heresy? On the fifth ecumenical council in 553

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Origen of Alexandria (184-253)

It might come as a surprise to some, that the doctrine of universal restitution or “apokatastasis”, let alone the belief that all human beings will be saved eventually, has never as such been condemned by any of the ancient ecumical church councils. Sometimes, however, it is claimed that the doctrine was condemned at the fifth ecumenical council at Constantinople in 553.

Also read: Apocatastasis: The Heresy that Never Was

Continue reading Is “Origenism” heresy? On the fifth ecumenical council in 553

Hans Urs von Balthasar: Dare We Hope That All Men Be Saved? With a Short Discourse on Hell

In this book Roman Catholic theologian Hans Urs von Balthasar defended what is sometimes called hopeful universalism, i.e. the belief that Christian orthodoxy allows us to hope that all persons will eventually be saved. Balthasar does not teach universal restoration as a dogmatic necessity, but defends what may be termed a conditional, but hopeful universalism: … Continue reading Hans Urs von Balthasar: Dare We Hope That All Men Be Saved? With a Short Discourse on Hell

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Hans Urs von Balthasar: Dare We Hope That All Men Be Saved? With a Short Discourse on Hell (Ignatius Press 2014)

In this book Roman Catholic theologian Hans Urs von Balthasar defended what is sometimes called hopeful universalism, i.e. the belief that Christian orthodoxy allows us to hope that all persons will eventually be saved. Balthasar does not teach universal restoration as a dogmatic necessity, but defends what may be termed a conditional, but hopeful universalism: It is at least possible that all human beings will eventually accept the salvation of Christ.

“The Church’s teaching on Hell has been generally neglected by theologians, with the notable exception of Fr. von Balthasar. However, what he has said has stirred controversy both in Europe and in the United States. Here he responds in a clear and concise way, grounding his reflections clearly in Scripture. Revelation gives us neither the assurance that all will be saved, nor the certitude that any are condemned. What it does require of us is the “hope that all men be saved” rooted in a love of Christ that reaches even into the depths of Hell.”

 

David Congdon: The God Who Saves – A Dogmatic Sketch

“Christian universalism has been explored in its biblical, philosophical, and historical dimensions. For the first time, The God Who Saves explores it in systematic theological perspective. In doing so it also offers a fresh take on universal salvation, one that is postmetaphysical, existential, and hermeneutically critical. The result is a constructive account of soteriology that … Continue reading David Congdon: The God Who Saves – A Dogmatic Sketch

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David. Congdon: The God Who Saves – A Dogmatic Sketch (Cascade Books 2016)

“Christian universalism has been explored in its biblical, philosophical, and historical dimensions. For the first time, The God Who Saves explores it in systematic theological perspective. In doing so it also offers a fresh take on universal salvation, one that is postmetaphysical, existential, and hermeneutically critical. The result is a constructive account of soteriology that does justice to both the universal scope of divine grace and the historicity of human existence. In The God Who Saves David W. Congdon orients theology systematically around the New Testament witness to the apocalyptic inbreaking of God’s reign. The result is a consistently soteriocentric theology. Building on the insights of Rudolf Bultmann, Ernst Käsemann, Eberhard Jüngel, and J. Louis Martyn, he interprets the saving act of God as the eschatological event that crucifies the old cosmos in Christ. Human beings participate in salvation through their unconscious, existential cocrucifixion, in which each person is interrupted by God and placed outside of himself or herself. Both academically rigorous and pastorally sensitive, The God Who Saves opens up new possibilities for understanding not only what salvation is but also who the God who brings about our salvation is. Here is an interdisciplinary exercise in dogmatic theology for the twenty-first century.” (from the book description)

Get the book here.

Charles Watson Sr.: Hell In a Nutshell: The Mystery of His Will

“Is a doctrine of everlasting punishment in hell consistent with God’s perfect love and perfect justice? And what implications does this traditional doctrine carry for the nature of divine grace and mercy. In Hell in a Nutshell Charles Watson, Sr., argues that we should not allow a received doctrine, such as the doctrine of hell, … Continue reading Charles Watson Sr.: Hell In a Nutshell: The Mystery of His Will

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Charles Watson Sr.: Hell in a Nutshell: The Mystery of His Will (2016).

“Is a doctrine of everlasting punishment in hell consistent with God’s perfect love and perfect justice? And what implications does this traditional doctrine carry for the nature of divine grace and mercy. In Hell in a Nutshell Charles Watson, Sr., argues that we should not allow a received doctrine, such as the doctrine of hell, to determine our understanding of God’s justice, love, and mercy; instead, we should allow a biblically informed understanding of these divine attributes to shape our understanding of every received doctrine, including the doctrine of hell.”

See also this interview with Charles Watson:

Thomas Whittemore: 100 Scriptural Proofs That Jesus Christ Will Save All Mankind

What a blessed assurance! Grace shall conquer sin? In every heart where sin has reigned, grace shall set up its empire. Grace shall reign triumphantly and successfully. We see not yet all this done; but it shall be done at last.

Reposted from tentmaker.org and Paul Myers’ Blogsite.

GOD THE CREATOR OF MEN

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Thomas Whittemore (1800-1861)

1. God is the Creator of all men. “He hath made of one blood, all nations of men, to dwell on all the face of the earth.” (Acts 17:26) He would not have created intelligent beings, had he known they were to be forever miserable. To suppose that God would bring beings into existence who he knew would be infinite losers by that existence, is to charge him with the utmost malignity. The existence itself would not be a blessing, but a curse; the greatness of which cannot be described. As God is infinite in knowledge, and as he sees the end from the beginning, he must have known before the creation, the result of the existence he was about to confer, and whether, upon the whole, it would be a blessing; and , as he was not under any necessity to create man, being also infinitely benevolent, he could not have conferred an existence that he knew would end in the worst possible consequences to his creatures.

Continue reading Thomas Whittemore: 100 Scriptural Proofs That Jesus Christ Will Save All Mankind

Robin A. Parry: The Baptist Universalist: Elhanan Winchester (1751–97)

In this article, based on a lecture at the Centre for Baptist History and Heritage at Regent Park College in Oxford in 2011, Robin Parry in detail describes the life and theology of the important Universal Baptist preacher and abolitionist Elhanan Winchester.

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Elhanan Winchester

In this article, based on a lecture at the Centre for Baptist History and Heritage at Regent Park College in Oxford in 2011, Robin Parry in detail describes the life and theology of the important Universal Baptist preacher and abolitionist Elhanan Winchester.

From the introduction:

“Baptists are not known for their universalism. With a few notable exceptions it is fair to say that Baptists have maintained the traditional mainstream rejection of universalism. And it has always been thus; or, perhaps more accurately, it has mostly been thus. When we look back to the eighteenth century we find that, in fact, universalism became quite a dividing issue within the Baptist movement, both in Britain and in America. We discover several Baptist ministers embracing universalism and several Baptist churches becoming overtly universalist in sentiment. The movement towards universalism was eventually diverted out of the Baptist mainstream. In America the universalist congregations moved to set up their own independent denomination and thus effectively flushed themselves out of the Baptist movement—although, to be more precise, the move was a combination both of jumping after being pushed. In Britain universalist congregations were almost all associated with the General Assembly, a prominent part of eighteenth-century Baptist life, but during the nineteenth century it faded in significance and the future Baptist movement was to flow from the New Connexion of General Baptists and the Particulars, both streams of which explicitly resisted universalism. Thus the Baptists of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries were, with only a few exceptions, non-universalists. And the exceptions that we do find, such as Rev. Samuel Cox (1826–93) 2 —author of Salvator Mundi; Or Is Christ the Saviour of All Men? (1877) and The Larger Hope (1883)—do not appear to have drawn inspiration from their universalist Baptist predecessors. Thus it was that the universalist stirrings within the eighteenth-century Baptist movement ceased to trouble the waters of subsequent Baptist life. But the story is interesting and worth being told. This paper does not aim to tell it but rather to offer a window on it through the story of one of its most significant figures, Elhanan Winchester (1751–97). Winchester served as a universalist preacher in Baptist contexts in both America and Britain. As such he provides an interesting case study through which we can gain some insight into this transatlantic controversy.”

Download the article here (pdf).

Thanks to Robin Parry for letting me post his article.

A shorter version of the article can be found in All Shall be Well.

Marvin R. Vincent: Note on ‘eternal destruction’ (Olethron Aionion)

“They will be punished with eternal destruction (olethron aionion)” (2 Thes. 1:9). Aionios means enduring through or pertaining to a period of time. Both the noun and the adjective are applied to limited periods. Thus the phrase eis ton aiona, habitually rendered forever, is often used of duration which is limited in the very nature of the case.

“They will be punished with eternal destruction (olethron aionion), forever separated from the Lord and from his glorious power.” (2 Thes. 1:9, NLT)

“who shall suffer justice — destruction age-during (olethron aionion) — from the face of the Lord, and from the glory of his strength” (2 Thes. 1:9, YLT)

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From Word Studies in the New Testament by Marvin R. Vincent. Marvin Richardson Vincent (1834-1922) was a Presbyterian minister, professor of New Testament exegesis at Union Theological Seminary in New York City. In his Word Studies in the New Testament Vincent explains the meaning of the words often translated ‘eternity’ and ‘eternal’ in the Bible, though these words in most (if not all) cases denote limited durations.


‘Aion, transliterated aeon, is a period of longer or shorter duration, having a beginning and an end, and complete in itself. Aristotle (peri ouravou, i. 9,15) says: “The period which includes the whole time of one’s life is called the aeon of each one.” Hence it often means the life of a man, as in Homer, where one’s life (aion) is said to leave him or to consume away (Iliad v. 685; Odyssey v. 160). It is not, however, limited to human life; it signifies any period in the course of events, as the period or age before Christ; the period of the millenium; the mythological period before the beginnings of history. The word has not “a stationary and mechanical value” (De Quincey). It does not mean a period of a fixed length for all cases. There are as many aeons as entities, the respective durations of which are fixed by the normal conditions of the several entities. There is one aeon of a human life, another of the life of a nation, another of a crow’s life, another of an oak’s life. The length of the aeon depends on the subject to which it is attached.

It is sometimes translated world; world represents a period or a series of periods of time. See Matt 12:32; 13:40,49; Luke 1:70; 1 Cor 1:20; 2:6; Eph 1:21. Similarly oi aiones, the worlds, the universe, the aggregate of the ages or periods, and their contents which are included in the duration of the world. 1 Cor 2:7; 10:11; Heb 1:2; 9:26; 11:3. The word always carries the notion of time, and not of eternity. It always means a period of time. Otherwise it would be impossible to account for the plural, or for such qualifying expressions as this age, or the age to come. It does not mean something endless or everlasting. To deduce that meaning from its relation to aei is absurd; for, apart from the fact that the meaning of a word is not definitely fixed by its derivation, aei does not signify endless duration. When the writer of the Pastoral Epistles quotes the saying that the Cretans are always (aei) liars (Tit. 1:12), he surely does not mean that the Cretans will go on lying to all eternity. See also Acts 7:51; 2 Cor. 4:11; 6:10; Heb 3:10; 1 Pet. 3:15. Aei means habitually or continually within the limit of the subject’s life. In our colloquial dialect everlastingly is used in the same way. “The boy is everlastingly tormenting me to buy him a drum.”

In the New Testament the history of the world is conceived as developed through a succession of aeons. A series of such aeons precedes the introduction of a new series inaugurated by the Christian dispensation, and the end of the world and the second coming of Christ are to mark the beginning of another series. Eph. 1:21; 2:7; 3:9,21; 1 Cor 10:11; compare Heb. 9:26. He includes the series of aeons in one great aeon, ‘o aion ton aionon, the aeon of the aeons (Eph. 3:21); and the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews describe the throne of God as enduring unto the aeon of the aeons (Heb 1:8). The plural is also used, aeons of the aeons, signifying all the successive periods which make up the sum total of the ages collectively. Rom. 16:27; Gal. 1:5; Philip. 4:20, etc. This plural phrase is applied by Paul to God only.

The adjective aionios in like manner carries the idea of time. Neither the noun nor the adjective, in themselves, carry the sense of endless or everlasting. They may acquire that sense by their connotation, as, on the other hand, aidios, which means everlasting, has its meaning limited to a given point of time in Jude 6. Aionios means enduring through or pertaining to a period of time. Both the noun and the adjective are applied to limited periods. Thus the phrase eis ton aiona, habitually rendered forever, is often used of duration which is limited in the very nature of the case. See, for a few out of many instances, LXX, Exod 21:6; 29:9; 32:13; Josh. 14:9 1 Sam 8:13; Lev. 25:46; Deut. 15:17; 1 Chron. 28:4;. See also Matt. 21:19; John 13:8 1 Cor. 8:13. The same is true of aionios. Out of 150 instances in LXX, four-fifths imply limited duration. For a few instances see Gen. 48:4; Num. 10:8; 15:15; Prov. 22:28; Jonah 2:6; Hab. 3:6; Isa. 61:17.

Words which are habitually applied to things temporal or material cannot carry in themselves the sense of endlessness. Even when applied to God, we are not forced to render aionios everlasting. Of course the life of God is endless; but the question is whether, in describing God as aionios, it was intended to describe the duration of his being, or whether some different and larger idea was not contemplated. That God lives longer then men, and lives on everlastingly, and has lived everlastingly, are, no doubt, great and significant facts; yet they are not the dominant or the most impressive facts in God’s relations to time. God’s eternity does not stand merely or chiefly for a scale of length. It is not primarily a mathematical but a moral fact. The relations of God to time include and imply far more than the bare fact of endless continuance. They carry with them the fact that God transcends time; works on different principles and on a vaster scale than the wisdom of time provides; oversteps the conditions and the motives of time; marshals the successive aeons from a point outside of time, on lines which run out into his own measureless cycles, and for sublime moral ends which the creature of threescore and ten years cannot grasp and does not even suspect.

There is a word for everlasting if that idea is demanded. That aiodios occurs rarely in the New Testament and in LXX does not prove that its place was taken by aionios. It rather goes to show that less importance was attached to the bare idea of everlastingness than later theological thought has given it. Paul uses the word once, in Rom. 1:20, where he speaks of “the everlasting power and divinity of God.” In Rom. 16:26 he speaks of the eternal God (tou aioniou theou); but that he does not mean the everlasting God is perfectly clear from the context. He has said that “the mystery” has been kept in silence in times eternal (chronois aioniois), by which he does not mean everlasting times, but the successive aeons which elapsed before Christ was proclaimed. God therefore is described as the God of the aeons, the God who pervaded and controlled those periods before the incarnation. To the same effect is the title ‘o basileus ton aionon, the King of the aeons, applied to God in 1 Tim. 1:17; Rev. 15:3; compare Tob. 13:6, 10. The phrase pro chronon aionion, before eternal times (2 Tim. 1:9; Tit. 1:2), cannot mean before everlasting times. To say that God bestowed grace on men, or promised them eternal life before endless times, would be absurd. The meaning is of old, as Luke 1:70. The grace and the promise were given in time, but far back in the ages, before the times of reckoning the aeons.

Zoe aionios eternal life, which occurs 42 times in N. T., but not in LXX, is not endless life, but life pertaining to a certain age or aeon, or continuing during that aeon. I repeat, life may be endless. The life in union with Christ is endless, but the fact is not expressed by aionios. Kolasis aionios, rendered everlasting punishment (Matt. 25:46), is the punishment peculiar to an aeon other then that in which Christ is speaking. In some cases zoe aionios does not refer specifically to the life beyond time, but rather to the aeon or dispensation of Messiah which succeeds the legal dispensation. See Matt. 19:16; John 5:39. John says that zoe aionios is the present possession of those who believe on the Son of God, John 3:36; 5:24; 6:47,54. The Father’s commandment is zoe aionios, John 1250; to know the only true God and Jesus Christ is zoe aionios. John 17:3.

Bishop Westcott very justly says, commenting upon the terms used by John to describe life under different aspects: “In considering these phrases it is necessary to premise that in spiritual things we must guard against all conclusions which rest upon the notions of succession and duration. ‘Eternal life’ is that which St. Paul speaks of as ‘e outos Zoe the life which is life indeed, and ‘e zoe tou theou, the life of God. It is not an endless duration of being in time, but being of which time is not a measure. We have indeed no powers to grasp the idea except through forms and images of sense. These must be used, but we must not transfer them as realities to another order.”

Thus, while aionios carries the idea of time, though not of endlessness, there belongs to it also, more or less, a sense of quality. Its character is ethical rather than mathematical. The deepest significance of the life beyond time lies, not in endlessness, but in the moral quality of the aeon into which the life passes. It is comparatively unimportant whether or not the rich fool, when his soul was required of him (Luke 12:20), entered upon a state that was endless. The principal, the tremendous fact, as Christ unmistakably puts it, was that, in the new aeon, the motives, the aims, the conditions, the successes and awards of time counted for nothing. In time, his barns and their contents were everything; the soul was nothing. In the new life the soul was first and everything, and the barns and storehouses nothing. The bliss of the sanctified does not consist primarily in its endlessness, but in the nobler moral conditions of the new aeon, the years of the holy and eternal God. Duration is a secondary idea. When it enters it enters as an accompaniment and outgrowth of moral conditions.

In the present passage it is urged that olethron destruction points to an unchangeable, irremediable, and endless condition. If this be true, if olethros is extinction, then the passage teaches the annihilation of the wicked, in which case the adjective aionios is superfluous, since extinction is final, and excludes the idea of duration. But olethros does not always mean destruction or extinction. Take the kindred verb apollumi to destroy, put an end to, or in the middle voice, to be lost, to perish. Peter says “the world being deluged with water, perished (apoleto, 2 Pet. 3:6); but the world did not become extinct, it was renewed. In Heb. 1:11,12, quoted from Ps. 102, we read concerning the heavens and the earth as compared with the eternity of God, “they shall perish” (apolountai). But the perishing is only preparatory to change and renewal. “They shall be changed” (allagesontai). Compare Isa. 51:6,16; 65:22; 2 Pet. 3:13; Rev. 21:1. Similarly, “the Son of man came to save that which was lost” (apololos), Luke 19:10. Jesus charged his apostles to go to the lost (apololota) sheep of the house of Israel, Matt. 10:6, compare 15:24, “He that shall lose (apolese) his life for my sake shall find it,” Matt. 16:25. Compare Luke 15:6,9,32.

In this passage, the word destruction is qualified. It is “destruction from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his power,” at his second coming, in the new aeon. In other words, it is the severance, at a given point of time, of those who obey not the gospel from the presence and the glory of Christ. Aionios may therefore describe this severance as continuing during the millenial aeon between Christ’s coming and the final judgment; as being for the wicked prolonged throughout that aeon and characteristic of it, or it may describe the severance as characterising or enduring through a period or aeon succeeding the final judgment, the extent of which period is not defined. In neither case is aionios, to be interpreted as everlasting or endless.

Text copied from www.tentmaker.org

Samuel Cox (1826–1893)

Samuel Cox was an English Baptist minister and writer, born near London. At the age of fourteen he was apprenticed at the London docks, where his father was employed. Having passed the exam at Stepney College he entered London University and in 1852 he became pastor of the Baptist chapel in St. Paul’s Square. From … Continue reading Samuel Cox (1826–1893)

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Samuel Cox (1826–1893). Picture kindly provided by Alan Wilson, Mansfield Road Baptist Church.

Samuel Cox was an English Baptist minister and writer, born near London. At the age of fourteen he was apprenticed at the London docks, where his father was employed. Having passed the exam at Stepney College he entered London University and in 1852 he became pastor of the Baptist chapel in St. Paul’s Square. From 1863 to 1888 he was a pastor at Mansfield Road Baptist chapel in Nottingham. Cox was president of the Baptist Association and received the degree of Doctor of Divinity from St Andrews University in 1882. From 1875-1884 he edited The Expositor.

In one of his perhaps best known books entitled Salvator Mundi: Or, Is Christ the Saviour of All Men?, a collection of lectures published in 1877, Samuel Cox argued that the popular notions of damnation, hell and eternity cannot be defended on the basis of Scripture. Cox defends the restorationist idea that post-mortem punishments are not retributive but restorative.  Inspired by Andrew Jukes, he points out that the words in Scripture translated ‘eternity’, ‘eternal’ and ‘for ever’ does in fact mean ‘age’ or ‘age-enduring’ (p. 96ff, 117ff). Cox also argues that the words translated ‘damn’ do in most cases only mean ‘to judge’, so that no idea of eternal punishment can be derived from threats of damnation in The New Testament (p. 36ff). God’s judgments at most lead to a temporary damnation, as they always have the purpose of correcting, disciplining and restoring the sinner. As other restorationists Cox believed that a judgment would take place in a future dispensation – in contrast to the preterist view popular amongst 19th century universalists (e.g. Hanson), who held that Jesus’ parables about judgment and the prophecies of Revelations were in most cases realized in the 1st century A.D.

An important, though not very developed, part of Cox’s discourse is his view of election (one might want to look for his posthumous The Hebrew Twins. A Vindication of God’s Ways with Jacob and Esau for more on this theme). Cox notes that when God elects and separates one person from the mass, it is always for the sake of others. No man, family, nation or church possesses any gift or privilege for its own use or welfare alone, says Cox (p. 159). That God is the savior of all human beings, especially those that believe (1 Tim 4,10), means that God saves all through the ministry of believers. The purpose of the Christian life is to serve or even die for others:

“My friends, if we love Christ, we need have no fear for our souls. In sundry places and in terms not to be mistaken, all who trust in Him are assured of an eternal salvation, a life that can never die. But if we truly love Him, we are willing even to die in order that the world may be saved: for did not He die to take away the sin of the world? and must not we be made partakers of his death, if we are to be glorified together with Him? Unless I can believe that God will deign to use me for the good of others, what is my life worth to me? Not to be capable of living and suffering for others, that is the true hell; but to be capable of, to be allowed to serve and suffer for others, is the true heaven: for this is the very life of God Himself, and of Christ Jesus his Son, and of the ever-blessed ever-quickening Spirit.” (Samuel Cox, Salvator Mundi, p. 143)

Central to Cox’s theory of salvation is his view of the atonement as the revelation of God’s love, rather than the condition for it: “Christ did not create, He only unveiled and disclosed, the self-sacrificing love of the Father.” Cox’s point is, that no person at any point in time is outside the redeeming love of God, as Christ’s sacrifice is an eternal reality.

“Although the Scriptures often speak of the sacrifice of Christ as both ordained and made from before the foundation of the world, and thus seek to lift it clean out of the limits of time, we commonly think of it only as a sacrifice made on a certain sacred day in our human calendar. And yet the Cross of Christ must speak to us of an eternal sacrifice, it must become the symbol of a divine and eternal passion, before we can rise to an adequate conception of its significance.” (Samuel Cox, Salvator Mundi, p. 166)

Find the book here.

Georg Klein-Nicolai: The Everlasting Gospel (1705/1753)

The Everlasting Gospel was written by the German pastor Georg Klein-Nicolai (1671-1734). Klein-Nicolai’s theology is firmly grounded in the biblical belief that God is love and that no creatures can resist his will in the end.

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From the German edition of Das von Jesu Christo dem Richter der Lebendigen und der Todten, aller Creatur zu predigen befohlene ewige Evangelium, etc. from 1705 published by “Georg Paul Siegvolck”.

The Everlasting Gospel was written by the German pastor Georg Klein-Nicolai (1671-1734) (sometimes spelled Klein-Nikolai) of Friessdorf, and published under the pseudonym “Paul Siegvolck” in 1705. The German title was Das von Jesu Christo dem Richter der Lebendigen und der Todten, aller Creatur zu predigen befohlene ewige Evangelium, etc. The English translation was first published by Christopher Sower in Germantown in 1753. It was later published by Elhanan Winchester in London in 1792. It is this edition which is here republished in a slightly updated version.

We do not know much about Georg Klein-Nicolai, but he seems (according to McClintock and Strong 1985) to have been an associate of the radical pietist Johann Wilhelm Petersen, a German-Danish theologian, mystic and pastor at the Lutheran Church in Hanover, and later superintendent in Lübeck and Aue. Together with his wife Johanna Eleonora, Petersen developed a mystic and chiliastic form of pietism in which the belief in universal restoration came to play a central role.1 Georg Klein-Nicolai’s The Everlasting Gospel appeared in the first volume of Petersen’s work.2

Another source of influence may have been the Schwarzenau Brethren, a radical pietistic group of German Baptists also known as the Neue Täufer or the Tunkers. The Everlasting Gospel expresses a theological conviction widespread among the Schwarzenau Brethren. Many early Schwarzenau Brethren accepted the doctrine of universal restoration, claiming that after the judgment and punishment described in the New Testament, God’s love would eventually restore all souls to God.

The leader of the Schwarzenau Brethren, Alexander Mack (1679-1735), seems to have believed that after the collapse of several eternities or aeons there would be a final and universal restoration of all things, in which the godless through Christ would finally be saved from their torments in hell.3 Mack believed that the punishments described in the New Testament was of temporary duration, but nevertheless of a severe character. Though the doctrine of eternal torment is not supported by scripture, Mack warned that it is much preferable to put one’s hope in Christ rather than in the belief that there will be an end to punishments. The belief that God would in the end restore all creation through Christ should not be taken as an excuse for sin. Following Mack, the Brethren often kept their teachings to themselves, and they were largely abandoned by the end of the 19th century.

In The Everlasting Gospel Georg Klein-Nicolai expressed beliefs similar to that of Mack’s. Georg Klein-Nicolai does not, however, seem to have merely accepted soteriological universalism as an esoteric doctrine. Rather, the doctrine was something that was to be widely evangelized, while the teachings opposing the doctrine were considered diabolical.

The arguments put forth in The Everlasting Gospel are strongly Biblical and follows the strain of thought recognizable in authors from the Early Church such as Clement of Alexandria, Origen and Gregory of Nyssa, who saw other-wordly torments as temporary and intended for the restitution of the sinner. As such, The Everlasting Gospel remains an important and relevant historical witness to the development, influence and reception of the classical Christian doctrine of the restoration (or restitution) of all things (or in Greek apokatastasis panton). Even if The Everlasting Gospel is not free from errors, and even if the reader cannot follow the author in all of his sometimes extreme conclusions, as when he claims that also the Devil will finally be restored, the book contains many enlightening passages and useful arguments.

Though many of Klein-Nicolai’s claims may seem extreme and unwarranted, his work is a fascinating look into an important part of the history of theological doctrines. Georg Klein-Nicolai seems to have been in no doubt that it is the will of God to restore all fallen creatures. God will attain this purpose, even if the creatures resist him. The belief that creatures are in all eternity capable of resisting God makes creatures stronger than God and thus opens the way to all kinds of “iniquity and atheistic mockery”, says Klein-Nicolai. It is only with God’s permission that creatures are allowed to resist God. The purpose is, says Klein-Nicolai, that the creatures, who will not voluntarily choose the salvation and well-being offered to them, may taste of the bitter fruits of their disobedience. As a result, the rebellious creatures will finally be conquered and thus give themselves up to their Creator, who is able to subdue all. All punishments are, in the end, redemptive.

Though there are minor examples of speculative theology, such as the reasoning that “since God cannot hate himself, he cannot hate his creatures”, the conclusions arrived at by Klein-Nicolai are in most instances backed up by biblical references. This is at least true for the most central claims about the will and capability of God in saving human beings. Klein-Nicolai’s Biblicism seems to revolve around the belief, that it is only by introducing speculative elements and beliefs foreign to the Bible, that one’s conceptions of God’s love become partial and half-hearted. This is not least true for traditional versions of the doctrine of “double outcome”, the belief that Jesus Christ will in the end only save a minor part of humankind. In defense of this idea has since the early Middle Ages been claimed the existence of “two wills” in God, a “hidden God” behind the God revealed in Christ, the existence of a human “free will” making human beings capable of resisting grace, a “double predestination” and so on. Such claims was necessary for explaining why the work of Jesus Christ does only justify and save a few, despite clear scriptural passages such as Rom. 5:18-19. When 1 Tim. 2:3-4 claims that God wants all people to be saved, the traditional argument, repeated by such central protestant figures as Martin Luther, was that God is not bound by his word, and that biblical passages such as these can not be taken at face value, since they are only true of the revealed God.

The author of The Everlasting Gospel makes no such speculative claims. Georg Klein-Nicolai’s theology is firmly grounded in the biblical belief that God is love, that all his attributes, such as holiness and righteousness proceeds from this love, and that no created being is capable of resisting the will of God in the end. Rather than introducing foreign elements in his theology, Georg Klein-Nicolai shows how seemingly contradictory claims about God’s love and willingness to save all on the one hand, and claims about eternal punishment and damnation on the other, can in fact be reconciled on a biblical basis, without making too many speculative claims about the nature of God or human beings.

The most important argument in the book is perhaps the fact that the biblical concept of “eternity” does in most cases not mean “everlasting” in the sense of endless duration. That the original Hebrew and especially Greek words translated as “eternal” does not mean “endless” and, but “age-enduring”, though most Bible translations ignore this fact due to traditionalism, is well-known by biblical scholars.4

There is also the ecumenical aspect. Klein-Nicolai saw the doctrine of universal salvation as having a reconciliatory potential between conflicting opinions on the freedom of the human will. As he says, his doctrine shows the right foundation of divine election and eternal reprobation, and demonstrates both to Lutherans and Calvinists as well wherein each party is right, as what they want. Lutheran Orthodoxy is correct in claiming that God wills the salvation of all human beings and that he saves all who in this life come to faith in Christ. Likewise the Calvinists are right in teaching that all who God wills to be saved shall actually be saved. Those whom God will have to be saved, will actually be saved. God plainly declares in his word, that he will have all men to be saved. Therefore all men will be really saved at last. Klein-Nicolai adds that the doctrine of universal restoration is also capable of deciding the dispute with the Roman Catholics about purgatory. It was not least this ecumenical potential that inspired readers of the book as it was translated into English.

Brought by immigrants across the Atlantic the Everlasting Gospel landed on American soil, where its teachings gained influence as universalism became widespread in the 18th and 19th centuries, especially through the ministry of Elhanan Winchester who released an edition of the book in English in 1792. Elhanan Winchester (1751-1797) was a Baptist preacher and a co-founder of the United States General Convention of Universalists and the Society of Universal Baptists. Inspired by the teachings of the Everlasting Gospel, Winchester believed that God’s love would finally restore everything to its proper place, and argued that the two dominant theological positions of protestantism, Armenianism and Calvinism, in combination lead to the belief that God is both capable and willing of saving all.

Find the book here: The Everlasting Gospel

1Johann Wilhelm Petersen, Mystērion Apokatastaseōs Pantōn, Oder Das Geheimniß Der Wiederbringung aller Dinge, Durch Jesum Christum (1700).

2John McClintock & James Strong, Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological, and Ecclesiastical Literature , Volume 10 (1895), pp. 109-33.

3Alexander Mack, Rights and Ordinances; trans. H. R. Holsinger, History of the Tunkers and the Brethren Church (Oakland, Cal.: Pacific Press Publishing Co., 1901), pp. 113-115.

4Ramelli & Konstan, Terms for Eternity: Aiônios and Aïdios in Classical and Christian Texts (Gorgias Press 2007).

Theologia Germanica (Deutsche Theologie) (14th century)

Theologia Germanica or Deutsche Theologie, probably from the 14th century, was a major source of inspiration for adherents of the radical reformation, especially South German spiritualists such as the Anabaptist Hans Denck, and later Pietism.

theologia-germanica-1One of the major sources of inspiration for the early Martin Luther was the anonymous work Theologia Germanica or Deutsche Theologie, probably from the 14th century.

Luther, who gave the writing its name (Eyn deutsch Theologia), produced a partly edition in 1516, and a more full edition in 1518. Luther expressed his high views of the Theologia Germanica, by placing it just after the Bible and Augustine: “Next to the Bible and St. Augustine, no book has ever come into my hands from which I have learned more of God and Christ, and man and all things that are.”

After its publication by Luther the work gained much attention and inspired many adherents of the radical reformation, especially South German spiritualists such as the Anabaptist Hans Denck, and later Pietism. The work does not claim an explicit eschatological universalism, but its motif of ‘hell’ and the soul’s experience of being lost as a station on the path to salvation, rather than a final destination, is an important element in many kinds of later Restorationism – perhaps most notably in Klein-Nicolai’s The Everlasting Gospel, Elhanan Winchester, and Andrew Jukes.

This important notion of being saved through the experience of damnation is what has also been called resignatio ad infernum. This theme is worked out in the Theologia Germanica as the human self is said to be unable of doing any good in and of itself. In order to be saved, the human self must be broken down in a spiritual hell where it is deprived of all hope, and as a result is made to turn to God.

”Christ’s soul must needs descend into hell, before it ascended into heaven. So must also the soul of man. But mark ye in what manner this cometh to pass.

When a man truly Perceiveth and considereth himself, who and what he is, and findeth himself utterly vile and wicked, and unworthy of all the comfort and kindness that he hath ever received from God, or from the creatures, he falleth into such a deep abasement and despising of himself, that he thinketh himself unworthy that the earth should bear him, and it seemeth to him reasonable that all creatures in heaven and earth should rise up against him and avenge their Creator on him, and should punish and torment him; and that he were unworthy even of that.

And it seemeth to him that he shall be eternally lost and damned, and a footstool to all the devils in hell, and that this is right and just and all too little compared to his sins which he so often and in so many ways hath committed against God his Creator.

And therefore also he will not and dare not desire any consolation or release, either from God or from any creature that is in heaven or on earth; but he is willing to be unconsoled and unreleased, and he doth not grieve over his condemnation and sufferings; for they are right and just, and not contrary to God, but according to the will of God.

Therefore they are right in his eyes, and he hath nothing to say against them. Nothing grieveth him but his own guilt and wickedness; for that is not right and is contrary to God, and for that cause he is grieved and troubled in spirit.

This is what is meant by true repentance for sin. And he who in this Present time entereth into this hell, entereth afterward into the Kingdom of Heaven, and obtaineth a foretaste there of which excelleth all the delight and joy which he ever hath had or could have in this present time from temporal things.

But whilst a man is thus in hell, none may console him, neither God nor the creature, as it is written, “In hell there is no redemption.” (Ps 49:8) Of this state hath one said, “Let me perish, let me die! I live without hope; from within and from without I am condemned, let no one pray that I may be released.”

Now God hath not forsaken a man in this hell, but He is laying His hand upon him, that the man may not desire nor regard anything but the Eternal Good only, and may come to know that that is so noble and passing good, that none can search out or express its bliss, consolation and joy, peace, rest and satisfaction.

And then, when the man neither careth for, nor seeketh, nor desireth, anything but the Eternal Good alone, and seeketh not himself, nor his own things, but the honour of God only, he is made a partaker of all manner of joy, bliss, peace, rest and consolation, and so the man is henceforth in the Kingdom of Heaven.

This hell and this heaven are two good, safe ways for a man in this present time, and happy is he who truly findeth them. For this hell shall pass away, But Heaven shall endure for aye.

Also let a man mark, when he is in this hell, nothing may console him; and he cannot believe that he shall ever be released or comforted. But when he is in heaven, nothing can trouble him; he believeth also that none will ever be able to offend or trouble him, albeit it is indeed true, that after this hell he may be comforted and released, and after this heaven he may be troubled and left without consolation. Again: this hell and this heaven come about a man in such sort, that he knoweth not whence they come; and whether they come to him, or depart from him, he can of himself do nothing towards it.

Of these things he can neither give nor take away from himself, bring them nor banish them, but as it is written, “The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof,” that is to say, at this time present, “but thou knowest not whence it cometh, nor whither it goeth.” (Jn 3:8) And when a man is in one of these two states, all is right with him, and he is as safe in hell as in heaven, and so long as a man is on earth, it is possible for him to pass ofttimes from the one into the other; nay even within the space of a day and night, and all without his own doing.

But when the man is in neither of these two states he holdeth converse with the creature, and wavereth hither and thither, and knoweth not what manner of man he is. Therefore he shall never forget either of them, but lay up the remembrance of them in his heart.” (Theologia Germanica §XI, p. 35)

 

The Forgotten Gospel: 2016 session videos

August this year authors and speakers gathered for a conference on “The Forgotten Gospel”, with the intention of “proclaiming the victory of Relentless Love” in Jesus Christ. Amongst the 26 authors and 6 speakers were Brad Jersak, Robin Parry and Ilaria Ramelli. The videos from the conference are available here.

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August this year authors and speakers gathered for a conference on “The Forgotten Gospel”, with the intention of “proclaiming the victory of Relentless Love” in Jesus Christ.

Amongst the 26 authors and 6 speakers were Brad Jersak, Robin Parry and Ilaria Ramelli.

The videos from the conference are available here.

Elhanan Winchester: The Gospel Preached by the Apostles (1788)

“Both Calvinists and Arminians, are right–in many things: and, perhaps, both are under mistakes, in some things: and in nothing do they both mistake more, than in supposing, (as both of them do) that the doctrines of particular and general redemption, are contrary the one to the other”

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Elhanan Winchester (1751-1797)

In this sermon Baptist preacher Elhanan Winchester argued that Paul taught both particular and general redemption. The verses in Paul’s letters expressing particular election have to do with the special role and task of the Church, and do as such not contradict the verses that teach the redemption and salvation of all, Winchester argues.

“Both Calvinists and Arminians, are right–in many things: and, perhaps, both are under mistakes, in some things: and in nothing do they both mistake more, than in supposing, (as both of them do) that the doctrines of particular and general redemption, are contrary the one to the other”

The full title is: The Gospel Preached by the Apostles and Especially St. Paul Being a Discourse, Chiefly Drawn From His Writings, Proving That This great Apostle held, and taught, both Particular and General Redemption and Salvation.

Download (pdf)

Andrew Jukes (1815-1901)

“The “second death” therefore, so far from being, as some think, the hopeless shutting up of man for ever in the curse of disobedience, will, if I err not, be God’s way to free those who in no other way than by such a death can be delivered out of the dark world, whose life they live in.”–Andrew Jukes

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Andrew Jukes (1815-1901)

Andrew John Jukes was an English theologian and minister.

Having left school, in 1832 Jukes went to Poona, India, with the East India Company. In his letters he reports to have been converted while at the hospital in India, reading Scott’s Bible. In 1837 he returned to England, and entered at Trinity College, Cambridge. He became a curate in the Church of England, but became convinced of Baptist teachings.

In 1843 he underwent believers baptism at the George Street Chapel, Hull. After leaving the Church of England, he joined the Plymouth Brethren. He later founded an independent chapel in Hull.

Jukes wrote many works on a variety of subjects. In his A Letter to a Friend on Baptism Jukes explained his teachings on baptism.

The inspiration from Origen can be perceived in many of his teachings. In a letter Jukes expressed his reverence for the church father’s view on Scripture, saying that “I have great reverence for Origen, and owe him many thoughts, especially as to Holy Scripture being an Incarnation, and that it is the Divine Word in creature form, and as it comes out of the heart of man, that is, as man can receive it.”

In his classic work The Second Death and the Restitution of All Things from 1867, Jukes explains the meaning of “the second death” mentioned in Revelations, and presents compelling arguments for a biblical universalism. Jukes’ main argument is that we are not so much saved “from” as “through” death.

“The “second death” (Rev. 20:14) therefore, so far from being, as some think, the hopeless shutting up of man for ever in the curse of disobedience, will, if I err not, be God’s way to free those who in no other way than by such a death can be delivered out of the dark world, whose life they live in.”

See also http://www.alampthatburns.net/jukes/jukes.htm

Exceptions to God’s love? A thought on violence and salvation, Anabaptists, Yoder, Barth and Luther

Note: This is a repost of a post from contrafatum.blogspot.com In the Lutheran Augsburg Confession (CA) the so-called Anabaptists were condemned not just for their baptist practices but also for their views on eschatology, soteriology and ethics. First there is the Anabaptist rejection of violence. The Lutherans condemned the Anabaptists for teaching the necessity of … Continue reading Exceptions to God’s love? A thought on violence and salvation, Anabaptists, Yoder, Barth and Luther

Note: This is a repost of a post from contrafatum.blogspot.com

AnnekendeVlasteranAnabaptistWomanbeingthrownintothefirein1571inMirroroftheMartyrsp24

In the Lutheran Augsburg Confession (CA) the so-called Anabaptists were condemned not just for their baptist practices but also for their views on eschatology, soteriology and ethics.

First there is the Anabaptist rejection of violence. The Lutherans condemned the Anabaptists for teaching the necessity of not engaging as soldiers in “just war”, to “sit as judges” and to award “just punishments”.

”They condemn the Anabaptists who forbid these civil offices to Christians.” (CA § XVI)

On soteriology we hear that Lutherans believe that the devil and sinners shall be tortured without end, while the Anabaptists are condemned for teaching that there will be an end to torture:

”They condemn the Anabaptists, who think that there will be an end to the punishments of condemned men and devils.” (CA § XVII)

While the claim that there will be an end to punishments is not necessarily identical to the view that everyone will be saved eventually (they could be, e.g., annihilated instead), there are evidence that at least some anabaptists of the reformation leaned towards the classical Christian doctrine of universal salvation or apokatastasis.

Now, what does non-violence and universal salvation have in common? Augustine stated that while most of Christians believed in universal salvation this was due to a softness of the heart. Maybe traditional Pre-Constantinian Christian non-violence, which was also rejected by Augustine, was due to the same “softness”?

Perhaps, but from a more complex theological perspective it seems that the differing positions result from different views on God’s freedom, or maybe rather, our capability of theorizing God’s freedom.

The problem of ‘just war’ and non-violence

In the Mennonite theologian John Howard Yoder’s celebrated criticism of Karl Barth’s position on “just war”, Yoder pointed out that Barth, on his own premises, had to reject any notion of just war (Yoder, Barth and the Problem of War). According to Barth there is the fundamental commandment of God to Christians against killing.

But since moral principles are not absolute (only God is), God, in his freedom, can demand Christians to act contrary to that commandment, which is why so-called just war is theoretically possible. God’s demand can, however, only occur existentially, and as a call in particular situations. The possibility that God in his freedom demands acting against the commandment of not killing is a Grenzfall.

John Howard Yoder

Now, Yoder, in his correction of Barth, pointed out that exactly because we are talking of killing and participation in war as a Grenzfall that is known only existentially in the particular situation, it can not be theorized as a part of an abstract principle.

It is true that we must allow that God in his freedom can make exceptions to his commandments. Commandments are not absolutes, only God is. But if these exceptions are codified theoretically together with the commandments then we end up exactly with an abstract, absolute principle, though of a more complex kind.

Hence, rather than saying that Christians can participate in just war and so on, we need to stick to the commandment not to kill while accepting that there might be exceptions – but being satisfied with knowing that we only learn of those exceptions existentially and situationally.

Does God desire the death of maybe some sinners?

Martin Luther

Now, Yoder’s criticism of Barth kind of reminds me of a basic problem with Luther’s On the Bondage of the Will. In this book Luther rightly criticized Erasmus of Rotterdam for claiming that human beings can contribute to their salvation by the exercise of so-called “free will”. But only God is free, so God sovereignly decides who to save, said Luther. This does not, according to Luther, mean that everyone is saved, though. For while God in the Bible has promised to save the whole world, he is free to do otherwise.

The words “I desire not the death of a sinner” (Ez. 18:30) is true for the preached God who is revealed in his word (WA 684). But they are not true for the hidden God, which is not revealed, says Luther. There are two wills in God, says Luther. As Luther puts it, God “does not will the death of sinner, according to his Word; but he wills it according to that inscrutable will of his.” The point is that God is free to go against what he has revealed. According to Luther “God has not bound himself by his word, but kept himself free over all things.”

Now, besides being a complete denial of the divinity of Jesus Christ, this sounds a whole lot like Barth’s claim that while God has commanded against all killing he is free to make exceptions to that commandment, doesn’t it? My point is that while both Barth and Luther are, of course, right that God is free to act contrary to his revealed word (regarding killing and salvation), this concession does not put us in to a privileged position making us capable of theoretically saying that he actually does.

When the Bible tells us that Jesus died as an atonement not just for our sins, but for the sins of the whole world (1 Jn 2,2), we’d better stick to that.

When Jesus tells us not to kill people, we’d better stick to that. 

Solution: Don’t make exceptions to God’s love (or your own for that matter!)

The claim that because God is free to act contrary to his word means that we must necessarily make exceptions to his word is to put ourselves in the position of God.

In other words, the unwillingness to accept the fact that there can be no limits to the gospel results from the same arrogance as does the unwillingness to follow Jesus’ commandments to love one’s enemy, etc. Hence, the “anabaptists” were fully right in rejecting the call to violence as well as the claim that there are limits to the gospel.

And, btw., these questions are highly related to the fact that the belief in a God that tortures unbelievers is often seen together with the practice of actually torturing and killing “heretics”, such as the anabaptists, as the magisterial reformers were happy to do.

Actually, it’s pretty simple: God’s love knows no limits and we are to imitate that love without limits. Over and out.

What is “the resurrection of life” and “the resurrection of damnation” (John 5:28-29)?

“[A]ll that are in the grave shall hear his voice, and shall come forth; they that have done good unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil unto the resurrection of damnation.”—John 5:28-29

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Giotto, Last Judgment in the Scrovegni chapel in Padua

From D.P. Livermore’s Proof Texts of Endless Punishment, Examined and Explained (1862).

“Marvel not at this: for the hour is coming, in the which all that are in the grave shall hear his voice, and shall come forth; they that have done good unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil unto the resurrection of damnation.”—John 5:28-29

It is supposed by many that this passage of Scripture is descriptive of scenes and events which are to take place at the resurrection of man from the dead, when, it is thought, the whole universe of intelligent beings will be raised bodily and be brought to judgment. Here, it is said, we are expressly informed that a portion of the human race will be raised from the dead to immortal life and blessedness; and another portion of the intelligent creation will be raised bodily, and consigned to the regions of dark despair, to wail and writhe in ceaseless anguish! It is affirmed, that the resurrection of life spoken of, has direct reference to the felicity which awaits the righteous in heaven; and that the resurrection of damnation refers to the awful misery which will be inflicted on such as die impenitent and sinful. Hence, it is said, that this Scripture teaches the doctrine of rewards and punishments in the immortal world—for the good and evil deeds of this life. Such, in brief, is the popular interpretation of this language of the Savior. We regard it as unwarrantable and objectionable for the following reasons:

1.

It is based entirely upon assumption, and takes for granted the very thing to be proved! It assumes that a time is coming in the divine economy, when there will be a general resurrection of man, bodily, from the grave. But does this scripture furnish the least proof of such a sentiment? Far from it. This is taken for granted. Many suppose and conscientiously believe, that it teaches such a doctrine; but the language employed will not justify such a conclusion. It does not say that the material body is to be raised from the dead; nor that all men are to be judged in the future world; nor that some will be rewarded with eternal life and felicity for their good works, and some punished with eternal misery for their wicked deeds. If these doctrines are true, we think that every unprejudiced mind must acknowledge, that other testimony and evidence must be relied upon to prove them true.

People first believe these doctrines, and then introduce this scripture as furnishing proof of the sentiments embraced. True, it speaks of a resurrection of life and a resurrection of damnation; but it says nothing concerning the resurrection of the body. Such a resurrection is no where spoken of in the Scriptures as applying to mankind. The resurrection of the material body — the same identical particles of matter — appears to be an unphilosophical and unscriptural sentiment. The question is asked, “How are the dead raised up? and with what body do they come?” Paul, in answer to that query, says, “Thou sowest not that body that shall be… It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. That which is first is natural; afterward, that which is spiritual.” Such is the Scriptural doctrine concerning the immortal resurrection of man from the dead.

Again, this passage does not inform us that the resurrection is simultaneous and general, as popular theology asserts. It speaks of those only who are in their graves. Now, on the supposition that the grave here means the ground, it only proves that such as have been buried in the earth shall be raised. If it is to be understood literally, it is far from embracing all mankind — having no relation to those who shall be upon the earth at the last day—who, instead of seeing corruption, it is said, will be caught up to meet the Lord in the air. Thus we see that what should be proved in relation to this scripture, is assumed and taken for granted without proof.

2.

The popular exposition of this text is logically untrue, and hence it is objectionable. In making it teach endless rewards and punishments, it proves too much, and hence logically proves nothing! It would prove, universal salvation and universal damnation! It is affirmed that the resurrection of life spoken of, means ceaseless happiness in heaven; and the resurrection of damnation means ceaseless misery. Bearing this interpretation in mind, let us attend to the language employed: “They that have done good shall come forth to the resurrection of life;” that is, to eternal bliss in heaven. Now, who have done good? All certainly have done some good in their life-time; then all will be rewarded with eternal life, if the passage has a universal application; for all have done good. No particular kind of goodness is here specified; but simply, that they have done good shall come forth to the resurrection of life. Every human being, though never so depraved, has done some good; hence, all shall be blessed with immortal life, if the popular exposition of this passage be correct! So on the other hand, universal damnation is as easily and as logically proved true: “For they that have done evil, shall come forth to the resurrection of damnation.” If damnation here means endless wretchedness and pain, then all men must be eternally lost, for all men have done evil. If any deny that all have done good, it will be readily and universally admitted, that all have done evil. And the broad declaration is, that they have done evil shall come forth to the resurrection of damnation! Thus we see that the argument logically proves too much, and consequently proves nothing.

The objector cannot extricate himself from this dilemma, by affirming that some repent before they die; for this text does not pay, that all shall come forth to the resurrection of damnation, who do not repent before they die; but they that have done evil shall thus come forth; and as all have done evil, so all must be damned, according to the popular interpretation.

3.

The common exposition of this scripture makes immortal blessedness depend upon good works; and this sentiment receives no support from the word of God. According to the passage under consideration, some were to come forth to the resurrection of life, because they had done something that was good; not because they had embraced the true faith, nor on account of the abundant mercy of God; but on account of their good deeds: “They that have done good,” etc. This is not only opposed to the Scriptures, but opposed to the sentiments advocated by the dominant sects themselves. They have long made doctrine the test of a man’s Christianity; if he has not had an evangelical faith, he has been denounced an infidel. This is the method employed by all the popular churches to ascertain whether a man is a Christian or not. If he does not believe a creed, and certain established doctrines, he is hurled out of the church as unworthy of Christian membership, and consequently is regarded as unworthy of heaven, and only fit for hell! Such, it is said, will come forth to the resurrection of damnation. Thus faith is made the standard, and not good works. It matters not how kind and benevolent and good a man is, if he have not the true faith, he must be lost. All his morality will only sink him lower into perdition. Thus we see that if this scripture relate to immortal blessedness, it is to be merited by good works. But this is opposed to the Bible doctrine of a heavenly immortality. Heaven is spoken of as the gift of God; and is not to be attained by good works, but by the abundant mercy of the Infinite Father. We are nowhere informed that man is to be blessed with a resurrection to immortal life, because he has done good; neither that he is to be sent to an endless hell of suffering because he has done evil.

4.

The last objection we now present against the popular view of the passage under examination, is, that it does not harmonize with other portions of the Scriptures which describes the immortal resurrection of man from the dead. It does not agree with the state and condition of man in the resurrection world, as set forth by the Savior and the apostle Paul, who was divinely instructed in relation to the doctrines he taught.

Christ, speaking of the condition of men in the resurrection world, says that they shall be equal unto the angels in heaven; (Luke 20:35, 36); and Paul declares that in Christ shall all be made alive; (1 Cor. 15:22); and that there is no condemnation to such as are in Christ. (Rom. 8:1).

Now, if all who died in Adam shall be made alive in Christ, and made equal unto the angels of God in heaven, as the Bible teaches, how can such as have done evil be made endlessly wretched? If the common view of the passage we are considering be correct, then the Scriptures contradict themselves; but it evidently has no reference to the immortal resurrection of man.

Paul not only informs us that all shall be made alive in Christ, but he had hope towards God for the resurrection of all. But how could he have hoped for the resurrection of all men, if he believed that a part of the intelligent creation would writhe in ceaseless agony? Could he have hoped for their eternal wretchedness? Never! Had he believed that the resurrection of damnation spoken of, referred to endless woe, he never could have hoped for it. He could have hoped only for such a resurrection as he described in his epistle to the Corinthians:

“It is sown in corruption, it is raised in incorruption; it is raised in glory; it is raised in power; it is raised a spiritual body. And as we have borne the image of the earthy, we shall also bear the image of the heavenly.”

Having thus shown that the text furnishes no support to the doctrine which is brought forward to substantiate, we pass to its affirmative consideration, and to present what we believe to be its true meaning.

First of all, we should bear in mind that there are two kinds of resurrection spoken of in the Scriptures—just as there are two kinds of death, natural and moral death As a state of sin is spoken of as a state of moral death, so a deliverance from that state is spoken of as a resurrection from that spiritual death; that is, a spiritual exaltation takes place. And as this moral death may be experienced during the natural life, so may this spiritual resurrection be also experienced during this life. Therefore, when we read in the Bible of “dead” and “death,” we cannot determine simply from the use of these words that the writer designed to teach the absolute extinction of life; because these terms are employed in a figurative sense, as significant of moral death — as being dead in trespasses and in sin. So when we read in the Scriptures of a resurrection, it does not necessarily refer to the immortal resurrection of man; because there is a moral resurrection spoken of in the Bible, which may be experienced in this world — a spiritual quickening of the sinner and deliverance from dead works—morally elevating him—raising him to the true dignity of his nature and to the enjoyments of spiritual life. When we read of a resurrection, we should carefully peruse the context, to ascertain whether the writer refers to the immortal resurrection of man; or to a moral resurrection experienced by the true believer in passing from death unto life. Dr. George Campbell, a learned divine of the orthodox school, in his “Notes” on the Four Gospels, vol. 2, p. 113, says that

“The word anastasin, or rather the phrase anastasis ton nekron, is indeed the common term by which the resurrection, properly so called, is denominated in the New Testament. Yet, this is neither the only nor the primitive import of the word anastasis; it denotes simply being raised from inactivity to action, or from obscurity to eminence, or a return to such a state after an interruption. The verb anistemi, has the like latitude of signification; and both words are used in this extent by the writers of the New Testament, as well as by the LXX. Agreeably, therefore, to the original import, rising from a seat is properly termed anastasis; so in awaking out of sleep, or promotion from an inferior condition.”

According to this learned divine, who should be regarded as good authority upon this subject, the original word, anastasis, translated resurrection, “is indeed the common term by which the resurrection” of man from the dead is denominated—yet he says that this is not the only, nor even the primitive import of the word. It denotes simply being raised from inactivity to action or promotion from an inferior condition. Hence, the mere use of the word in the scripture we are considering, furnishes no proof that it refers to the resurrection of all men—and as we have already shown that it does not refer to the immortal resurrection as described by scripture writers — hence it must have reference to a moral resurrection — a spiritual exaltation enjoyed by the true believer in this world. Such an application harmonizes with the context, and the primitive import of the word.

The context justifies the conclusion, that the phrase, resurrection of life, refers to the moral life which the Christian enjoys—to the spiritual enjoyment and peace consequent on belief, and a reception of Christian truth. At the 24th verse of the context, Jesus says, ” He that heareth my word, [that is, my doctrine, my truth], and believeth on Him that sent me, hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation; but is passed from death unto life.” Those who believed not were in a state of moral death while in this world; the change wrought in them by belief and adoption of the truth, is spoken of as a resurrection; thus they pass from death unto life eternal, by being brought to the knowledge of God’s truth. The believer was morally raised and elevated — spiritually exalted — enjoyed everlasting life — came forth to the resurrection of life — while the unbeliever was in a state of condemnation and death, or came forth to the resurrection of damnation.

Thus we see that those who believed on Christ, embraced his truth and religion, passed from death unto life. The death alluded to here, was not the death of the body, but death in sin. So the “life” spoken of was a state of mind opposite to death— the life which Christianity brings to the soul by an application of its spirit—spiritual life. The same life and death are referred to by the apostle Paul, in the following language: “And you hath he quickened, who were dead in trespasses and sins.” (Eph. 2:1). The wicked unbeliever is said to be dead in sin; while the true, Christian believer, is said to be alive unto God. The same idea is expressed in other phraseology, — “Awake, thou that sleepest, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall give thee light.” (Eph. 5:14).

At the 25th verse of the context, we read thus: “Verily, verily, I say unto you, the hour is coming, and now is, when the dead [spiritually dead] shall hear the voice of the Son of God: and they that hear shall live.”

The phrase “the dead,” here, did not embrace all who were dead in sin, as we understand the expression, but such only as were soon to embrace Christian truth, and through its quickening power, pass from death into life. This seems evident from the expression, “The hour is coming, and now is,” referring to time and events then near at hand. Those only are referred to, who were to believe on Christ by attending on the personal ministration of his word, by receiving the truth from his own lips. Such were to hear the voice of the Son of God, and be convinced through his own personal labors and preaching. Many thus believed on him, (see John 4:41, and other places), and lived the Christian life.

But few Jews, however, were disposed to receive him as the true Messiah—the Sent of God. They rejected him, would not honor him, and called him an imposter, and ridiculed the idea that God was with him, as he claimed, and had committed all judgment into his hands. The Jews thought it absurd in the extreme, that Jesus should claim to be the Son of God, and to have power to give life unto man! They were astonished that Jesus claimed to teach by divine authority— such a poor, unlettered, uninfluential person! Yet he claimed to have authority to execute judgment—to do God’s will and to have power to give everlasting life to all who should believe on him as the Christ of God! This seemed to excite surprise in the minds of the Jews.

Marvel not at this — surprised though you are, I can tell you of more marvelous things than these, more astonishing things than I have yet told you! The hour is coming when all that are in their graves shall come forth; as much as to say, “you affect surprise that any shall believe on me and have life through a reception of my truth—you need not, for the time is coming, (he does not say, and now is, as before, for he knew the stubbornness of their hearts), when all that are in their graves shall hear his voice, that is, his doctrine, or word. Marvel as you do, surprised though you are, yet I will now tell you what will excite your astonishment still more—you, yourselves will yet come forth to the resurrection of moral life or death, or, in other words, the time is coming when you will see that I am the one to execute judgment, and you will all be judged according to the principles of my religion, and be acquitted or condemned.”

As though Jesus had said, some on hearing my gospel will become my followers and have everlasting life — such will do a good thing by embracing my religion and shall be rewarded with spiritual life and true Christian enjoyment; while such as refuse my teachings and reject my religion and truth shall be condemned as guilty. The meaning seems to be this: The time was nigh at hand, when those dead in sin should be awakened from their lethargy, and be brought forth to judgment, and condemned by Christian principles.

The expression, “all that are in the graves,” at the 28th verse, embraces a much larger number of the same class of individuals that are referred to in verse 25th, by the term “dead.”

In the Scriptures, mankind are frequently represented as being dead, and sometimes as being in their graves. When a people are in a low state of sin and degradation, they are said to be dead, or in the “dust,” or in their “graves.” And when they rose out of that state of moral pollution, they were represented as rising from the dead, or coming forth from their graves, or out of the dust. In the 37th chapter, of Ezekiel, the house of Israel is represented as being dead and in their graves, and their resurrection from the dead, is spoken of in the following language:

“Therefore prophesy and day unto them, Thus saith the Lord God; Behold, O my people, I will open your graves, and cause you to come up out of your graves, and bring you into the land of Israel. And ye shall know that I am the Lord, when I have opened your graves, O my people, and brought you up out of your graves. And shall put my Spirit in you, and ye shall live, and I shall place you in your own land: then shall ye know that I the Lord have spoken it, and performed it, saith the Lord.” Ezekiel 37:12-14

This has no reference to literal death or literal graves. In the passage under consideration the Jewish people are spoken of as being dead, and those who gave heed to the instructions of Christ, are represented as coming forth to the resurrection of life, though all that were in their “graves” should hear his voice. This language is not used here in a literal sense, but to represent their degraded condition. A state of sin was a state of death. “You hath he quickened who were dead in trespasses and in sin.” The gospel quickened man into moral life; then he came forth, out of the dust of the earth—he passed from death into life.

We are sometimes told this interpretation of the Scriptures is forced arid unnatural. But when there is not a particular theory to defend, other religionists than ourselves put the same construction upon similar language.

In one of the hymns of Dr. Watts, we find the following verse, which candid people find no difficulty in understanding. They place the same construction upon it that we do upon similar phraseology when found in the Scriptures. The verse reads as follows:

“But where the Gospel comes, It sheds diviner light, It calls dead sinners from their tombs. And gives the blind their sight.”

The hymn containing this verse is sung in all the pulpits of the land. Thus, “sinners” are represented as being dead and in their tombs! The divine light of the Gospel “calls these dead sinners from their tombs, and gives the blind their sight.” Here sinners are represented as coming forth from their “tombs” — the same as they are in the Scriptures as coming forth from their graves. It represents simply, in both cases, the moral influence of divine truth upon the soul. The gospel of Christ “calls dead sinners from their tombs,” and bringing them out of their tombs,” or “graves,” they come forth to a resurrection of life, joy, and peace, and hence are in possession of everlasting life.

The resurrection of life means the spiritual life which the Christian enjoys—the reward consequent on a reception of the truth— such as embraced Jesus’ religion passed from death unto life. The same idea is expressed in the exhortation of the apostle: “Awake, thou that sleepest, and rise from the dead, and Christ shall give thee light.”

Those who should come forth to damnation, would be aroused from their state of ignorance and sin, and stand forth condemned for rejecting Christian truth. They would not awake till they had filled up the measure of their iniquity; then it would be too late to save them from a merited retribution. Though they should suffer punishment for their sin, yet they should finally be redeemed, for all Israel shall be saved (Rom. 11:20-32)

Samuel Richardson (1602-1658)

“Look above, and hearken to the sweet voice in the region of love. What are the voices in heaven? they agree in one: no voice comes from heaven, but love, peace, and good will to man.”–Samuel Richardson

Samuel Richardson was an English Baptist. Richardson was one of the formative leaders of the early Particular Baptists as he with eleven others signed the 1644 and the 1646 London Confessions of Faith. He seems to have been from Northamptonshire, northwest of London and have been “a substantial London tradesman and was certainly one of the shrewdest and most influential of the Baptist leaders in London.” He was an advocate for religious liberty and a loyal supporter of Oliver Cromwell.

Richardson defended Baptist practices and a radicalized version of the reformed monergistic belief that justification and salvation are exclusively by the grace of God in Christ. From Tobias Crisp he derived the belief that we are justified by Christ alone – before we believe. Justification is fully achieved on the cross and never depends on human faith or works. These can only be considered results of God’s work in Christ as the Holy Spirit works in those who are justified. We are justified by Christ alone and not by our believing. Faith is an evidence of “interest in Christ but not a joint-partner with Christ”, says Richardson. When we are said to be justified “by faith” this should be understood as saying that we are justified by the object of our faith, i.e. Christ, and not our own subjective faith. Faith is, says Richardson, “put for Christ”.

In his tract Justification by Christ Alone from 1647Richardson wrote:

“[W]e grant God has decreed the end and the means, and whatsoever God has decreed shall unavoidably come to pass. But we deny that faith is any means of our Redemption, Justification, or Salvation. Nothing but the Lord Jesus Christ is the means of our salvation. There are means that are necessary to the revealing and enjoying the comfort of it, as the Holy Spirit and ministers to reveal it and faith to receive it; also, there be fruits and effects of the love of God, as faith, love, and obedience to Christ…yet these are no means of our salvation.”
Samuel Richardson’s last work was entitled A discourse of the torments of hell: The foundation and pillars thereof discovered, searched, shaken and removed. With many infallible proofs, that there is not to be a punishment after this life for any to endure that shall never end. Though seemingly committed to reformed doctrines on election and reprobation, Richardson defended the view, that ‘hell’ does not mean an endless state of torture after death. Though he sometimes seems to defend the idea that the godless will be finally annihilated (especially in the first parts of the work), Richardson also seems to teach the belief that all will finally be saved. As such he is a likely candidate to be considered the main forerunner of the Primitive Baptist Universalists.
“It is not for the glory of God to impose endless torments on any. Glory consisteth not in imposing great and terrible punishments; that belongeth to cruelty, and is abhorred by the light of nature. Glory consisteth in great mercy and forgiveness (Ex. 34:6-7). The greater the mercy and forgiveness, the greater is the grace, and the more ti redounds to the glory of God. “Love covereth all sins” (Prov. 10:12). If man’s “glory is to pass over transgression” (Prov. 19:11), much more is it for the glory of God to do so. God made all things, and doeth all things for his glory; he seeketh his glory in the exceeding greatness and “riches of his grace” (Eph. 2:7). It is more for his glory to save all, than to save a few. “By the righteousness of one, the free gift came upon all men unto justification of life” (Rom. 5:18). Sin could not hinder Manasses, Mary Magdalen, persecutors, and wicked prodigals, from finding mercy. It cannot be that cruelty dwells in God, who is love, and whose goodness is unsearchable, past finding out, far above all we can ask or think. There is such a confused noise among men, of the grace and love of God, so many voices that we are in confusion, and know not what to make of it. Look above, and hearken to the sweet voice in the region of love. What are the voices in heaven? they agree in one: no voice comes from heaven, but love, peace, and good will to man.” (A discourse of the torments of hell, pp. 95-96)
Read more about Samuel Richardson here.

“It’s hell enough down here.” What does Primitive Baptist Universalists believe?

“Christ’s atonement was for all humankind and at Resurrection will irrevocably come to pass for all humankind; just as, irrevocably, Adam’s transgression earlier had condemned all to the sinful state of natural man.”

The Primitive Baptist Universalists are a small subdenomination of the so-called Primitive Baptists. Primitive Baptists adhere to a strictly reformed theology much like the English Particular Baptists of the 17th and 18th centuries. But where Primitive Baptists usually believe in a limited atonement, i.e. the belief that Christ only died for a few, Primitive Baptist Universalists affirm the biblical belief, that Christ died for all (Rom. 5:18-19; 1 John 2:2). PBUs claim that this is original Baptist doctrine (at least the early English Particular Baptist Samuel Richardson seems to have held such views).

Not much have been written about the Primitive Baptist Universalists, however, except for Howard Dorgan’s In the Hands of a Happy God: The “No-Hellers” of Central Appalachia.
Howard Dorgan lists the following ten central tenets of the Primitive Baptist Universalists:

1. Because of Adamic sin, all humankind is inherently sinful; therefore, sinfulness is a standard characteristic of “natural man.”

2. Satan is nothing more than natural man, warring with “spiritual man,” and thus will have no existence beyond the temporal world.

3. In addition to the creation of “sinfulness” (the given nature of natural man), this Adamic transgression also instituted “punishment” (the “general judgment” hell of the temporal world, the torment of absence from God’s blessing that sin generates) and “death” (humankind’s ultimate punishment for Adamic sin).

4. Humankind cannot possibly extricate itself from this state of natural sin and so requires Christ’s atonement.

5. Christ’s atonement was for all humankind and at Resurrection will irrevocably come to pass for all humankind; just as, irrevocably, Adam’s transgression earlier had condemned all to the sinful state of natural man.

6. However, there is an “elect,” Christ’s church (the established Primitive Baptist Universalists and perhaps others not known to the movement), which has been “separated from the rest of God’s people here in time,” chosen to be a witness for Christ and an earthly preserver of his righteousness, and “kept by the power of God through faith,” never finally to fall away.

7. So these elected individuals can sin, and in doing so, they suffer the hell on earth that a separation from God’s blessing institutes. Probably they feel that hell more intensely than the nonelect, simply because the elect have a sharply contrasting experience for comparison.

8. At Resurrection, however, all temporal existence will terminate, for both the dead and the still living, bringing an end to all “sin” (that given nature of humankind), to the “general judgment” (the sentence imposed upon humans for Adamic sin), to “punishment” (the hell on earth, the absence from God’s blessing, that is instituted by sin), and to “death” (the ultimate punishment for Adamic sin).

9. At Resurrection, all humankind will go to a totally egalitarian heaven, the culmination of Christ’s universal atonement.

10. Since punishment is a factor solely of the temporal world, there will be no hell after Resurrection.

John Wesley Hanson (1823–1901)

“In one word, a careful study of the early history of the Christian religion, will show that the doctrine of universal restoration was least prevalent in the darkest, and prevailed most in the most enlightened, of the earliest centuries–that it was the prevailing doctrine in the Primitive Christian Church.”–John Wesley Hanson

John Wesley Hanson
John Wesley Hanson (1823–1901)

John Wesley Hanson was an American Universalist minister and historian.

He was born in Boston. In 1845 he became a minister in Wentworth, New Hampshire. In the 1860s he was chaplain to the Sixth regiment of Massachusetts volunteers. In the 1870s he went as a missionary to Britain, becoming the pastor of St. Paul’s Universalist Church, Glasgow, Scotland. He then became minister of the Universalist New Covenant Church of Chicago.

Hanson published his own translation of th New Testament, Hanson’s edited New Testament (1885), a revision of the English Revised Version with “baptism” changed for “immersion” and other changes.

Hanson is best known for arguing that universalism dominated early church thought before Augustine. Hanson’s reading of church history has been challenged, but recent studies confirm many of Hanson’s claims (for a more up-to-date study see Ilaria Ramelli’s The Christian Doctrine of Apokatastasis). (WikiPedia)

In his book Universalism The Prevailing Doctrine Of The Christian Church During Its First Five Hundred Years (1899), Hanson concluded that:

(1) During the First Century the primitive Christians did not dwell on matters of eschatology, but devoted their attention to apologetics; they were chiefly anxious to establish the fact of Christ’s advent, and of its blessings to the world. Possibly the question of destiny was an open one, till Paganism and Judaism introduced erroneous ideas, when the New Testament doctrine of the apokatastasis was asserted, and universal restoration became an accepted belief, as stated later by Clement and Origen, A.D. 180-230.

universalismprev00hans_0009(2) The Catacombs give us the views of the unlearned, as Clement and Origen state the doctrine of scholars and teachers. Not a syllable is found hinting at the horrors of Augustinianism, but the inscription on every monument harmonizes with the Universalism of the early fathers.

(3) Clement declares that all punishment, however severe, is purificatory; that even the “torments of the damned” are curative. Origen explains even Gehenna as signifying limited and curative punishment, and both, as all the other ancient Universalists, declare that “everlasting” (aionion) punishment, is consonant with universal salvation. So that it is no proof that other primitive Christians who are less explicit as to the final result, taught endless punishment when they employ the same terms.

(4) Like our Lord and his Apostles, the primitive Christians avoided the words with which the Pagans and Jews defined endless punishment aidios or adialeipton timoria (endless torment), a doctrine the latter believed, and knew how to describe; but they, the early Christians, called punishment, as did our Lord, kolasis aionios, discipline, chastisement, of indefinite, limited duration.

(5) The early Christians taught that Christ preached the Gospel to the dead, and for that purpose descended into Hades. Many held that he released all who were in ward. This shows that repentance beyond the grave, perpetual probation, was then accepted, which precludes the modern error that the soul’s destiny is decided at death.

(6) Prayers for the dead were universal in the early church, which would be absurd, if their condition is unalterably fixed at the grave.

(7) The idea that false threats were necessary to keep the common people in check, and that the truth might be held esoterically, prevailed among the earlier Christians, so that there can be no doubt that many who seem to teach endless punishment, really held the broader views, as we know the most did, and preached terrors pedagogically.

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Download “Universalism The Prevailing Doctrine, etc.” as PDF

(8) The first comparatively complete systematic statement of Christian doctrine ever given to the world was by Clement of Alexandria, A.D. 180, and universal salvation was one of the tenets.

(9) The first complete presentation of Christianity as a system was by Origen (A.D. 220) and universal salvation was explicitly contained in it.

(10) Universal salvation was the prevailing doctrine in Christendom as long as Greek, the language of the New Testament, was the language of Christendom.

(11) Universalism was generally believed in the best centuries, the first three, when Christians were most remarkable for simplicity, goodness and missionary zeal.

(12) Universalism was least known when Greek, the language of the New Testament was least known, and when Latin was the language of the Church in its darkest, most ignorant, and corrupt ages.

(13) Not a writer among those who describe the heresies of the first three hundred years intimates that Universalism was then a heresy, though it was believed by many, if not be a majority, and certainly by the greatest of the fathers.

(14) Not a single creed for five hundred years expresses any idea contrary to universal restoration, or in favor of endless punishment.

(15) With the exception of the arguments of Augustine (A.D. 420), there is not an argument known to have been framed against Universalism for at least four hundred years after Christ, by any of the ancient fathers.

(16) While the councils that assembled in various parts of Christendom, anathematized every kind of doctrine supposed to be heretical, no oecumenical council, for more than five hundred years, condemned Universalism, though it had been advocated in every century by the principal scholars and most revered saints.

(17) As late as A.D. 400, Jerome says “most people” (plerique). and Augustine “very many” (quam plurimi), believed in Universalism, notwithstanding that the tremendous influence of Augustine, and the mighty power of the semi-pagan secular arm were arrayed against it.

(18) The principal ancient Universalists were Christian born and reared, and were among the most scholarly and saintly of all the ancient saints.

(19) The most celebrated of the earlier advocates of endless punishment were heathen born, and led corrupt lives in their youth. Tertullian one of the first, and Augustine, the greatest of them, confess to having been among the vilest.

(20) The first advocates of endless punishment, Minucius Felix, Tertullian and Augustine, were Latins, ignorant of Greek, and less competent to interpret the meaning of Greek Scriptures than were the Greek scholars.

(21) The first advocates of Universalism, after the Apostles, were Greeks, in whose mother-tongue the New Testament was written. They found their Universalism in the Greek Bible. Who should be correct, they or the Latins?

(22) The Greek Fathers announced the great truth of universal restoration in an age of darkness, sin and corruption. There was nothing to suggest it to them in the world’s literature or religion. It was wholly contrary to everything around them. Where else could they have found it, but where they say they did, in the Gospel?

(23) All ecclesiastical historians and the best Biblical critics and scholars agree to the prevalence of Universalism in the earlier centuries.

(24) From the days of Clement of Alexandria to those of Gregory of Nyssa and Theodore of Mopsuestia (A.D. 180-428), the great theologians and teachers, almost without exception, were Universalists. No equal number in the same centuries were comparable to them for learning and goodness.

(25) The first theological school in Christendom, that in Alexandria, taught Universalism for more than two hundred years.

(26) In all Christendom, from A.D. 170 to 430, there were six Christian schools. Of these four, the only strictly theological schools, taught Universalism, and but one endless punishment.

(27) The three earliest Gnostic sects, the Basilidians, the Carpocratians and the Valentinians (A.D. 117-132) are condemned by Christian writers, and their heresies pointed out, but though they taught Universalism, that doctrine is never condemned by those who oppose them. Irenaeus condemned the errors of the Carpocratians, but does not reprehend their Universalism, though he ascribes the doctrine to them.

(28) The first defense of Christianity against Infidelity (Origen against Celsus) puts the defense on Universalistic grounds. Celsus charged the Christians’ God with cruelty, because he punished with fire. Origen replied that God’s fire is curative; that he is a “Consuming Fire,” because he consumes sin and not the sinner.

(29) Origen, the chief representative of Universalism in the ancient centuries, was bitterly opposed and condemned for various heresies by ignorant and cruel fanatics. He was accused of opposing Episcopacy, believing in pre-existence, etc., but never was condemned for his Universalism. The very council that anathematized “Origenism” eulogized Gregory of Nyssa, who was explicitly a Universalist as was Origen. Lists of his errors are given by Methodius, Pamphilus and Eusebius, Marcellus, Eustathius and Jerome, but Universalism is not named by one of his opponents. Fancy a list of Ballou’s errors and his Universalism omitted; Hippolytus (A.D. 320) names thirty-two known heresies, but Universalism is not mentioned as among them. Epiphanius, “the hammer of heretics,” describes eighty heresies, but he does not mention universal salvation, though Gregory of Nyssa, an outspoken Universalist, was, at the time he wrote, the most conspicuous figure in Christendom.

(30) Justinian, a half-pagan emperor, who attempted to have Universalism officially condemned, lived in the most corrupt epoch of the Christian centuries. He closed the theological schools, and demanded the condemnation of Universalism by law; but the doctrine was so prevalent in the church that the council refused to obey his edict to suppress it. Lecky says the age of Justinian was “the worst form civilization has assumed.”

(31) The first clear and definite statement of human destiny by any Christian writer after the days of the Apostles, includes universal restoration, and that doctrine was advocated by most of the greatest and best of the Christian Fathers for the first five hundred years of the Christian Era.

In one word, a careful study of the early history of the Christian religion, will show that the doctrine of universal restoration was least prevalent in the darkest, and prevailed most in the most enlightened, of the earliest centuries–that it was the prevailing doctrine in the Primitive Christian Church.

See also

 

 

Charles Slagle: The Good News of Christ’s Total Victory

“Christ bought us ALL back by His own blood shed at Calvary. He came to earth for this purpose: to destroy the devil’s deceptive works and to save that which was lost. Eventually our Lord will fulfill His sure purpose and inherit ALL He paid for.”–Charles Slagle

Chapter four of Charles Slagle’s Absolute Assurance in Christ: Four Views of the Good News of Jesus Christ.

Christ bought us ALL back by His own blood shed at Calvary. He came to earth for this purpose: to destroy the devil’s deceptive works and to save that which was lost. Eventually our Lord will fulfill His sure purpose and inherit ALL He paid for. That is because:

a.  God is Holy Love, and love means commitment.

b.  God’s commitment is stronger than our weaknesses, our foolish choices, our stubbornness, our SIN. For if God’s commitment to us is only as strong as our commitment to Him (perish the thought!) that means He is no better than we are.2

c.  God’s fires of purifying judgment are unrelenting, though not of endless duration (contrary to tradition but not Scripture). So He persistently and patiently corrects us—until—He succeeds in redeeming us. For our heavenly Father’s judgments arise, not from vindictive rage, but from His loving mercy. He loves us too much to let sin and death destroy His dreams for us. Christ’s death on the cross demonstrates the depth of God’s love as well as His commitment to destroy sin and death. It shows us that, to His own hurt and agony, the Lord is absorbing all the death-dealing abuse of our sin and will “swallow it up” into His life as He saves us.

Acts 3:21 tells us God has promised through all His holy prophets that He will restore ALL things. Furthermore, both Old Testament and New Testament writers and prophets tell us:

·      that all earth’s families will be blessed through Christ, Abraham’s “Seed” (Gen. 12:3, Acts 3:23, Rom. 4:13). Furthermore, according to Galatians 3:8, this promised blessing means that all earth’s families will be turned from their sins; justified and set right with God;

·      that success or failure at keeping God’s law has no bearing on whether or not this promised blessing will finally be bestowed, for the law cannot cancel this covenant (Gal. 3:17-21);

·      that all earth’s families, therefore, will remember the Lord, turn to Him and worship Him (Ps. 22:27-28);

·      that all flesh will bless His name forever and sing His praise (Ps. 145:21; 66:3-4, Rev. 5:13);

·      that His tender mercies are over all His works, and all His works shall praise Him (Ps. 145:9-10);

·      that God’s anger is momentary but His mercy is everlasting (Ps. 103:8-10; 136, Micah 7:18);

·      that mankind shall be blessed in Christ (Ps. 72:17);

·      that every knee will bow and every tongue will confess and give thanks to the Lord. Furthermore, they will swear to Him and oath of allegiance and give thanks that in Him they have righteousness and strength. And this will bring glory to our loving Father. (Isa. 45:21-24, NKJV, also see the Amplified Version; Phil. 2:9-11);3

·      that our Tender Father of all Compassion is not pleased or glorified with mere lip service. (Matt. 15:8, 2 Cor. 1:3-4);

·      that no one can confess Jesus as Lord apart from the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 12:3);

·      that God’s will and purpose must come to pass and no one can restrain Him. For He works ALL things according to His will (Ps. 33:10-11, Prov. 19:21; 21:1, Ecc. 3:1,17, Dan. 4:34-35, Eph. 1:11);

·      that His will and good pleasure and purpose is to unite ALL creation in Christ (Eph. 1:10; 2:9-10);

·      that His Word will not return void but accomplish His desire, pleasure and purpose (Isa. 45:23; 46:11; 55:11);

·      that through His death on the cross, Christ will draw all mankind to Himself. For Gabriel announced that Christ our Savior shall be glad tidings of great joy to all people (John 12:32-33, Luke 2:10);

·      that BECAUSE God created all things for His pleasure, He is worthy of all power, honor and praise (Rev. 4:11);

·      that for this reason Christ descended into Hades and proclaimed the gospel to the dead, specifically Noah’s disobedient generation—so they could be judged in order that they might live by God’s Spirit (1 Pet. 3:19; 4:6);

·      that Christ, our Good Shepherd, who preached the gospel to Noah’s generation, is the same yesterday, today and forever. Thus, we can rest assured that He will fulfill the redemptive plans of God’s heart for ALL generations (Ps. 33:11, Heb. 13:8);

·      that God has given Christ ALL things (Matt. 11:27; 28:18, Luke 10:22, John 3:35; 13:3; 17:2, Eph. 1:22, Heb. 1:2; 2:7-8, 1 Pet. 3:22);

·      that Christ will accomplish His Father’s will and lose nothing of all He’s been given (John 6:37,39; 17:2, Heb. 10:7,9);

·      that the Lord has spoken it and He will accomplish it, that He has purposed it and will also perform it (Isa. 46:11);

·      that in the last days God will pour out His Spirit on ALL mankind, and whoever calls on the Lord’s name will be restored and saved. And as has been shown, all will not only call on the Lord’s name, but all will swear allegiance to Him and offer Him thanks (Joel 2:28-32, Acts 2:16-38);

·      that ALL—whether righteous or unrighteous—will be resurrected. And according to Paul, this provides good reason to hope in God (Acts 24:15-16);

·      that just as Adam’s trespass brought condemnation on all people—so also—Christ’s act of righteousness was justification that brings life to all people. For as through Adam’s disobedience “the many” were made sinners—so also—through Christ’s obedience “the many” will be made righteous (Romans 5:18-19);

·      that therefore where sin abounded, grace abounded much more! (Romans 5:20);

·      that the whole family4 in heaven and earth is named after our Father. For we are all His offspring. Thus He is above all, through all, and in all (Amos 9:12, Acts 17:28, Eph. 3:14-15; 4:6);

·      that Christ has ascended to fill all things (Eph. 4:10);

·      that God’s mercy triumphs over judgment. For it is His tender mercy that governs His judgment (Ps. 62:12, Jam. 2:13);

·      that the kingdoms of this world shall become the kingdoms of our Lord and His Messiah (Dan. 7:14,27, Rev. 11:15);

·      that the Lord has made bare His holy arm (strength!) and all shall see His Salvation (Isa. 52:10);

·      that righteousness and praise shall spring forth before all nations, and everlasting joy shall come to them (See all of Isaiah 61);

·      that He Who is Sovereign Holy Love will have mercy on those who were not His people. He will say to them, “You are My people!” And they shall say, “You are my God!” (Hosea 2:23);

·      that Sovereign Holy Love will raise from death those who were not His people. He will thus be the Plague and Destruction of death—and Hades (Hos. 13:13-14);

·      that Paul therefore could joyfully shout, “O death, where is your sting? O Hades where is your victory?” (1 Cor. 15:54-55);

·      that our Good Shepherd will feed His flock, the sheep of His pasture. He shall be Peace and His name shall be great worldwide (Mic. 5:4);

·      that the Lord will rise up in plunder. He will pour out the fire of His jealousy. Then He will restore to the peoples a pure language, so they all may call on Him in unity (Zeph. 3:8-9);

·      that all things came through Christ and are made for Christ and will finally be subject to Him. For He has tasted death for everyone. (1 Cor. 15:25-28, Col. 1:16, Heb. 1:2; 2:8-10, Rev. 4:11);

·      that God is reconciling ALL to Himself through Christ’s cross (John 12:32, 2 Cor. 5:18-19, Col. 1:15-20);

·      that Authentic Love reveals itself, not only in words, but in deeds done in integrity, and God’s ever-active love never ceases or fails (1 John 3:18, 1 Cor. 13:8);

·      that Christ will be satisfied that God’s will and pleasure has prospered in His hand through His death on the cross (Isa. 53:10-11);

·      that God’s will is that none should perish but that ALL should come to repentance (2 Pet. 3:9);

·      that God is the Savior of ALL people, especially (not exclusively) of those who believe. These things prescribe and teach (1 Tim. 4:9-11);

·      that through His love-sacrifice Christ, the Lamb of God, has put away sin—the sin of the world (John 1:29, Heb. 9:26, 2 Cor. 5:19);

·      that all is from and through God and must return to Him, for God desires all to be saved, and this will be confirmed in due time. Again we recall how God’s Word will not return void but will accomplish all He desires. (Isa. 55:11, Romans 11:32-36, Heb. 2:10, 1 Tim. 2:4-6, Rev. 4:11);

·      that Christ, through His church, will eventually fill all things so God will become all—not merely in some—but in ALL (1 Cor. 12:6, 15:28, Eph. 1:22; 4:10, Col. 3:11);

·      that Christ will reign over the nations and they shall hope in Him (Isa. 11:1-11, Romans 15:12);

·      that the earth is the Lord’s in all it’s fullness and those who dwell therein. So Christ will inherit the nations and all He has made will worship Him (Ps. 1:8; 24:1; 83:8; 86:9, 1 Cor. 3:11; 12:6, Rev. 5:13);

·      that the Father has given His Son dominion over the works of His hands (all of which shall praise Him). And He has put all things under His feet (Ps. 8:6; 145:9-10);

·      that our Lord’s Word that He will fulfill His purpose stands firm and is forever settled in Heaven. His faithfulness endures to all generations (Ps. 119:89-90);

·      that our Father does whatever pleases Him (fulfills His pleasure) in Heaven and earth and all the deep places (Ps. 135:5-6, Eph. 1:9-11);

·      that in one passage the declaration occurs twenty-six times that God’s mercy endures forever (Ps. 136);

·      that God’s prophetic Word (which cannot return void) is, “Let everything that has breath praise the Lord!” (See all of Ps. 150.);

·      that in the last days all nations shall flow into the Lord’s house (Isa. 2:2);

·      that Christ the Savior of all men, our Trustworthy Good Shepherd, will not fail. Neither will He be discouraged until He establishes justice (salvation) in the earth (Isa. 42:4, Matt. 12:18-21);

·      that Christ is a Covenant (Promise!) and a Light to all who are spiritually unenlightened, who weep under the shadow of darkness. He is to free them from idolatry’s prison. For God will not share His glory with graven images (Isa. 42:6-9, Luke 1:78-79);

·      that the Lord will reduce to nothing ALL the gods of the earth! (Zeph. 2:11);

·      that the crooked places (not merely some crooked places) shall be made straight. And all flesh shall see the Lord’s Salvation (Isa. 52:10, Luke 3:4-6);

·      that God has raised mankind up in righteousness and will direct all his ways (Isa. 45:11-13);

·      that our Lord’s Word and irrevocable call is, “Look to Me all you ends of the earth and be saved!” (Isa. 45:22);

·      that God—who is Holy Love Unfailing—receives no pleasure in the death of the wicked (Ezek. 18:23; 33:11). So our Good Shepherd searches for each of His lost sheep until He finds them. For all earth’s inhabitants—bottom line—are God’s people, the “sheep” of His pasture (Ps. 96; 100, Ezek. 18:23-32, Luke 15:4-7);

·      that the heathen—the nations—will be glad and sing for joy. For our Strong Deliverer shall righteously judge the poor and govern the nations. All the ends of the earth shall reverence Him! (Ps. 67);

·      that the Lord executes righteousness for all the oppressed (Ps. 103:6). Therefore He came for this purpose: to destroy the devil’s works—which include all satan’s lies that have alienated hearts from God (1 John 3:8, Col. 1:21, NJKV);

·      that God’s covenant with Abraham, which Christ has come to fulfill, is immutable and unchanging. Thus, it is a hope and anchor for our souls—steadfast and sure (Romans 15:8-12, Heb. 6:13-20);

·      that the Lord will speak peace to the nations. His Kingdom shall be to the ends of the earth (Zech. 9:10);

·      that from the sun’s rising to its going down, the Lord’s name will be great among the gentiles. So that in every place incense and a pure (not forced and reluctant) offering will rise before him (Mal. 1:11);

·      that Christ declares His purpose in coming to earth is to seek and save (restore) that which was lost. And again, we recall how our Lord’s Word tells us that He will fulfill His purpose (Matt. 18:11, Luke 19:10);

·      that our Lord and His church (His first born, co-heirs) possess the keys to death, hell and the grave. The keys to God’s Love Kingdom (Matt. 16:19; 18:18, John 14:12; 20:21, Romans 8:16-17, 1 John 4:17, Rev. 1:18);

·      that our Lord and His firstborn co-heirs will conquer “the strong man,” satan. They will take away all his armor and confiscate his booty! (Luke 11:21-22, Romans 8:16-23,32, Eph. 1:18,22-23);

·      that after our Lord’s visit and ministry among them, the Samaritans were convinced that Christ is the Savior of the world (John 4:42). (When will all of us Christians be convinced?);

·      that our Lord declares that He gives (not merely offers) life to the world (John 6:33);

·      that He clearly states His purpose in coming to earth is to save the world (John 12:47);

·      that Israel will bind itself to the Lord with an everlasting covenant that cannot be canceled. For God’s calling and gifts cannot be revoked. Hence, all Israel and all the world will be saved. Thus, the Lord will accomplish and fulfill all His pleasure—His good pleasure—for ALL things are of Him, through Him and TO Him (Jer. 50:5, Romans 11:8-12,26-29,32-36, John 4:42, 1 John 4:14);

·      that to the Lord who hears prayer, all flesh will come (Ps. 65:2);

·      that Christ therefore bids us pray to our Father, “Your will be done on earth even as it is (universally done!) in Heaven” (Matt. 6:10);

·      that the earth will be full of the revelation of the Lord as the waters cover the sea. For the nations will seek Him (Isa. 11:9-10, Ps. 72:18);

·      that the lake of (God’s purifying) fire lasts, not for eternity, but until the ages of the ages (clearly stated in the original language of Scripture5). Thus it will last until the fullness of the times when God unites all in Christ (Eph. 1:10, Rev. 21:8, 20:10,15);

·      that God’s fire is spiritual not literal. For our Heavenly Father would never dream of subjecting His own offspring to such an atrocity as torture by literal burning6 (Jer. 19:5, Luke 9:54-56);

·      that God Himself is a Consuming Fire. He is like a refiner’s fire and will also purge His priesthood people. Thus they will offer Him pure offerings, Thanksgiving offerings included (Ps. 116:17, Mal. 3:2-3, 1 Thes. 5:18, Heb. 12:29);

·      that God’s judgments, however severe, are always just—not cruel and vindictive. For, according to Scrip-ture, the Lord does NOT cast off forever (Ps. 62:12; 67:4; 96:11-13; 119:75, Lam. 3:31, John 5:22-23);

·      that the Father has committed all “judgment” to the Son—so that—ALL may honor both Him and the Father (John 5:22-23). Therefore for this very purpose these who have done evil will come forth in the “resurrection of judgment”: so that Christ will lead all to repentance and fulfill His Father’s will and purpose that He draw all people to Himself. Thus our Good Shepherd will lose nothing of all His Father has given Him, and all therefore will honor the Son just as they honor the Father (John 5:29-30).

·      that our Good Father will destroy death (1 Cor. 15:26, 2 Tim. 1:10);

·      that God and Christ’s Bride, the New Jerusalem, will tabernacle with MANKIND. And He will wipe away all tears, and ALL death, sorrow and pain will pass away (Isa. 25:7-8, Rev. 21:4);

·      that He makes all things new. For as in Adam all die, even so, in Christ all shall be made alive (Isa. 25:7-8, Romans 5:18, 1 Cor. 15:22, Rev. 21:4-5);

God promised Abraham that his descendants would be as innumerable as the sand grains on the seashores and as plentiful as the stars in the heavens! For all who have faith in Christ, according to Scripture, are descendants of Abraham (Gen. 22:17-19, Romans 2:28-29, Gal. 3:6-7, Rev. 7:9). So Christ’s ultimate “harvest” of human souls will be of such magnitude that no man can number. What is now called “the church” is only a kind of firstfruits of that harvest (Jas. 1:18).

Thus, the writer to the Hebrews calls God’s covenant with Abraham a sure anchor for the soul. For it enters in behind the veil (into the holiest of holies) where Christ offered His blood for the sins of all humanity (Heb. 6:19).

How can we anchor our souls? As Christians, how can we anchor our mind, will and emotions to possess a solid sense of identity and a good reason for being unless we can rely on Christ’s faithfulness to fulfill God’s covenant with Abraham? The Scriptures tell us that this covenant is an anchor—steadfast and sure! Why is this so? Because this covenant assures us that all humanity will be blessed in Christ!

So why do so many Christians feel insecure in God’s love? One problem is the unscriptural tradition that most people will be lost forever—that only the fittest will survive in God’s economy!

The unbiblical tradition that God brought us into being to respond to the question, “Where will you spend eternity?” is another problem. But that is not the message of the Good News! The Biblical message is, “Repent! For the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand!” (Matt. 4:17). Nowhere in the New Testament do we find the glad tidings proclaimed in terms of, “Where will you spend eternity?” The message, “Choose this day whom you will serve” (Josh. 24:15), is Scriptural. “Where will you spend eternity?” is not a Biblical concept. Pure and simple: God created all of us for His pleasure. He did not put us here “on probation” so we could choose our eternal destiny! God has already planned that all of us will be drawn to Christ and unified in His love.

Another unbiblical tradition that keeps many of us from having a solid sense of identity and a good purpose for being is the tradition that people who die in sin or while unconverted will never be brought to repentance. And why? Because they failed to recognize their “chance” to exercise sufficient wisdom to “seize the moment” (so tradition would have us believe). But is that what the Scriptures really teach? Are we saved, not by God’s grace, but by chance—or by our cleverness to recognize our “chance” before it’s “eternally too late”? If so, will most flesh sing God’s praise and bless His name forever while agonizing from an endless hell? If that describes the final scenario our Loving Creator has in mind, how is Abraham’s covenant a sure anchor for the soul? What hope does Abraham’s covenant offer? Where is our Lord’s tender mercy?

The Bible says that it is appointed to men once to die, and after that the judgment7 (Heb. 9:27-28). It does not say after death all hope is gone! Thus, we see that:

·      Sodom’s fiery judgment is “eternal” (Jude 7)—until—God “will restore the fortunes of Sodom” (Ez. 16:53-55);

·      Israel’s “affliction is incurable” (Jer. 30:12)—until—the Lord “will restore health” and heal her wounds (Jer. 30:17);

·      The sin of Samaria “is incurable” (Mic. 1:9)—until—the Lord “will restore . . . the fortunes of Samaria.” (Ez. 16:53);

·      Ammon is to become a “wasteland forever” and “rise no more” (Zeph. 2:9, Jer. 25:27)—until—the Lord will “restore the fortunes of the Ammonites” (Jer. 49:6);

·      An Ammonite or Moabite is forbidden to enter the Lord’s congregation “forever”—until—the tenth gener-ation (Deut. 23:3);

·      Habakkuk tells us of mountains that were “everlasting”, that is—until—they “were shattered” (Hab. 3:6);

·      The fire for Israel’s sin offering (of a ram without blemish) is never to be put out. It shall be “perpetual”—until—Christ, the Lamb of God, dies for our sins. We now have a better covenant established on better promises (Lev. 6:12-13, Heb. 8:6-13);

·      God’s waves of wrath roll over Jonah “forever”—until—the Lord delivers him from the large fish’s belly on the third day (Jonah 2:6,10; 1:17);

·      Egypt and Elam will “rise no more” (Jer. 25:27)—until—the Lord will “restore the fortunes of Egypt” (Ez. 29:14) and “restore the fortunes of Elam” (Jer. 49:39).

·      “Moab is destroyed” (Jer. 48:4,42)—until—the Lord “will restore the fortunes of Moab” (Jer. 48:47);

·      Israel’s judgment lasts “forever”—until—the Spirit is poured out and God restores it (Isa. 32:13-15).

·      So, narrow is the way to life and few find it—until—Christ and His church confiscate the “strong man’s” booty, setting the captives free so God becomes all in all (Isa. 61, Luke 11:21-22, Matt. 7:13; 16:18, 1 Cor. 15:24-28);

·      God is now calling out “a people for His name”—an “elect” or chosen priesthood people who will represent and reflect His loving nature. Many are called and few are chosen—until—the small chosen priesthood people, by the Spirit, restore “David’s tabernacle” so ALL mankind may inquire of the Lord. Thus we see that the church is the first born, the beginning—until—in all (later born new creatures in Christ) our Lord will have supremacy (Amos 9:11-12, Matt. 22:14, Acts 15:14-18, Eph. 3:15, Col. 1:18).

·      All manner of sin will be forgiven in this age as well as in the age (not eternity) to come, except blasphemy against God’s Spirit—until—such blasphemy finds pardon in the fullness of the times (or ages) when God unites all in Christ. For the Lord does not retain His anger forever because He delights in mercy (Matt. 12:32; 18:11,21-22, Eph. 1:9-11, Rev. 4:11; 5:13, Mic. 7:18-20).

·      God’s wrath has come upon Israel “to the uttermost”
(1 Thess. 2:16). So there is a gulf between “the rich man in purple” (Royal Covenant “Son”, Israel) and the saved gentiles (Lazarus) which no man can cross—until—Christ Himself crosses it to bring His promised restoration. For again, Scripture promises that ALL Israel will be saved (Jer. 50:5, Luke 16:19-26, John 12:32, Romans 11:26-29).

·      Christ’s fallen apostle, Judas, will be restored just as surely as fallen Israel (of which he is a member) will be restored. For the gifts and callings of God are irrevocable, and He has purposed to unite all in Christ. For Scripture assures us that He who calls us is “faithful”. He will surely perform it. So Judas is lost—until—the Lord restores Him (John 15:16, 1 Thess. 5:24).

·      So, Christ will say to unrighteous nations, “Depart from Me into ‘everlasting’ fire.” And these nations will go away into “everlasting” (original language: age-lasting) punishment or pruning.8 That is—until—by God’s severe mercy shown in judgment, all nations He has made glorify and worship Him. Thus God will fulfill His covenant with Abraham that in Christ all the families of ALL the nations will be BLESSED (Gen. 12:3, Ps. 62:12, 67:4, 86:9, Matt. 25:41,46). For according to Paul (Gal. 3:8), God’s covenant with Abraham means that ALL will be justified and set right with God. So all flesh will bless His name forever and ever (Ps. 145:21).

Therefore, ALL scriptural references that speak of everlasting fire or judgment must be understood in light of God’s (Love’s) clearly expressed heart, promise, desire, purpose and will. They are “everlasting”; that is, they are continuous and on-going—until—God’s judgments serve to accomplish His unchanging will and purpose to unite all creation in Christ. (Gen. 12:3, Romans 4:13, Heb. 6:17).

Gehenna’s fires are not quenched and its worm does not die—until—the restoration of all things which has been spoken of by all God’s holy prophets (Christ included) since the world began. For our Savior did not come to contradict His own prophets. Our Good Shepherd and Faithful Deliverer came to fulfill the law and the prophets! Thus our Lord does not cast off forever (Lam. 3:31-32, Heb. 13:8). He who taught us to forgive and bless our enemies will surely do the same for His. For every tongue will give thanks that in Him they have righteousness and strength. All flesh will bless His name forever and ever! For our Lord will not fail or become discouraged until He fulfills all of God’s purpose, word and will. For He tells us that everyone will be “seasoned” with fire (Matt. 5:17, Mark 9:42-49, Acts 3:21).

Those who disobey the gospel and persecute Christians will be repaid with “everlasting” (that is, continuous) tribulation, destruction and punishment—until—by such persistent correction God shows them their need for Christ. So what is written in the prophets will come to pass, that all shall be taught of God, and everyone who has heard and learned from the Father (eventually) comes to Christ. Thus, all the families of the nations will remember Him and worship before Him. And all will submit to Him and sing His praise. So God’s promise will be fulfilled that ALL men shall reverence Him, proclaim His works, and wisely consider His doing (Ps. 22:27-28, 64:4-5, 64:9, 2 Thess. 1:7-10).

Paul the apostle understood the “forever until” principle at work in God’s redemptive judgments. He knew the heart of God, and Paul also knew God’s will, purpose and plan. His knowledge of God’s character, will and purpose governed his understanding of Scripture. That is why Paul could appear to contradict the prophet David! Have a look at Romans 11:9-12 (NIV), where David prophesies:

May their table become a snare and a trap, a stumbling block and a retribution to them. May their eyes be darkened so they cannot see and their backs be bent forever.

And observe how Paul responds:

Again I ask: Did they (Israel) stumble so as to fall beyond recovery? not at all! Rather, because of their transgression, salvation has come to the gentiles (pagans, all who are spiritually unenlightened) to make Israel envious. For if their transgression means RICHES for the WORLD, and their loss means riches for the gentiles—how much greater riches will their (Israel’s) fullness bring?

Wow . . . ! In the next three verses Paul assures us:

·      that Israel’s fall is the reconciliation of the world;

·      that Israel’s fall will be (for them and all the world) life from the dead! (Ez. 37);

·      that because the FIRST fruit (Israel) is holy, the whole world (“lump” or “harvest field”) is holy.

Read all of Romans chapter eleven, and the Scriptures will clearly speak for themselves. Practice reading all of God’s Word in light of His character, commitment, purpose and reliable good pleasure and will. Get God’s “forever until”9 policy of judgment settled in your heart—and get ready! You are about to embark upon a love affair with our Heavenly Father that will transform your life. His heart will heal and transform your heart! For of Him and through Him—and to Him—are ALL things! (Romans 11:36) Yourself included. For again, we must remember, our Savior did not come to contradict the words of His own prophets. He came to fulfill them.

Until the heart of God and the will of God become the foundational factors determining our understanding of Scripture, our “gospel” will be bad news—not good. “God is Love, but” is simply not the message the Holy Spirit is conveying to us in the Bible (1 John 4:10,14).

Does this mean God will violate His creatures’ free wills in order to save them? Not at all. What it means is that God has already told us in Scripture that eventually everyone will respond to His wooing. For God foreknows that eventually all He has made will freely choose Him and bless His name forever (that is, once the “lights come on” inside them sufficiently so they can choose Him). For our Lord is the Light of the World, and Scripture assures us that He illuminates every human being born into the world (John 1:9).10

Does all of this mean we have a license to party and live like the devil? No, for we already sin well enough without a license, or haven’t you noticed? The Lord has put us all in a universe jam-packed with CONSEQUENCES, both pleasant and painful. So just because God doesn’t get rid of people forever does not mean there are not serious judgments that await those who willfully reject the truth. The resurrected unrighteous will face judgment (John 5:29, Heb. 11:35). So if certain ones calculate that a life of rebellion against the Lord is worth “going to hell” for a time, then no one—least of all God—is going to force them to stop having their fling. We can all have as much hell as we want, perhaps more than we bargained for!

What, then, is the point of sharing this radically Good News about God? The point is, until we have a heart and mind understanding of God’s true character and agenda:

·      we will lack the ability to rest consistently in God’s love;

·      we will lack the ability to trust Him totally and completely. Why? Because we will find ourselves in a constant struggle trying to trust ourselves;

·      we will lack humility born of the realization that our good or bad behavior has nothing to do with God’s love and commitment to us;

·      we will lack peace and joy—except on a sporadic basis;

·      we will lack a heart of true worship and adoration toward our Savior;

·      we will lack the ability to discern the difference between justice and cruelty;

·      we will lack the understanding that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom—not the fear of His hopeless rejection. For correction is not rejection.

·      we will lack the serenity and hope that comes from the understanding that Love always succeeds and never fails;

·      we will lack the ability to understand or appreciate or receive unconditional love;

·      we will lack the ability to love others unconditionally;

·      we will lack an understanding of God that is worthy of His true nature;

·      we will lack the ability to understand Scripture in light of God’s heart, and His clearly revealed purpose and will;

·      we will lack as individuals a solid sense of identity. For if any doubt lingers as to Whose we are, we can never know who we are or why we are;

·      we will lack a perception—a wholesome perception—of our identity and purpose and ministry to the world as members of Christ’s body. For we are not the only-born—we are the firstborn of all God’s redeemed children. Our commission is to join with Christ in restoring all His cherished creation.

·      we will lack the ability to appreciate God’s heart of committed love toward all His creation;

·      we will lack the ability to judge NO ONE by the flesh (external criteria);

·      we will lack the understanding of God’s good purpose for all His creation and the certainty of its fulfillment;

·      we will lack the understanding that Jesus Christ is Who the gospel is all about, and creation’s restoration is what the gospel is all about;

·      we will lack the understanding of the magnitude of Calvary’s Victory;

·      we will lack the ability to proclaim the Good News of Christ to a hurting world in terms of God’s unconditional, unfailing and committed love.

Creation did not fall into ruin by it’s own choice, according to Romans 8:20-21. God Himself allowed it because of a hope He cherished in His heart.

The Good news is that the same God who willed His creation’s temporary unravelling is re-ravelling it back—by His own loving blood-sacrifice—to reflect greater splendor than it had at its beginning.

This is why the gospel truly is glad tidings of great joy which shall be to ALL people! The Lord takes full responsibility for His creation’s fall, and for its full recovery. Thus, God has shut all in sin’s prison that He may have mercy on all (Romans 11:32). So all will honor the Son, just as they honor the Father (John 5:22-23). For God works all things according to His will.

Read and meditate on the Scriptures for yourself. Ask our Lord and Savior to guide you. The Lord yearns for you to know the height, the depth, the width, and the length of His love which surpasses knowledge! He yearns for your trust. He desires that you be filled with the knowledge of His will. He longs to convince you of His commitment and to ravish you with His love. He longs to remove every mental or theological roadblock that hinders your trust in Him. He longs to smash to smithereens every vain imagination that exalts itself against the pure knowledge of Christ! Hide and watch! You shall (one day) love the Lord your God with all your heart, your body, your soul, your mind—your being. You “shall”. . . This is not just a command; it is a promise. And you shall be like Him, radiant with the light of His life-giving holy love—for—you shall see Him AS HE IS. And that’s what salvation is all about.

Blessed assurance, Jesus is Mine,
Oh what a foretaste of glory Divine,
Heir of salvation, purchase of God,
Born of His Spirit, washed in His blood.
This is my story, this is my song,
Praising My Savior all the day long,
This is my story, this is my song,
Praising my savior all the day long!

— Fanny Crosby

Thomas Allin: “Aion and Aionios”

On the words often translated “eternity” and “eternal” in the Bible. From Thomas Allin’s Christ Triumphant.

From Christ Triumphant by Thomas Allin. See Ramelli’s & Konstan’s Terms for Eternity: Aiônios and Aïdios in Classical and Christian Texts, for a newer study.

Let us next consider the true meaning of the words “aion” and “aionios.”1 These are the originals of the terms rendered by our translators “everlasting,” “for ever and ever:” and upon these misleading translations, a vast portion of the popular dogma of endless torment is built up. I say, without hesitation, misleading and incorrect; for aion means “an age,” a limited period, whether long or short, though often of indefinite length; and the adjective aionios means “of the age,” “age-long,” “aeonian,” and never “everlasting” (of its own proper force). It is true that it may be applied as an epithet to things that are endless, but the idea of endlessness in all such cases comes not from the epithet, but only because it is inherent in the object to which the epithet is applied, as in the case of God.

Much has been written on the import of the aeonian (eternal) life. Altogether to exclude, (with MAURICE) the notion of time seems impracticable, and opposed to the general usage of the New Testament (and of the Septuagint). But while this is so, we may fully recognize that the phrase “eternal life” (aeonian life) does at times pass into a region above time, a region wholly moral and spiritual. Thus, in S. John, the aeonian life (eternal life), of which he speaks, is a life not measured by duration, but a life in the unseen, life in God.

Thus, e.g., God’s commandment is life eternal. — John 12:50. To know Him is life eternal, — John. 17:3, and Christ is the eternal life. — I John 1:2; 5:20. Admitting, then, the usual reference of aionios to time, we note in the word a tendency to rise above this idea, to denote quality, rather than quantity, to indicate the true, the spiritual, in opposition to the unreal, or the earthly. In this sense the eternal is now and here.

Thus “eternal” punishment is one thing, and “everlasting” punishment a very different thing, and so it is that our Revisers have substituted for “everlasting” the word “eternal” in every passage in the New Testament, where aionios is the original word. Further, if we take the term strictly, eternal punishment is impossible, for the “eternal” in strictness has no beginning.

Again, a point of great importance is this, that it would have been impossible for the Jews, as it is impossible for us, to accept Christ, except by assigning a limited — nay, a very limited duration — to those Mosaic ordinances which were said in the Old Testament to be “for ever,” to be “everlasting” (aeonian). Every line of the New Testament, nay, the very existence of Christianity is thus in fact a proof of the limited sense of aionios in Scripture. Our Baptism in the name of Jesus Christ, our Holy Communion, every prayer uttered in a Christian Church, or in our homes, in the name of the Lord Jesus: our hopes of being “for ever with the Lord” — these contain one and all in an affirmation most real, though tacit, of the temporary sense of aionios.

As a further illustration of the meaning of aion and aionios, let me point out that in the Greek version of the Old Testament (the Septuagint)–in common use among the Jews in Our Lord’s time, from which He and the Apostles usually quoted, and whose authority, therefore, should be decisive on this point — these terms are repeatedly applied to things that have long ceased to exist. Thus the AARONIC priesthood is said to be “everlasting,” Num. 25:13. The land of Canaan is given as an “everlasting” possession, and “for ever,” Gen. 17:8, and 13:15. In Deut. 23:3, “for ever” is distinctly made an equivalent to “even to the tenth generation.” In Lam. 5:19, “for ever and ever” is the equivalent of from “generation to generation.”

The inhabitants of Palestine are to be bondsmen “for ever,” Lev. 25:46. In Num. 18:19, the heave offerings of the holy things are a covenant “for ever.” CALEB obtains his inheritance “for ever,” Josh. 14:9. And DAVID’S seed is to endure “for ever,” his throne “for ever,” his house “for ever;” nay, the passover is to endure “for ever;” and in Isaiah 32:14, the forts and towers shall be “dens for ever, until the spirit be poured upon us.” So in Jude 7, Sodom and Gomorrah are said to be suffering the vengeance of eternal (aeonian) fire, i.e., their temporal overthrow by fire, for they have a definite promise of final restoration. — Ez. 16:55.

And Christ’s kingdom is to last “for ever,” yet we are distinctly told that this very kingdom is to end. — I Cor. 15:24. Indeed, quotation might be added to quotation, both from the Bible and from early2 authors, to prove this limited meaning of aion and its derivatives; but enough has probably been said to prove that it is wholly impossible, and indeed absurd, to contend that any idea of endless duration is necessarily or commonly implied by either aion or aionios.

Further, if this translation of aionios as “eternal,” in the sense of endless, be correct, aion must mean eternity, i.e., endless duration. But so to render it would reduce Scripture to an absurdity. In the first place, you would have over and over again to talk of the “eternities.” We can comprehend what “eternity” is, but what are the “eternities?” You cannot have more than one eternity.

Let me state the dilemma clearly. Aion either means endless duration as its necessary, or at least its ordinary significance, or it does not. If it does, the following difficulties at once arise;

1 — How, if it mean an endless period, can aion have a plural?

2 — How came such phrases to be used as those repeatedly occurring in Scripture, where aion is added to aion, if aion is of itself infinite?

3 — How come such phrases as for the “aion” or aions and BEYOND? — ton aiona kai ep aiona kai eti: eis tous aionas kai eti. — See (Sept.) Ex. 15:18; Dan. 12:3; Micah 4:5.

4 — How is it that we repeatedly read of the end of the aion? — Matt. 13:39-49; Matt. 24:3; Matt. 28:20; I Cor. 10:11; Heb. 9:26.

5 — Finally, if aion be infinite, why is it applied over and over to what is strictly finite? e.g., Mark 4:19; Acts 3:21; Rom. 12:2; 1 Cor. 1:20, 1 Cor. 2:20, 1 Cor. 2:6, 1 Cor. 3:18, 1 Cor. 10:11, etc. But if an aion be not definite, what right have we to render the adjective aionios (which depends for its meaning on aion) by the terms “eternal” (when used as the equivalent of “endless”) and “everlasting?”

Indeed our translators have really done further hurt to those who can only read their English Bible. They have, wholly obscured a very important doctrine, that of “the ages.” This when fully understood throws a flood of light on the plan of redemption, and the method of the divine working.

In these repeated instances [of the different combinations of the terms aion and aionios in the Greek] there must be some definite purpose in the use of these peculiar terms; and we must deeply regret the unfairness and inconsistency which in the case of aion mars and renders unfair our versions. Thus it would be interesting to ask on what principle our Revisers have in one brief epistle employed FIVE different words (or phrases) to translate this one word, aion, e.g., Eph. 1:21; Eph. 2:2-7; Eph. 3:11-21, e.g., “world,” “course,” “age,” “eternal,” “for ever.” Such are the devious ways of our teachers, and our translators.

*1“The word by itself, whether adjective or substantive, never means endless.” — Canon FARRAR.

“The conception of eternity, in the Semitic languages, is that of a long duration and series of ages.” — Rev J. S. BLUNT — Dictionary of Theology.

“‘Tis notoriously known,” says Bishop Rust, “that the Jews, whether writing in Hebrew or Greek, do by olam (the Hebrew word corresponding to aion), and aion mean any remarkable period and duration, whether it be of life, or dispensation, or polity.” “The word aion is never used in Scripture, or anywhere else, in the sense of endlessness (vulgarly called eternity, it always meant, both in Scripture and out, a period of time; else how could it have a plural — how could you talk of the aeons and aeons of aeons as the Scripture does? — C. KINGSLEY.

So the secular games, celebrated every century were called “eternal” by the Greeks. — See HUET, Orig. ii. pg. 162.

*2Thus JOSEPHUS calls “aeonian,” the temple of Herod, which was actually destroyed when he wrote. PHILO never uses aionios of endless duration.

Find the rest of Thomas Allin’s Christ Triumphant here.

J. Preston Eby: Is Man a “free moral agent”?

“Oh, no, beloved, man is not a free moral agent. JESUS CHRIST IS THE ONLY MAN WHO IS A FREE MORAL AGENT. And He made the right choice, the one and only right decision. And HE MADE IT FOR US ALL!”–J. Preston Eby

Chapter 4 of The Savior of the World

 By J. Preston Eby

Just What Do You Mean … MAN IS A FREE MORAL AGENT!

ONCE I read a story about the so-called “free will of man,” and it goes something like this. A certain infidel was reported to have raised his hand and dared God, if there be a God, to bring it down. Now the case was such, the story goes, that the infidel was bald, and there was a fly buzzing around which at that very moment landed on this bald pate and tickled it, and without hesitation down came the hand and swatted the fly. Thus God had answered the fool according to his folly, not by a mighty act of omnipotence, but by the seemingly insignificant weakness of a little fly. Now, this infidel’s public verbal defiance of God was prompted by a desire for fame and notoriety; this he inherited from his human nature. Alone on an island in the middle of the ocean he would never have done such a thing. Next, his baldness was not an act of his own will, for man does not will to be bald, with the top of his head exposed to the elements. Then we see how God used this man’s will against itself. He willed to hold up his hand, but the tickle of the fly was far more momentous in his life than the existence of God, and so while he willed to hold up his hand, he also willed to swat the fly, and God, setting man’s own will against itself, defeated itself. How true is the word, “O Lord, I know that the way of man is not in himself: it is not in man that walks to direct his steps” (Jer. 10:23). You have probably heard it said throughout all of your life, that MAN IS A FREE MORAL AGENT. Let me call attention to the fact that the phrase “free moral agent” is not a Scriptural one, any more than the term “rapture” is Scriptural. Free moral agency is simply a theological expression, man-manufactured for his own convenience, and like most human inventions, and extra-biblical terminology, is not the truth at all. But briefly let us examine these three words: free moral agent.

  1. An AGENT is an actor, one who is able to act or perform.
  2. A FREE agent is one who can act as he pleases without any restraint of any kind placed upon him.
  3. A free MORAL agent is one who is free to act as he pleases and without any restraint on all moral issues, i.e. questions involving the qualities of right and wrong.

I do not believe that the Bible anywhere teaches that man is a free moral agent. That teaching is a figment of the imagination of the harlot church system. In fact, the Bible teaches the exact opposite. It tells us, “It is NOT of him that WILLS or of him that runs, but of GOD that shows mercy” (Rom. 9:16). The biggest lie that ever was told in human language is that all men are born free moral agents. They are not born free. Be honest! Ask, Is that child free who is born in the slums; the child of a harlot and a whoremonger; a child without a name, who grows up with the brand of shame upon his brow from the beginning; who grows up amidst vice, and never knows virtue until it is steeped in vice? Is such a child a FREE MORAL AGENT, free to act intelligently, as he chooses, upon all moral questions? Is that child free who grows up amidst falsehood, and never knows what truth is until it is steeped in lies; that never knows what honesty is until it is steeped in crime? Is that child born free? Is that child free who is born in a communist land and in a godless home; who is told by its government and taught by its teachers that there is no God in heaven, and never knows even a verse of Scripture until it is steeped in unbelief and infidelity? Is that child born free? Is he a free moral agent? It is a sham, a delusion, and a snare to say it. It is not true. All are not born into this world as free moral agents. The truth is much stronger than that, for the fact is, that NONE are free moral agents!

The preachers claim that when God made man in the first place, He endowed him with freedom of will, the ability to accept God’s love or reject it, to keep God’s laws or break them, and that the decision here and now is a final choice. But our Lord says, “No man can come unto Me, except the Father which has sent Me draw him” (Jn. 6:44). Let us think a moment of just how free man is, how far his freedom reaches. A little observation and study will show that man’s freedom has very narrow limits. One is able to wish or desire or purpose as he pleases, but when he comes to carry out his wish or desire or purpose, he finds that he faces a problem. One is not free in the physical realm. Just let him try to jump off the Earth and land on Mars, for example. One is not free in the social realm. Not every man can marry the woman he wishes. One is not free in the economic realm. Not every person who dreams of being a millionaire can become one, no matter how hard he tries. One is not free in the moral and spiritual realm. He may desire with all his being to rid the world of drunkenness and vice, of greed and hate and war, but who has yet accomplished that? Many are not able to free even themselves from a little weed called tobacco!

Life neither begins or ends by choice and free will. Consider the matter of your own physical birth. What did you have to do with it, my friend? May I remind you that you were not consulted in the matter; you were absolutely passive in it; you had nothing whatsoever to do with it. You did not have a choice as to where or when you would be born. You had no choice as to what kind of a home or family you would be born into. Did someone say to you, “Tell me, sir – or would you rather be madam? Would you like to have black hair, or blond hair, or perhaps no hair at all? Would you like to have brown eyes or blue? Would you like to have white skin, or black, or would green, or red, or yellow suit you better? And where would you like to live? In Miami, or Hong Kong, or Siberia, or maybe in the Congo?” Nothing of the sort! You were not even consulted. The sovereign Lord God of heaven and earth brought you into existence and ordained your path without so much as a how-do-you-feel-about-it. And you had no choice as to how you would be born, in what condition or state of being. The Psalmist declared, “Behold, I was brought forth in a state of iniquity; my mother was sinful who conceived me and I, too, am sinful” (Ps. 51:5, Amplified). Well did the apostle Paul write……. “by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned … for by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners” (Rom. 5:12,19). If any man had brought himself into being, then we can conceive of the possibility of his having something to say about his condition and destiny. But mankind had absolutely nothing whatever to do with his coming into this world. It was the choice of God. God chose to bring this creature into existence because He had a definite plan for him in His creative purposes in the whole universe. It was God who formed man of the dust of the ground. It was God who breathed into his nostrils the breath of life. It was God who placed man in the Garden of Eden. It was God who planted the tree of the knowledge of good and evil in the midst of the Garden. It was God who gave the law that man should neither touch this tree nor eat of it. And it was God who made the serpent and put him in the Garden and sent him along one beautiful day to tempt the man. It was GOD!

Even if Adam was a free moral agent, God is responsible for what happened in the Garden, for whatever a free moral agent may do, He is responsible for it who made him a free moral agent. If God made man a free moral agent, then God created within man the propensities for either good or evil which determined his choices. If God made man a free moral agent, He knew beforehand what the result would be, and hence is just as responsible for the consequences of the acts of that free moral agent as He would be for the act of an irresponsible machine that He had made. Man’s free moral agency, even if it were true, would by no means clear God from the responsibility of his acts since God is his Creator and has made him in the first place just what he is, well knowing what the result would be. If God’s will is ever thwarted, then He is not almighty. If His will is thwarted, then His plans must be changed, and hence He is not all-wise and immutable. If His will is never thwarted, then all things are in accordance with His will and He is the architect of all things as they exist. If He is all-wise and all-good, then all things, existing according to His will, must be working toward some wise and wonderful end!

“What shall we conclude then? Is there injustice on God’s part? Certainly not! For He says to Moses, I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion. So then God’s gift is not a question of human will and human effort, but of God’s mercy. It depends not on ones own willingness … but on God’s having mercy on him. For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, I have raised you up for this very purpose of displaying My power in dealing with you, so that My name may be proclaimed the whole world over. So then He has mercy on whomever He wills (chooses) and He hardens – makes stubborn and unyielding of heart – whomever He wills. You will say to me, Why then does He still find fault and blame us for sinning? For who can resist and withstand His will? But who are you, a mere man, to criticize and contradict and answer back to God? Will what is formed say to him that formed it, Why have you made me thus? Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same mass one vessel for beauty and distinction and honorable use, and another for menial or ignoble and dishonorable use?” (Rom. 9:14-21, Amplified).

It is a wicked and cruel lie to say that the unregenerated man is a “free moral agent.” He is no such thing! He is a slave. “We know that the Law is spiritual; but I am a creature of the flesh (carnal), having been SOLD INTO SLAVERY UNDER THE CONTROL OF SIN” (Rom. 7:14, Amplified). The unregenerate man is a slave to sin. He is a slave to Satan. He is a slave of his own carnal mind and deceitfully wicked heart. He is a slave of his own vile passions. How can a man who is a slave and a captive of the devil be a “free moral agent”? Impossible! Adam sold us out. Adam gave us no choice in bringing his progeny under the workings of iniquity. When Adam went into sin, he did not consult with any one of us as to our desire concerning anything he did. None of us had any power or any choice in the condition in which we entered this world. WE WERE NOT SINNERS BY CHOICE, as we have erroneously been told. We are “born in sin, and shapened in iniquity,” with the carnal nature in us from the moment we leave the womb. Being “dead in trespasses and sins,” dead to God, dead to truth, dead to purity, dead to reality, the Adamic race was no longer capable of making a choice or decision for salvation. How truly the apostle wrote in Eph. 2:2-3, “And you … were dead in trespasses and sins: wherein in time past you walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now works in the children of disobedience; among whom also we all had our conversation in times past in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind; and WERE BY N-A-T-U-R-E THE CHILDREN OF WRATH, even as others.”

The message is clear – we were not sinners by choice. We were sinners by NATURE! We were BORN INTO this condition, simply because the first man, Adam, put us all into slavery to sin. We had nothing to say about it. We did not in any way will it, consent to it, or choose it, for we were born into it. And we were not born free moral agents. We were born slaves!

There is no fact more self-evident than the fact of the total depravity of man, or his TOTAL INABILITY to deliver himself from bondage to sin, and this is rooted in the fact that his human spirit is dead from birth. Total depravity means that man in his natural state is incapable of doing anything or desiring anything pleasing to God. Until our spirit is quickened by HIS SPIRIT we are slaves of the flesh and the devil and are enemies to God. When man insists that he still has a “spark” of divine good resident in his heart the Bible says, “The heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked. Who can know it?” (Jer. 17:9). When man contends that he is a free moral agent and can accept or reject the Lord by his own volition, the Word of God contradicts him, declaring, “There is none righteous, no not one! There is none that understands, there is N-O-N-E THAT SEEKS after God” (Rom. 3:10-11).

Man is totally depraved in the sense that everything about his nature is in rebellion against God. Man is loyal to the god of darkness and loves darkness rather than The Light. His will is, therefore, not at all “free”. It is a slave to the flesh. Total depravity means that man, of his own “free will,” will NEVER MAKE A DECISION FOR CHRIST. Our blessed Lord bluntly says, “You will not come to Me, that you might have life” (Jn. 5:40). Why does our Lord say this? Because the will of the unregenerate man is bound by the bands of sin and death to the god of the spiritually dead.

Total depravity means that the natural man is completely incapable of discerning Truth. In fact, unregenerate man thinks of the things of God as being ridiculous! “The natural man receives not the things of the Spirit of God; for they are foolishness to him. Neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned” (I Cor. 2:14). Man cannot see or know the things which relate to the Kingdom of God, without being regenerated first by the Holy Spirit. A dead spirit perceives only the things of man and Satan. Hence the words of Jesus to Nicodemus: “Unless a man is born again, he cannot see the Kingdom of God” (Jn. 3:3). Unborn children do not see the light. Dead men do not see the light.

Unregenerate men cannot comprehend even that they should come to the Light. They are the unborn dead who know only darkness. They are totally depraved, wholly incapable of thinking, perceiving, or doing anything pleasing to God, UNTIL GOD SEES FIT TO GIVE THEM LIFE and understanding. Faith follows the giving of Life. The giving of Life is by the will of God. Notice the order: “God, who is rich in mercy, for His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in sins, has made us alive together with Christ (by grace are you saved)” (Eph. 2:4-5). Man is not saved by some mythical act of his own free will. He is saved by grace, the divine enablement of God who first gives him Life and then imparts faith in his heart as a free gift. Paul continues: “For by grace are you saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the Gift of God. It is not of works, lest any man should boast” (Eph. 2:8-9).

Observe! Saving faith is the GIFT OF GOD, NOT AN EXERCISE OF MAN’S “FREE WILL”! Man must believe, certainly, but it is not the old deceitful and desperately wicked heart, nor the old carnal mind which believes, but the faith graciously imparted by God as a gift is the agency of man’s believing. God has decreed that the works of the flesh shall have no part in the “so great salvation” which He Himself provides. It is His work through the Gift of Life. He regenerated us when we were dead in sins. Life is His Gift. Faith is His Gift. We are saved by a faith which “is not of ourselves.” We believed by the faith which GOD GIVES, not by our own FREE WILL! Until a man has been quickened by the Holy Spirit the word is: “Why do you not understand My speech? Even because you cannot hear My word! You are of your father the devil” (Jn. 8:43-44). But once God quickens us by the Gift of Life and the Gift of Faith the word is:” It is GOD who works in you both to will and to do of His good pleasure” (Phil. 2:13).

Wise men standing by the grave of Lazarus might pronounce it an evidence of insanity when the Lord addressed a dead man with the words, “Lazarus, Come forth.” Ah! but He who thus spoke was and is Himself the Resurrection, and the Life, and at HIS word even the dead live! Just as Lazarus would never have heard the voice of Jesus, nor would he have ever “come to Jesus,” without first being given Life by our Lord, so all men “dead in trespasses and sins,” must-first be given Life by God before they can “come to Christ.” Since dead men cannot will to receive Life, but can be raised from the dead only by the power of God, so the natural man cannot of his own mythical “free will,” will to have eternal life (Jn. 10:26-28). He must be given God’s gift of saving faith. If Jesus had had no more than an “invitation” for Lazarus to receive Life, He could have knocked at that tombstone door for a long time. But Christ spoke the Life-giving Word and that Word brought Lazarus to life and caused his heart to begin to beat and his lungs to work, and Lazarus heard the voice of his Master and received the faith to arise and walk out of the darkness of that tomb of death.

The natural man is a third rate power. He is not able to resist Satan because his will is inferior to the will of the devil. Paul says that those who oppose the ministers of God’s truth are in the snare of the devil and “are taken captive by him at his will” (II Tim. 2:26). How can the devil ensnare the lost “at his will”? For the simple reason that man, without the Holy Spirit, is an inferior power who cannot resist the devil but walks “according to the course of this world, according to the Prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now works in the children of disobedience” (Eph. 2:2). And consequently, Jesus says, “NO MAN CAN COME TO ME, except the Father which has sent Me draw him” (Jn. 6:44). A plain example of this is the business woman named Lydia who heard the apostles teaching the Word of God, and “whose heart the Lord opened..” (Acts 16:14). Who opened her heart to Jesus? Does the Bible teach that the sinner opened her heart to the Lord, or does the Scripture teach that it is THE LORD WHO OPENS HEARTS?

As someone has said, “Here is a man that is dead, lying in a casket in the ground. What will you do to raise him? Will you bring your flute and play a sweet melody to woo him out of the grave? Perhaps a great thunderstorm could come and the lightning could strike around him and the thunder could shake the earth and boom and crash with its mighty voice. But neither the sweet music of the flute nor the mighty thundering above would have any effect whatsoever on the dead in their graves. They hear not; neither do they know. Nor, can the thundering of the Law or the sweet music of the Gospel have any effect on the mind and soul that is dead in sin. It needs one thing. It needs to be made alive! By a POWER BEYOND ITSELF! ‘You has He made alive that were dead.’ ” Therefore, until God first of all comes with His grace and MAKES MEN ALIVE, there is nothing that man can do. Only GOD can raise the dead! True, God requires repentance and faith that we might be saved. But, praise His name, that which He requires, He also freely gives, that the whole thing may be of grace. Yet Christendom insists on a doctrine of man being a “free moral agent,” even though the Word of God exposes this as being utterly false in every degree. Most emphatically do I declare: We are NOT free moral agents! “The creature was made subject to vanity, NOT WILLINGLY, but by reason of HIM WHO HAS SUBJECTED the same in hope” (Rom. 8:20).

THE SINNER MUST DECIDE!

Strange as it may seem there are many today who insist that they believe in salvation by grace, yet they insist that man has the power to “make a decision for Christ.” They argue that “God loves everyone, equally and alike,” yet they are sure that He is going to send some people to hell for ever. They affirm that the Bible teaches that the Creator of all things is surely omnipotent, but they are also quite confident that finite man is fully capable of obstructing the will of God. In nearly every case the problem lies in the fact that these dear people do not know Bible truth. They have heard nothing from their pulpits but “plan of salvation” sermons minus the wonderful truths which make up the plan! If they were asked to explain the meaning of such doctrines as redemption, propitiation, reconciliation, remission, and atonement, they would either mutter trivia or be absolutely speechless. Why? Because they have never been taught, nor have they had the spiritual vigor necessary to discover for themselves, what Scripture actually teaches about the work of Christ. There is one thing they hold in common: the confidence that man can use his own “positive volition” or “free will” to accept Christ and get himself “saved.”

More than a century ago a great man of God, A. P. Adams, penned the following: “I wish to add a word further in regard to the salvation of all men, suggested by the following extract which I clip from one of my exchanges. The extract is as follows: The Rev. B. W. Ward, the popular Boston evangelist, and efficient superintendent of the Bleeker Street Mission, thus beautifully illustrates the gift of salvation: A friend of mine invited me into a jewelry store, and asked the clerk for samples of their pocket knives. Placing the price of the best one alongside of it, on the counter, he said, ‘Ward, I want to make you a little present. There’s a knife and there is the price of it. Make your choice. Take which one you will as a memento from me.’ Now, said the evangelist, whose knife was that while it lay there on the counter? It wasn’t mine. It would become mine by my deciding to accept it; but without such an act on my part it was not for me. So of salvation. Jesus has paid the price, but the sinner must decide whether or not he will reach forth and take it before it becomes his.

“In this extract it will be seen that the salvation of the individual is made to depend upon his own decision. THE SINNER MUST DECIDE, and as he decides so will his future destiny be to all eternity. Thus one’s salvation is practically made to depend on one’s self. God and Christ have done, or are doing their part, and now they simply wait for the sinner’s decision. By the way, how long did God wait for the ‘decision’ of Saul of Tarsus when ‘it pleased God to call him?’ Most people, however, would accept the above extract as a correct presentation of the case, and would assent thereto without any hesitation. But there is a fatal defect in the illustration. The case of the one choosing the knife is NOT PARALLEL TO THAT OF THE SINNER CHOOSING SALVATION, because the former has his EYES WIDE OPEN and knows full well the value of what is presented to him for his choice, while the LATTER IS BLINDED, and knows not what he does. ‘But if our gospel be hid, it is hid to them that are lost: in whom the god of this world has blinded the minds of them which believe not, lest the light of the glorious gospel of Christ … should shine unto them’ (11 II Cor. 4:3-4).

“The Bible plainly teaches that fallen man is blinded to the truth; the soulish man receives not the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness unto him, neither can he know them because they are spiritually discerned, and the soulish man has not the Spirit. Thus the sinner does not realize and appreciate the value of the salvation that is offered to him. In the first place, he does not know that he is lost, and hence feels no need of salvation. Secondly, this sinner does not know that the salvation offered him in Christ is worth anything. All he has to go by in determining its worth is the lives of those who profess to possess it, and they for the most part, are very deficient illustrations of its merit. Furthermore the sinner is surrounded by circumstances entirely adverse to his acceptance of Christ. And finally, worse than all, ‘the mind of the flesh,’ a corrupt nature, an ‘evil heart of unbelief,’ a ‘body of death,’ that leans toward the bad and opposes the good continually; and mark you, all these things are circumstances over which the individual has no control and for which he is not to blame.

“Again, mark you, that if he overcomes these unfavorable circumstances and in spite of them does accept Christ, it must be by some power OUTSIDE OF HIMSELF, for in himself he would never have any power for his own deliverance. This is the teaching of the seventh chapter of Romans. God must deliver him if he is delivered at all! He must bring him to a knowledge of his lost condition, so that he will feel his need of a Saviour, and He must give him repentance and faith. God must open his eyes so that he shall not only see the need, but also the priceless value of salvation, that like the apostle Paul, he will be willing to count all thing but dross for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus his Lord.

“And he must be endowed with power to overcome the evil around and within him. All this help must come from God, and must be imparted to the sinner before he can make the slightest movement toward salvation. Are there any such elements as these in the case of the man choosing the knife? Is it not plain that that illustration and the case of the sinner are NOT PARALLEL at all? And yet just such illustrations are constantly presented as setting forth exactly the case of the sinner in ‘his’ choice or rejection of salvation in Christ! The fact is there are many factors to be taken into account in the regeneration and new creation of a human being. It is no such small matter as picking up a little present that a friend passes over to you. Hence these illustrations are very faulty and misleading” -end quote.

When addressing the unsaved, an evangelist often drew an analogy between God’s sending of the Gospel to the sinner, and a sick man in bed, with some healing medicine on a table by his side: all he needs to do is reach forth his hand and take it. But in order for this illustration to be in any wise true to the picture which Scripture gives us of the fallen and depraved sinner, the sick man in bed must be described as one who is blind (Eph. 4:18) so that he cannot see the medicine, his hand paralyzed (Rom. 5:6) so that he is unable to reach forth for it, and his heart not only devoid of all confidence in the medicine but filled with hatred against the physician himself (Jn. 15:18). Oh, what superficial views of man’s desperate plight are not entertained! Christ came here not to help those who were willing to help themselves, or even those willing to be helped, but to do for people what they were incapable of doing for themselves: “To open the blind eyes, to bring out the prisoners from the prison, and them that sit in darkness out of the prison house” (Isa. 42:7).

Someone will ask, “Will God save men eventually against their will?” The answer is no! He will have no need to do that, for all men will be one hundred percent willing when God reveals Himself to them. Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, the ears of the deaf shall be unstopped, and the doors of the prison house shall be opened. We have only to consider the case of Saul of Tarsus to understand the miraculous power of the Lord to change the leopard’s spots and melt the heart of stone. There are those who suppose that God could not convert a soul unless that depraved and lost soul gives to almighty God that permission. I only wish they would ask the apostle Paul, that great despiser of Christ and hater of His Church, that persecutor of Christians, who while on his way to Damascus was suddenly cast to the ground and converted. No man was ever more hateful toward Christ than was Saul of Tarsus, yet, when his turn came to see the light, he changed in an instant, crying out in fear and trembling and with bitter repentance, “Who art You, Lord?” and “What will You have me to do?” Did God ask Saul of Tarsus whether or not he wanted to be saved? Or did He say to Ananias, “He is a chosen vessel unto Me to bear My name before the Gentiles, and kings, and the children of Israel” (Acts 9:15)? It is only God who can change the human heart, and when God wills to change every single human heart in earth and in hell, each will be changed in an instant. Some suppose that God is desperately trying to convert every human being in the world … ah, but He cannot do it, because mighty man, sovereign man, will not allow it! Yahweh does all of His pleasure. “As I have purposed so shall it come to pass,” says the Lord. Where do these man-made preachers get the notion that man is a FREE MORAL AGENT? Indeed, he may be free in some minor things that concern his personal conduct, but concerning God’s eternal purpose for him HE IS NOT FREE to do his own will, for “it is NOT OF HIM THAT WILLS or HIM THAT RUNS, BUT GOD THAT SHOWS MERCY” (Rom. 9:16). God in His great mercy has condescended to extend mercy to all men, He sent His Son to die for all men, to redeem all men, to reconcile all back to God, and in due time He sent also His Holy Spirit to invincibly draw them unto Himself. In the day of the power of God, men are made willing and, having been quickened by that Spirit, renewed in mind, having been given a heart of flesh, they do come most willingly, having been made willing BY HIS POWER. What an exalted view is this of our OMNIPOTENT GOD AND SAVIOR!

There is an overwhelming desire in my heart that God’s precious people might know that GOD IS GOD, glorious in power, fearful in praises, DOING WONDERS. I long with a great longing that His people will repent of ever having believed the insipid and useless traditions that make the almighty God seem to be a victim of the will of His own creation. It is my opinion that most of the theology of the church system is stupid prattle that seeks to render the almighty God impotent by robbing Him of His omnipotence. It teaches that God gave His Son that all the world through Him might be saved and then renders His sacrifice hopeless by leaving ninety-nine percent of all His creatures in the hands of the devil for all eternity. Such a doctrine as that belittles the power and wisdom of God and does despite to the Spirit of grace, the atoning work of Christ, and the precious blood that He shed so that the world through Him might be saved. Such a doctrine as that is, undoubtedly, one of the “doctrines of devils” of which Paul warned. I say that because I cannot think of anyone outside of the devil himself who would be happy with the prospect that Calvary was such a colossal failure! But the preachers, including some who profess to be in the “Kingdom Message,” would lay down their lives for such an abominable heresy!

My dear friend and brother Elwin Roach has given a striking illustration of the ludicrousness of the popular teachings concerning man’s “free will” and God’s judgments. He writes, “I recall having written quite a number of years ago a scenario of a very wealthy family man who was the mayor of his village as well as the judge whose brother was the chief constable. He was honorable, the pillar in the city who was loved by all. He was generous to a fault, giving freely to anyone who was in need. He was one who would sacrifice and do without so others would be blessed. His generosity went to the extreme at times, so much so, that he deprived his own children in order for complete strangers to eat and have a roof over their heads. He was a man that everyone admired, even worshiped by some. A few did, however, fear him because they knew he was a very strict man of matchless authority. It was a side of him that no one should cross; for rumors had it that not only was this philanthropist a man of love and ultimate sacrifice for others, but that he had a vindictive side as well, so do not, and I repeat, do not cross him! If you should, it would be hell to pay… f-o-r-e-v-e-r! He would never forgive and certainly would never forget.

“The story goes that he was having guests over for a special dinner to celebrate the awards he had received for his humanitarian services to the poor of his community as well as his humanitarian work throughout the world. There was no end to his love and giving. Wherever there were people hurting, he tried to be there to help relieve their suffering.

“After dining on the finest of cuisines and during the celebration, a young man noticed a door at the end of a long, dimly lit hallway. The door was of old, tattered wood with huge iron hinges and a latch that seemed would take a little effort to life it. The décor of the door was out of place in such a beautiful mansion; but there it stood for all to see, almost as if this wonderful man wanted people’s eye to be drawn to it. He asked a few around him to where did that door lead. Some had no clue, while a few who had known about this man of honor for a long time, said, ‘Stay out of there. Don’t get close to that door. It leads to a place you don’t want to go. Be warned!’

“After his curiosity could no longer be contained, he cautiously slipped down the hallway toward the door without anyone noticing. The latch was not nearly as hard to lift as it looked, and the door swung open with ease. It led down a dimly lit, foreboding staircase, and to his horror, utter shock, he saw the most heinous torture chambers he could have imagined. There were torture racks, beds of needle sharp spikes, red-hot iron rods resting in beds of live coals of fire, and horrific implements that staggers the mind. To this young man’s amazement were three of the honorable man’s children who seemed to be from around 17 years old to perhaps 29 or 30. But the worst part was their remorseful groans. It was so horrible that he thought that he must be asleep and was having a terrible nightmare; but if it was, he was not able to wake up.

“These poor kids were being tortured day in and day out by hired thugs who delighted in what they were doing. They were so demented that it was all a big game to them. It would have been merciful if they could die; but these bottom of the barrel hirelings made sure they did not torture unto death, and gave the bare minimum of food and water to keep them alive, but never enough to satisfy their hunger and thirst.

“The man in his horror, screamed out, ‘What in your loving father’s name are you doing here? Does he know about this?’ The answers were all the same: ‘Yes, he knows we are here. He put us here. Not thinking he could be serious we all ignored his warnings after we became of age and could make our own decisions. He told us that after becoming of age, if we chose to live the way we wanted to rather than what was required of us, that he would throw us into this cellar to be punished for the rest of our lives. He loved us so much that we could not believe he would carry through with it, even to the point of not letting us soon die so the torment would end. If only we had taken heed to our loving father’s demands and chose his ways rather than those of out youthful temptations, we would be upstairs being enraptured by the festivities that everyone else is enjoying. But it is too late, so late, eternally too late. Oh, father, I wish we had a second chance; but like you warned, that will never be.’

“His heart was being torn out by what he was seeing and was told by the man’s children, as his attention was drawn to the awful screams of one of the servants. He asked what was her offense that caused her to be imprisoned here and tortured? ‘I was caught lying about my coworkers, and I didn’t repent and confess my sin before the end of the week, the deadline I was given. It came and was gone before I had a change of heart. Now it is too late, too late, forever too late.’ Another servant sorrowfully told him that he was sentenced to this fate for stealing and drinking several bottles of his masters best wine. He said, ‘I was told that this would be the punishment for stealing and drinking unto drunkenness. I should have known better, but temptation got the best of me, and now I will always be paying for the debt that can never be paid.’

“In this scenario, after witnessing such a surreal nightmare, we can see him slowly climbing the stairs back to the party where everyone is rejoicing and praising their wonderful host for his unprecedented love and generosity for all who were meritoriously invited to his banquet. But the stunned man cannot reconcile what he had just seen in that horrid torture chamber with what the host of honor was ravishing upon his guests in paradise made especially for them.

“After a few moments, that seem like an eternity had past, the man could not refrain from questioning his benevolent host. ‘How could it be, Sir, that you lavished such love upon everyone here; but you are having your own children and servants tortured in the basement below?’ Without hesitation, and showing no emotion, he said, ‘First, it is beyond me that you would question a man of my stature, the mayor, the judge, the one who has made this town and provided jobs for everyone who lives here. Nonetheless, I will put your concerns to rest. You see, I taught my children, as well as my servants, throughout their earlier childhood about rewards and punishments. Of course, to be fair, I gave them a sacred free-will that I would never trespass. They could choose to obey the rules I established for my household, or they could choose to disobey, and they knew the consequences. If they had obeyed, I would have rewarded them beyond measure. They would be here with the rest of us if they had been obedient; but if they freely chose to disobey and live frivolously. They knew their punishment would be without measure, and for the rest of their lives. They knew what was facing them, and still, they went astray. So, I had no choice, especially since I had given my irrevocable word of what would happen. I didn’t want to do this, but they made me! They forced my hand! Now, do you understand?’

“We know that no one in their right mind could understand or accept such an atrocity. Only on rare instances do evil people hold others in captivity and torture them, and those who do are labeled as demented, diabolical fiends. Yet, so many in the world of most religions say that our God, the Father of all, is that way.

“Some of you might feel that the above scenario is a bit harsh and unrealistic; but this is a very accurate example of what has been formed in the minds people over the centuries.” – end quote

THE SHEPHERD SEEKS THE SHEEP

In Luke 15:4 we read, “What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he lose one of them, does not leave the ninety and nine in the wilderness and go after that which is lost UNTIL HE FIND IT?” In this passage we find that at the end of the day, the shepherd finds that he is just one little sheep short of completeness. There is only one outside – so why bother to go after that one, for perhaps that one is one of the rebellious ones anyway and will not choose to come back!

But the Shepherd we are dealing with in this story is not an ordinary shepherd. This is the Great and Good Shepherd of the sheep and nothing will stop Him or prevent Him from finding that last sheep. This Shepherd will not be content with even an extraordinary effort to find the sheep and then give up, feeling that He has done His duty. Neither does He “call” the sheep, and then wait to see if the sheep decides to come, and if not, just leave him there in his lost condition to die. This Shepherd searches UNTIL HE FINDS. And the FINDING of this Shepherd is not only the locating of the sheep, but it also includes the bringing back into the fold of that sheep.

If you know anything at all about sheep, you know that a sheep is helpless to find its way back to the rest of the flock. Not only that, but it becomes subject to every danger that is near to it, yet it never recognizes that danger. This is exactly the condition of mankind today. Mankind, being dead in trespasses and sins and in rebellion against God, does not know how to get to God. In fact much of humanity does not even think of getting to God. They have come to the point where they are quite satisfied with their condition just as the sheep is satisfied with its condition as it feeds, knowing not that it is lost. Mankind does not know the way back to God. Mankind must wait until IT IS FOUND. He does not even know he is lost. How will the lost ever come to God of himself, of his own “free will”? If he were able to come HE WOULD NOT BE LOST. Men do not even know they are lost, or where they are going. Ah, the Shepherd must find the sheep, and not the sheep find the Shepherd! And Jesus said the Shepherd would seek until. Jesus said He came to seek and to save those lost ones. Not the lost ones seek God but GOD SEEK THE LOST!

Most of the religious teaching today would have us believe that Christ has done all He can for the sinner, so He has now gone back to His heaven and is seated upon His golden throne waiting for all who will to be saved. According to this thinking, God through Jesus has done all He can possibly do and has now left the work of saving souls to the Church, hoping that some, at least, will be persuaded to accept the Saviour. The Church must go out and contact all the sinners they can and see if they cannot get them to “accept Christ.” But, of course, if the sinner does not want to be saved, then even God in all His power cannot intervene and nothing is left but eternal hell fire and damnation for that sinner. But just what does this line of reasoning reveal? The tragedy of it is that it shows us nothing but a POWERFUL MANKIND and a WEAK GOD!

Another thing this line of teaching suggests is that God, having finished the work of redemption, then turns it all over to a rather carnal Church that does not truly know God, does not even understand God’s great plan of the ages, and cares far more about making proselytes to a denomination than in bringing people into a living relationship with Jesus Christ. The average Church today cares more about its programs, its missionary efforts, its buildings, its committee meetings and its budget than it does about making known to the world the glad news that God has reconciled the whole world to Himself and He shall not rest until every heart has surrendered and the very last sheep has been carried back to the fold. Nothing stops or hinders this Shepherd, for if He did fail in this effort, He could never rest knowing that one of His sheep was lost and eternally destroyed. He does not send anyone else or leave it to the sheep to find its way back. HE HIMSELF GOES UNTIL HE FINDS.

Let us have these things right and straight in our minds. Let us see these things correctly. Nothing is left in any way to chance. The Shepherd sends no one out to look for the sheep, but goes Himself. Granted, HE GOES THROUGH HIS BODY, but He is not sitting idly by to see what will happen. His mission goes on until it is one hundred percent successful and the LAST ONE is found. Nothing will stop the work of the Shepherd until that last sheep is made to correctly know the Shepherd, who He is, and His great love for him. The Shepherd DOES SEEK until He finds the last one, no matter how long it takes or to what depths He must search!

Someone will ask, “But doesn’t God command sinners to CHOOSE this day whom they will serve and to SEEK the Lord while He may be found?” ABSOLUTELY NOT! Oh, yes, the Scripture does say, “And if it seem evil unto you to serve the Lord, CHOOSE YOU THIS DAY WHOM YOU WILL SERVE; whether the gods which your fathers served that were on the other side of the flood, or the god of the Amorites, in whose land you dwell: but as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord” (Jos. 24:15). But those words were never spoken to the unsaved man, without God and without hope in the world; these were the words of God’s prophet to Israel, GOD’S PEOPLE, as they possessed the promised land! God has nowhere, in all the pages of His blessed Book, commanded unconverted sinners to “choose” between Him and anything else. DEAD MEN DON’T MAKE CHOICES.

And yes, the Scripture does say, “SEEK ye THE LORD WHILE HE MAY BE FOUND, call upon Him while He is near: let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts: and let him return unto the Lord, and He will have mercy upon him; and to our God, for He will abundantly pardon” (Isa. 55:6-7). But again, these words were never addressed to the sinner who never had a relationship with the Lord. They were thundered by the prophet Isaiah to GOD’S BACKSLIDING PEOPLE in a time of spiritual declension and apostasy. It is God’s own people who must “seek” the Lord, not the man who is lost and cannot find his way. Thus it is that Jesus said, “For the Son of man is come to SEEK AND TO SAVE THAT WHICH WAS LOST” (Lk. 19:10). It is the Lord’s people who are called upon to “choose” between Him and the ways of the flesh, the world, and the devil, not the man who is dead, for “the dead know not anything” (Eccl. 9:5), and are totally incapable of choosing anything but sin.

The popular Churches ridiculously assert that spiritually dead men must somehow “choose” the Lord, but God’s testimony about it is just the opposite. The bluntest affirmation that man does not do the choosing of God is that our Lord Jesus Christ Himself testified, “You have not chosen Me, but I HAVE CHOSEN YOU” (Jn. 15:16). In fact, according to Paul, that choice was made by God before He ever made so much as one single thing! “According as HE HAS CHOSEN US in Christ before the foundation of the world” (Eph. 1:4). It is tantamount to blasphemy for anyone to argue that man is capable, of his own “free will,” to make a decision for Christ. Note the testimony of Luke: “And when the Gentiles heard this, they were glad, and glorified the Word of the Lord; and as many as were ordained to eternal life, believed” (Acts 13:48). The Lord Jesus insists that Life and Faith are the work of God, not the work of man. He said……. “the Son gives life to whom He will” and “this is the work of God, that you believe on Him whom God has sent” (Jn. 6:29; 5:21). In all fairness, the evangelist who says to the crowd, “Whosoever comes to Jesus will in no wise be cast out,” should add the preceding words of Christ: “All that the Father gives Me shall come to Me” (Jn. 6:37). Who is it that will not be cast out? All who come to Him! Who, then, will come to the Saviour? He says, “All whom the Father gives Me.” The choice as to who will come to Christ at any given moment is God’s, not man’s. God does not call all men at the same time. Some are ordained to eternal life, right now, while others will be called later. “For as in Adam ALL DIE, even so in Christ shall ALL BE MADE ALIVE. BUT EVERY MAN IN HIS OWN ORDER…” (I Cor. 15:22-23).

If it were left up to man he would NEVER BELIEVE, for man is totally depraved, totally incapable of that which is good. Left on his own to make a decision for Christ, without first being given life and faith by an act of God, man would never of his own “free will” come to Jesus. “You will not come to Me, that you might have life” (Jn. 5:40).

‘Tis not I that did choose You. For, Lord, that could not be:
This heart would still refuse You, Had You not chosen me!

In the true and eloquent words of another, “Let me interject a foundational truth here. It is a truth seldom, if ever, heard among the people of God. The preachers and evangelists studiously avoid it, but it is fundamental to all our understanding of the work of God in this present age. It is a truth given by no less an authority than God’s only begotten Son. The following three Scriptures vividly point out God’s method of choosing those who are elected to be saved in this age and in the ages to come: First, ‘No man can come to Me except the Father which has sent Me draw him’ (Jn. 6:44). The second is this: ‘All that the Father gives Me shall come to Me; and him that comes unto Me I will in no wise cast out’ (Jn. 6:37). And the third is: ‘Father, the hour is come; glorify Your Son, that Your Son also may glorify You: as You have given Him power (authority) over all flesh, that He should give eternal life to as many (all flesh) as You have given Him’ (Jn. 17:1-2). Christians blindly strive under the mistaken idea that, if they will only meet certain conditions, God will reply by bringing every man into the fold of Christ in this present age. My friend, this is a very great error. It is about as far from the truth as anything could possibly be. God does not intend to bring all men into the fold now. If that were His intention, He could do it with but one word of His omnipotence. When God’s eternal voice speaks, saying, ‘Let there be fight,’ then light immediately floods the universe as it did in the beginning. There is no need for a candle nor the light of the sun, for the Lord God gives them light. That light could not be matched by ten thousand suns, for the light that shone out of darkness in the beginning is the same light that lightens every man that comes into the world. It is the light that shines into the benighted souls, bringing the life of the ages to men who are sleeping in death. ‘Lazarus, come forth!’ called the Lord, and a dead man sprang from his tomb to reply. ‘Saul! Saul!’ Jesus called to a disconsolate and determined persecutor, and he quickly replied, ‘Lord, what wilt You have me to do?’ And so will it be when He calls you, your child, your husband, or your wife with His still small voice, speaking to the inner ear. Whether it be John, George, Henry, Joan, Phyllis, or Louise, all will fall at His feet in penitence and brokenness the moment He speaks, crying, ‘Here am I, Lord! What wilt You have me to do?’

“It is useless to try to gather all the world into the Kingdom in this dispensation, for that is not God’s purpose in this age. No man comes except the Father draw him. Those who insist on bringing all the world in now are trying to do in this age the work that God Himself has said should be done in the dispensation of the fullness of times. In the dispensation of the fullness of times, His immutable Word has declared, He will gather all things into Christ, both which are in heaven and in earth, even in Him (Eph. 1:10). ‘ALL that the Father has given Me SHALL COME to Me,’ said Jesus, and you may be sure that this is the truth. At the end of this age there will not be one soul missing of all that number of the ‘firstfruits’ who were predestined to come to Him, and, when the age to come has run its course, there will not be one missing of all who are appointed to come to Him in that blessed age. So also may we declare for that wonderful AGE OF THE AGES, the dispensation of the fullness of the times, for God’s Word has faithfully declared that in that glorious age of all ages every missing sheep will be accounted for as God gathers together in one the all things into Christ ” -end quote.

Some have tried to say that in Eph. 1:10 the things gathered into one in the Christ are limited to those things already in Christ, that is, that it is all things that are “in Christ” that are gathered “into one.” That is a mistake that those who oppose the ultimate salvation of all men are only too eager to make, and the error comes from a faulty understanding of what is actually said due to the wording in the King James version. ALL OTHER VERSIONS OF THE SCRIPTURES CLEARLY SHOW THAT SUCH IS NOT THE CASE. It is not “all things in Christ” that are gathered “into one.” It is ALL THINGS IN HEAVEN AND IN EARTH GATHERED INTO ONENESS IN AND UNDER THE CHRIST. The Amplified Bible says, “He planned for the maturity of the times and the climax of the ages to UNIFY ALL THINGS and head them up and CONSUMMATE THEM IN CHRIST, both things in heaven and things on earth.” The Moffatt translation reads, “It was the purpose of His design to so order it in the fullness of the ages that ALL THINGS IN HEAVEN AND EARTH alike should be gathered up in Christ.” J. B. Phillips renders, “He purposed long ago in His sovereign will that all human history should be consummated in Christ, that everything that exists in heaven or earth should find its perfection and fulfillment in Him.” We could go on from version to version and they all with one voice show that in the dispensation of the fullness of times God shall gather together into one, into the Christ, ALL THINGS AND ALL BEINGS IN HEAVEN AND IN EARTH. From age to age, those that the Father has given the Christ in each age, will come to Him, praise His name. When the last and crowning age is ended ALL shall have been gathered together into the Christ. What anticipation this stirs in our hearts!

THE WILL OF MAN

At this point I wish to share some searching and enlightening words penned by a servant of the Lord more than eighty-five years ago. “Concerning the nature and the power of man’s will, the greatest confusion prevails today, and the most erroneous views are held, even by many of God’s children. The popular idea now prevailing, which is taught from the great majority of pulpits, is that man has a ‘free will,’ and that salvation comes to the sinner through his will co-operating with the Holy Spirit. To deny the ‘free will’ of man, i.e. his power to choose that which is good, his native ability to accept Christ, is to bring one into disfavor at once, even before most of those who profess to be orthodox. And yet Scripture emphatically says, ‘It is not of him that wills, nor of him that runs, but of God that shows mercy’ (Rom. 9:16). Which shall we believe: God, or the preachers?

“But does not Scripture say, ‘Whosoever will may come’? It does, but does this mean that everybody has the will to come? What of those who won’t come? ‘Whosoever will may come’ no more implies that fallen man has the power in himself to come, than ‘Stretch forth Your hand’ implies that the man with the withered arm had the inherent ability in himself to comply. It should be obvious that the ability came from the One who spoke the word: ‘Stretch forth your hand.’ In and Of himself the natural man has power to reject Christ; but in and of himself he has not the power to receive Christ. And why? Because he has a mind that is ‘enmity against’ Him (Rom. 8:7); because he has a heart that hates Him (Jn. 15:18). Man chooses that which is according to his nature, and therefore before he will ever choose or prefer that which is divine and spiritual, a new nature must be imparted to him; in other words, he must be born again.

“Let me appeal to the actual experience of the reader of these lines. Was there not a time when you were unwilling to come to Christ? There was. Since then you have come to Him. Are you now prepared to give Him all the glory for that (Ps. 115:1)? Do you not acknowledge that you came to Christ because the Holy Spirit brought you from unwillingness to willingness? You do. Then is it not also a patent fact that the Holy Spirit has not done in many others what He has done in you! Granting that many others have heard the Gospel, been shown their need of Christ, yet, they are still unwilling to come to Him. Thus He has wrought more in you, than in them. Do you answer, Yet I remember well the time when the word of salvation was presented to me, and my conscience testifies that my will acted and that I yielded to the claims of Christ upon me. Quite true. But before you ‘Yielded,’ the Holy Spirit overcame the native enmity of your mind against God, and this enmity He does not overcome in all at this time. Should it be said, That is because they are unwilling for their enmity to be overcome? Ah, none are thus ‘willing’ till He has put forth His all-mighty power and wrought a miracle of grace in the heart.

“But let us now inquire, What is the human Will? Is it a self-determining agent, or is it, in turn, determined by something else? Is it sovereign or servant? Is the will superior to every other faculty of our being so that it governs them, or is it moved by their impulses and subject to their pleasure? Does the will rule the mind, or does the mind control the will? Is the will free to do as it pleases, or is it under the necessity of rendering obedience to something outside of itself?

“What is the Will? We answer, the will is the faculty of choice, the immediate cause of all action. Choice necessarily implies the refusal of one thing and the acceptance of another. The positive and the negative must both be present to the mind before there can be any choice. In every act of the will there is a preference – the desiring of one thing rather than another. Where there is no preference, but complete indifference, there is no volition. To will is to choose, and to choose is to decide between two or more alternatives. But there is something which influences the choice; something which determines the decision. Hence the will cannot be sovereign because it is the servant of that something. The will cannot be both sovereign and servant. It cannot be both cause and effect. The will is not causative, because, as we have said, something causes it TO CHOOSE, therefore that something must be the causative agent. Choice itself is affected by certain considerations, is determined by various influences brought to bear upon the individual himself, hence, volition is the effect of these considerations and influences, and if the effect, it must be their servant; and if the will is their servant then it is not sovereign, and if the will is not sovereign, we certainly cannot predicate absolute ‘freedom’ of it.

“That which determines the will is that which causes it to choose. If the will is determined, then there must be a determiner. What is it that determines the will? We reply, THE STRONGEST MOTIVE POWER WHICH IS BROUGHT TO BEAR UPON IT. What this motive power is, varies in different cases. With one it may be the logic of reason, with another the voice of conscience. with another the impulse of the emotions, with another the whisper of the Tempter, with another the power of the Holy Spirit; whichever of these presents the strongest motive power and exerts the greatest influence upon the individual himself, is that which impels the will to act. In other words, the action of the will is determined by that condition of mind which has the greatest degree of tendency to excite volition.

“Human philosophy insists that it is the will which governs the man, but the Word of God teaches that it is the heart which is the dominating center of our being. Many Scriptures might be quoted in substantiation of this. ‘Keep your heart with all diligence; for out of it are the issues of life’ (Prov. 4:23). ‘For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders,’ etc. (Mk. 7:21). Here our Lord traces these sinful acts back to their source, and declares that their fountain is the ‘heart,’ and not the will! Again, ‘This people draws nigh unto Me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me’ (Mat. 15:8). If further proof were required we might call attention to the fact that the word ‘heart’ is found in the Bible more than three times oftener than is the word ‘will,’ and nearly half of the references to the latter refer to God’s will!

“When we affirm that it is the heart and not the will which governs man, we are not merely striving about words, but insisting on a distinction that is of vital importance. Here is an individual before whom two alternatives are placed; which will he choose? We answer, The one which is most agreeable to himself, i.e., his ‘heart’ – the innermost core of his being. Before the sinner is set a life of virtue and piety, and a life of sinful indulgence; which will he follow? The latter. Why? Because this is his choice. But does that prove the will is sovereign? Not at all. Go back from effect to cause. WHY does the sinner choose a life of sinful indulgence? Because he prefers it – and he does prefer it, all arguments to the contrary notwithstanding. And why does he prefer it? Because his heart is sinful. The same alternatives, in like manner, confront the Christian, and he chooses and strives after a life of piety and virtue. Why? Because God has given him a new heart or nature. Hence we say that it is not the will which makes the sinner impervious to all appeals to ‘forsake his way,’ but his corrupt and evil heart. He will not come to Christ, because he does not want to, and he does not want to because his heart hates Him and loves sin (Jer. 17:9).

“In what does the sinner’s ‘free will’ consist? The sinner is ‘free’ in the sense of being unforced from without. God never forces the sinner to sin. But the sinner is not free to choose or do either good or evil, because an evil heart within is ever inclining him toward sin. Let us illustrate what we have in mind. I hold in my hand a book. I release it; what happens? It falls. In what direction? Downwards; always downwards. Why? Because, answering the law of gravity, its own weight sinks it. Suppose I desire that book to occupy a position three feet higher; then what? I must lift it; a power outside of that book must raise it. Such is the relationship which fallen man sustains toward God. Whilst Divine power upholds him, he is preserved from plunging still deeper into sin; let that power be withdrawn, and he falls – his own weight (of sin) drags him down. God does not push him down, anymore than I did that book. Let all Divine restraint be removed, and every man is capable of becoming, would become, a Cain, a Pharaoh, a Judas. How then is the sinner to move heavenwards? By an act of his own will? Not so! A power outside of himself must grasp hold of him and lift him every inch of the way. The sinner is free, but free in one direction only – free to fall, free to sin. As the Word expresses it: ‘For when you were the servants of sin, you were free from righteousness’ (Rom. 6:20). The sinner is free to do as he pleases, always as he pleases (except as he is restrained by God), but his pleasure is to sin.

“We repeat our question: Does it lie within the power of the sinner’s will to yield himself up to God? Let us attempt an answer by asking several others: Can water (of itself) rise above its own level? Can a clean thing come out of an unclean? Can the will reverse the whole tendency and strain of human nature? Can that which is under the dominion of sin originate that which is pure and holy? Manifestly not. If ever the will of a fallen and depraved creature is to move God wards, a Divine power must be brought to bear upon it which will overcome the influences of sin that pull in a counter direction. This is only another way of saying, ‘No man can come to Me, except the Father which has sent Me, draw him’ (Jn. 6:44). And how effective is that drawing? ‘ALL that the Father gives Me SHALL COME TO ME’ (Jn. 6:37). In other words, people must be MADE WILLING! ” -end quote.

Ah, God did not MAKE Jonah go to Nineveh – but He did MAKE HIM WILLING to go! The notion that God cannot, or will not, influence the wills of all men to bring them unto Himself is a wicked insult to both His redeeming love and His omnipotence!

I WILL DRAW ALL MEN UNTO ME

It is a strange theory that obsesses men that the human will is greater in power than God, and that, no matter what the will of God is for His creatures, man is able finally to wreck it. It is a curious hypothesis that states that although the Holy Spirit seeks to woo all men to Christ, since God loves all mankind and wills to save all men, still, the omniscient God has boxed Himself into a corner, since the will of God is bound by the will of man, and the Omnipotent Spirit can be resisted by finite man if man so chooses. Such faulty reasoning actually brings into prominence ANOTHER OMNIPOTENCE which, because it baffles the omnipotence and love of God, is by far the greater. Man will not so God cannot! What makes this notion so tragic is that it DEIFIES MAN, elevating him to god-hood, and aligns all who embrace it with the very sin that caused the fall in the beginning! The first sin committed by man had its roots in the desire to be a FREE MORAL AGENT! Free moral agency is not the doctrine of the Bible. It is the doctrine of Romanism; and it is the doctrine of humanism. It was Erasmus, the humanist, who wrote on the freedom of man’s will. It has always been the humanists that have sought to deify man and have boasted of the freedom of their sovereign will.

The serpent entered upon the stage with the bold question as to the authority of God: “Yea, has God said, You shall not eat of every tree of the Garden?” (Gen. 3:1). This was Satan’s crafty inquiry; and had the Word of God been dwelling richly in Eve’s heart, her answer might have been direct, simple, and conclusive. To raise a question, when God has spoken, is blasphemy. Thus, the question, “Has God said?” was followed by the lie: “You shall not surely die.” But the enticement to induce Eve to disobey the command of God was couched in this argument: “God does know that in the day you eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and you shall be AS GODS, knowing good and evil” (Gen. 3:5). YOU SHALL BE AS GODS! Can we not see by this that man was grasping after GODHOOD, which godhood gave him the right to CHOOSE FOR HIMSELF whether to obey God or not obey Him! This godhood, furthermore, was to bring to man the knowledge of good and evil, the innate ability to discern and choose between the good and the evil. Thus, the doctrine of “free moral agency” was spawned by the devil in Eden’s fair Garden, and the fruit thereof was the fall! And the lie is still preached from the pulpit of the apostate churches all over the world – the lie that man has the power and the right to CHOOSE FOR HIMSELF between God and the devil, between sin and righteousness, between redemption and man’s own way, and that this “choice” of man is final and irrevocable.

Man’s effort at free moral agency was his attempt at godhood. Man became a “god” alright, in the eating of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil – but he became a god in the wrong realm – the demigod of a lower realm – for at the same time that God acknowledged man’s “deity” (Gen. 3:22) He also CAST HIM FROM THE GARDEN – cast him from the heavenly realm – and set him in the earth “to till the ground from which he was taken.” And from that day to this man has discovered to his sorrow that he definitely is not a free moral agent, for man’s boasted freedom is in truth “the bondage of corruption”; he “serves divers lusts and pleasures”; he is “sold under (slavery to) sin”; his will is biased toward evil, and therefore he is free in one direction only, namely, in the direction of evil. He is unable to fulfill the role of godhood he assumed. He cannot weigh good over evil and come out on top, because his desires are filled with the mystery of iniquity. “There is none righteous, NO NOT ONE!”

In supporting the omnipotence of man’s godhood, the radio preacher declared, “Man makes his choice, and once it is made God cannot do one thing about it.” What brash stupidity! It is true that man has a will, but so also has God. It is true that man is endowed with power, but God is all-powerful. It is true that, speaking generally, the material world is regulated by law, but behind that law is the law-Giver and law Administrator. Man is but the creature. God is the Creator, and untold ages before man first saw light “the mighty God” (Isa. 9:6) existed, and ere the world was founded, made His plans; and being infinite in power and man only finite, His purpose and plan cannot be withstood or thwarted by the creatures of His own hands.

To say that Christ is unable to win to Himself those who are unwilling is to deny that all power in heaven and earth is His. To say that Christ cannot put forth His power without destroying man’s responsibility is a begging of the question here raised, for HE HAS put forth His power and MADE WILLING those who HAVE come to Him, and if He did this without destroying their responsibility, just why “CANNOT” He do so with others? If He is able to win the heart of just one sinner to Himself, why not that of another? To say, as is usually said, the others will not let Him is to impeach His sufficiency and the depths of His love. It is a question of HIS will, not man’s! If the Lord Jesus has decreed, desired, purposed the salvation of all mankind, then the entire human race will be saved, or, otherwise, He lacks the power to make good His intentions; and in such a case it could never be said, “He shall see the travail of His soul and be satisfied.” The issue raised involves THE DEITY of the Saviour, for a DEFEATED Saviour cannot be God.

His promise is sure, His purpose unfailing: “And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw A-L-L M-E-N unto Me” (Jn. 12:32). This speaks not of Jesus being lifted up in praise, or lifted up by preaching, or lifted up in our spiritual lives, for the record states: “This He said, signifying what death He should die” (Jn. 12:33). It was the cross of Calvary upon which He was to be “lifted up,” and our Lord says emphatically, “And I, if I be lifted up (dying upon the cross) from the earth, WILL DRAW ALL MEN UNTO ME.” And yet people have the brazen audacity to accuse us of being “heretics” because we believe and teach this plain statement of our Lord! May God have mercy upon them!

The truth of the supernatural and all-powerful DRAWING of God is one of the most neglected of all the great truths of God’s Word, and yet it is one of the most important. Undoubtedly the reason for its neglect is that it is repugnant to the world of unregenerate man, and professing Christians whose theology denies the sovereign and infinite grace of God. One of the chief characteristics of apostate Christendom is that it vigorously opposes any teaching of Scripture that refuses to give man the glory. Therefore any doctrine of the Bible that declares man’s helplessness apart from the activating power of God is bound to arouse the ire of the adversary and his followers.

The words translated “draw” and “drew” in the Greek New Testament are HELKUO and HELKO. Each of these words has the basic meaning of “compel…… draw…… pull,” and “tug.” In most instances the force which does the drawing or compelling is sufficient to cause the object of the drawing to respond fully. For example, in Jn. 18:10, it is said that “Peter having a sword DREW it…” The impetuous disciple most assuredly did not draw the weapon out of its sheath in a gingerly or wooing fashion. Nor did the sword seek to draw itself out by its own will and good pleasure! Peter didn’t merely “invite” the sword to come out, in spite of any resistance the blade may have had as it dragged the leather scabbard, the muscular arm of Peter yanked it forcefully out in obedience to his will.

One of the forms of HELKO is used in the Song of Solomon (in the Septuagint, Greek Old Testament) to speak of the love of the Bridegroom which causes the Bride to cry out to her maidens: “DRAW me after thee!” (S. of S. 1:4). The irresistible power of the heavenly Bridegroom’s love for His betrothed creates a corresponding love in her heart. It is the heavenly One who initiates the love, creating faith and devotion in His beloved as He reveals Himself to be desirable and trustworthy. Already she has been drawn unto Him in deeper hunger; already she has longed for the kisses of His mouth, those tender moments of communion and prayer, wherein is revealed His love. Already she has smelled the sweet odors of His oils; already she has beheld Him upon the cross for her, she has beheld HIS LIFE poured out for her. This but increases her desire to be drawn with greater power, with stronger cords of love, with greater call to separation, and even with greater suffering, that she may arise and run AFTER HIM. She is more and more realizing the truth of her helplessness to run unless He draws.

We little realize that mighty unseen power that is drawing, drawing, drawing us like an irresistible, supernatural magnet. We speak of our hunger for the Lord, we tell of the longing we feel for Him, we pour out our hunger and longing at His feet as though He did not know they were in our hearts. We comprehend but little that all this is the drawing of God; that if He did not graciously put the hunger in our hearts, we should be cold and barren; we should be satisfied with but little of that into which He is constraining us to enter. Let this sink down into our hearts and ever abide there, that every heavenward impulse in our souls, every upward desire, IS THE DRAWING OF GOD. No sinner could be saved if God did not convict, quicken, deal with, and draw him. So many times we lose sight of this. We could not desire His will nor His best, we could not love and hunger for our dear Lord if God did not graciously put within us a hunger for Him and His will. Dear child of God, if you feel the drawing of God in your soul, cherish it as you would cherish a great treasure. If you feel a deeper hunger, if you are entering into a closer walk with Him, do not look upon it carelessly, nor treat it lightly.

The words HELKO and HELKUO may be found eight times in the Greek New Testament. I have already mentioned the passage in which Peter forcibly drew his sword from its sheath to cut off the ear of Malchus. Other passages contain the idea of force connected with this word, such as in Jn. 21:6, where we find that the load of fish was so huge that the disciples could not haul it aboard the boat. Their seasoned muscles were not able to pull such a great weight out of the water, for John says, “Now they were not able to DRAW it for the multitude of fish.” Yet, a moment later, Simon Peter hauls the net through the water and up to the shore. This again is referred to as “drawing” the net load of fish with a force that is not resisted.

When the apostle James wishes to describe the manner in which rich men forcibly drag those who are indebted to them to prison, he uses the word HELKO. In James 2:6 he writes, “Do not rich men oppress you and DRAW you before the judgment seats?” This “drawing,” of course, was not with wooing or pleading! It was an act of force that absolutely took no care of the willingness of the person drawn! The poor man might resist ever so much, and he might cry and plead, but he was drawn irresistibly to the place of judgment! It is with precisely this kind of forceful drawing that the Lord Jesus is talking when He says, “And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will DRAW all men unto me!” And, thank God, they are not just drawn “toward” Him, but UNTO HIM all the way! Because the Christ was “lifted up” on the cross of Calvary, dying on behalf of every man of Adam’s race, the promise is sure, He will inexorably DRAW all men unto Himself! The divine plan calls for the Church, the body of Christ, to be drawn to Him in this age, all the living nations of the world to be drawn to Him in the next age, and the remainder of men, all who have ever lived and died upon this planet in the ages to come.

Another example of the use of the Greek work HELKO which shows that the drawing is by force and in spite of the resistance of the one drawn, is in Acts 16:19. When Paul and Silas were vexed by the demonic slave girl, Paul cast the evil spirit out of her. Her masters saw that all hope of profit was gone, so they grabbed the two servants of Jesus and forcibly dragged them to the judges in the market place. We read: “And when her masters saw that the hope of their gain was gone, they caught Paul and Silas, and DREW them into the market place unto the rulers.” This was not an act in which the persons drawn delighted to cooperate. No, it was an act of force which “compelled” them to go where they would not have preferred to go! So it is with man who is spiritually dead and happy to follow the devil to hell because he prefers darkness to light. He does not “come to Jesus” of his own “free will.” If he has eyes to see and ears to hear the Lord it is because God has quickened his spirit and opened his spiritual sight and unplugged his spiritual ears, as it is written, “The hearing ear, and the seeing eye, the LORD has made even both of them! ” (Prov. 20:12).

Still another instance in which the Greek word HELKO is translated “draw,” when it refers to taking by force and overcoming all resistance, is Acts 21:30. Paul is seen in the temple at Jerusalem, and the Jews are so aroused by the presence of this apostle of Jesus that they incite the mob to lynch him if at all possible. They did not gently invite him to “please leave,” nor did they “lovingly” draw him out of the place. No, they grabbed him forcibly, determined to haul him out of their holy house. The Scripture declares that “All the city was moved, and the people ran together; and they took Paul, and DREW him out of the temple, and at once the doors were shut.” Of course he was rescued at this point by the Roman soldiers before the Jews could kill him for desecrating the temple by his presence. The point is that “draw” speaks of violence and force, not gentle persuasion.

No one ever comes to Jesus without God having planned the time and the manner. No one ever “decides” to accept Jesus of his own “free will.” It is the volition of the Lord that moves powerfully and irresistibly upon the sinner to trust the Saviour, and not the will of the spiritually dead creature who loves darkness rather than light! “No man can come to Me, except the Father which has sent Me DRAW him… ” (Jn. 6:44). Do you think that you came to the Christ of your own free will, as a free moral agent? Do you dare assume that your old corrupt mind and heart somehow became persuaded to violate its very nature and believe on the Lord Jesus Christ? Then read Jn. 6:44 and Jn. 12:32 again and accept it for what it plainly says! Treat these verses with honesty. Jesus says that NO ONE can come unto Him apart from the irresistible force of God’s drawing, and He also says that because He died HE WILL FORCIBLY AND IRRESISTIBLY DRAW A-L-L M-E-N unto Himself.

I sought the Lord, and afterwards I knew
He moved my soul to seek Him, seeking me!
It was not I that found, O Saviour true;
No, I was found of Thee!

Are you a born again believer? Then kneel humbly before your God and Saviour and confess that it was because HE DREW you, and not because you exercised some inherent prerogative of “free moral agency.” Acknowledge His Word to be truth, and that just as surely as HE SUCCESSFULLY DREW YOU, He shall likewise draw and DRAW and D-R-A-W until He has drawn ALL MEN unto Himself! We ourselves are the living proof that He both can and will do it! “GOD has saved us … not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace, which was given us in Christ Jesus before the world began” (11 Tim. 1: 9). “The Son gives life to whom He will…” (Jn. 5:2 1). “I will draw all men unto Me.” (Jn. 12:32).

BY ONE MAN

“For the love of Christ constrains us; because we thus judge, that if one died for all, then were all dead” (II Cor. 5:14). How can one who is dead find God? Impossible! Why should Paul connect the love of Christ with the fact that ALL WERE DEAD? Simply because it is the love of God in the Christ which is accomplishing this work, in His sovereign way, of bringing the whole world back to life and to God. Again we read in Eph. 2:12 “That at that time you were without Christ, being aliens from the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world.” Ah, this is really a desperate situation! And all mankind was in a place like that. All of us were absolutely dead to God and without God in the world.

One of the most enlightening passages along this line is found in Jn. 1:10. “He was in the world, and the world was made by Him, and THE WORLD KNEW HIM NOT.” How can anyone seek after the Lord if they don’t know Him? How clear that mankind was in a dilemma. We could not direct our own steps or order our way before the Lord. We were without God and we were dead. And now John declares that Jesus came and walked in the midst of the people He had created, AND THEY DID NOT KNOW HIM! What chance did men have to return to God EXCEPT GOD HELP THEM?

The prophet Jeremiah declared, “O Lord, I know that the WAY OF MAN IS NOT IN HIMSELF; IT IS NOT IN MAN THAT WALKS TO DIRECT HIS STEPS” (Jer. 10:23). God had been saying through the prophet that His people were scattered, His pastors had become brutish and His tabernacle was destroyed, so it was obvious that the way of man is not in himself. This being true, man cannot direct his steps or set his pathway. This is the condition in which God began His redemptive work with man. If it was not in us to direct our steps, then we could not direct our steps back to God. This ability was not a part of the makeup of man. In the beginning the first man deliberately, and according to the plan of God, directed his steps away from God and, hopelessly lost, man has walked that way ever since. Mankind was made blind and couldn’t see his way back to God, even though, as Paul said to the Athenians, surely God is not far from any one of us.

How we thank God that He sent one Man into this world who did know the way back to the Father! This Man knew how to order His own steps, and also how to order our steps, when we could not direct them ourselves. We can see it so plainly in a little child. Even after the child learns to walk, it does not know where or how to walk to keep out of danger and harm. Its way must be directed by an adult. Without any fear it would run onto a highway filled with speeding cars. It does not know how to order its way. Just so, mankind does not know how to direct its way!

“For God has concluded them all in unbelief, that He might have mercy upon all” (Rom. 11:32). “Therefore as by the offense of one judgment came upon all men to condemnation; even so by the righteousness of one the free gift came upon all men unto justification of life. For as by one man’s disobedience (the) many were made sinners, so by the obedience of one shall (the) many be made righteous” (Rom. 5:18-19). “For since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive. But every man in his own order” (I Cor. 15:21-23). It would be a most beautiful thing if all the saints of God could have an open vision that would enable them to understand the simple and obvious truth that if the first Adam could do something which the last Adam could not undo, then the first Adam had more power than the last Adam. In other words, if Adam could put ten people into sin and death, and the Christ could take only nine out, then Adam would have greater influence and power than the Christ. But whether we believe it or not, ALL POWER HAS BEEN GIVEN UNTO THE CHRIST.

With the foregoing truth in mind let us read a most remarkable and significant statement in Jn. 12:31. “NOW is the judgment of this world.” What a volume of truth is contained in those few short words! The word “judgment” literally means A DECISION. We know that any judgment is a decision. Jesus was saying that now is THE DECISION of this world, or now is the time the world is going to decide what it is going to do. At the time He uttered these words Jesus was preparing to be sacrificed on behalf of the people of the world. He came to taste death for every man. He was speaking just prior to His crucifixion and the world was soon to make a momentous decision. The world would decide just what it would do with the Christ. It should be clear to every honest heart that the world at that or any other time, WAS NOT CAPABLE OF TURNING TO GOD, or of MAKING A DECISION FOR ITSELF THAT WOULD CAUSE IT TO RETURN TO GOD. There was absolutely no desire, no will, nor any purpose on the part of mankind to return to God. The people of Israel, with the Gentiles, and the rulers were gathered together against the Lord and His Anointed. They wouldn’t have “this man” to rule over them. They were finished with Jesus, the Son of the living God. So Jesus declared that the world must decide what it would do, yet it was in no condition to decide!

This condition is again mirrored in the lives of our children. In the life of a child, there are times when decisions must be made, and the child is not capable of deciding, SO SOMEONE ELSE MUST DO IT FOR HIM. The parent, or other responsible person, must make the decision. Here in chapter twelve of John we see a whole world that is estranged from God and dead in trespasses and sins, without God and without hope. Here was a world whose ears were stopped, whose eyes were blinded, and understanding had been taken from their hearts. Yet this world was going to be required to make a decision!

Another profound statement, freighted with meaning, accompanies the statement by Jesus that we have previously quoted. He said, “NOW shall the prince of this world be cast out” (Jn. 12:31). Christ proclaims two great truths which cannot be separated. “NOW is the judgment (decision) of this world: NOW shall the prince of this world be cast out.” The world had come to the crossroads and must make a decision, but was not capable of doing it. So Jesus said that the prince of this world would be cast out and that He, Jesus, the last Adam, the representative of the whole human race, would decide for the whole human race, just as the first Adam, the first representative man, decided for us all. If the first Adam, as a representative man was able to decide for all the world and put us all into sin and death, then the last Adam, the Christ of God, as the representative man could decide to take all of us out of sin!

How meaningful, then, the inspired words of the apostle Paul, “For if when we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of His Son…” (Rom. 5:10). According to all human reasoning this is an impossibility – that my enemy could be reconciled to me by the death of my own son. But Paul argues that the death of Jesus reconciled us, the enemies of God, unto God. By the death of the Son of God was this wrought. Naturally, an enemy would refuse to be reconciled. He would have nothing to do with it. Nevertheless, God sent His Son, and by the dying of that Son, reconciled T-H-E W-O-R-L-D unto Himself (II Cor. 5:19). God did not consult with the world, did not ask the world whether it wanted to be reconciled. He just went ahead and did it! God knew from the beginning that we would not be capable of deciding for ourselves. We would be so bound by the fetters of sin, so bound by our pride and ignorance, our minds so twisted by the illusions of this world, our reasoning so warped by the god of this world, that we could not decide. So God decreed that He would seal up all humanity in unbelief, conclude all under sin, stop up their ears that they could not hear, blind their eyes that they could not see, and take understanding from their hearts that they could not understand. He would send His own Son as a representative man to make the decision for us, to lead us all back to Himself, since we were not able to direct our path or order our way. He concluded us all in unbelief and then let JESUS DECIDE FOR US. This, God did!

BY ONE MAN! Dare we believe it? Dare we embrace the simple but glorious truth that “…as by the offense of one judgment came upon ALL MEN to condemnation; even so by the righteousness of one the free gift came upon ALL MEN unto justification of life” (Rom. 5:18)? Are the blessed words of the apostle Paul too good to be true, wherein he states, “God was in Christ RECONCILING T-H-E W-O-R-L-D unto Himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them; and has committed unto us the word of reconciliation” (II Cor. 5:19)? Ah – the destiny of the whole race was settled in one man, even Jesus. He was both the sacrifice and the new federal head of the race who would gather us all up into His loving arms and bring us back to God. He would lead all into salvation. Oh! how I rejoice that God did not permit the world to decide the eternal question, but that He sent His Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, to do it for us. What matchless love! And in God’s own good time, as the orderly procession of the ages run their course, all will be worked out for His glory.

In view of the marvelous, glorious, majestic and all-inclusive work of the last Adam – what good would it do for man to be a FREE MORAL AGENT? God has overruled the will of man, anyway. Oh, no, beloved, man is not a free moral agent. JESUS CHRIST IS THE ONLY MAN WHO IS A FREE MORAL AGENT. And He made the right choice, the one and only right decision. And HE MADE IT FOR US ALL! Praise His name! And we, the FIRSTFRUITS of His redemption, are the proof, the guarantee, that God is both willing and able to save ALL. Thank God! Man is NOT a free moral agent!

Johann Wilhelm Petersen (1649-1727)

Johann Wilhelm Petersen was a German-Danish theologian and Lutheran pastor. With his wife he developed a radical form of pietism in which the belief in Universal Restitution came to play a central role.

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Johann Wilhelm Petersen (1649-1727)

Johann Wilhelm Petersen was a German-Danish theologian, mystic and pastor at the Lutheran Church in Hanover, and later superintendent in Lübeck and Aue. Johann Wilhelm Petersen grew up in Lübeck where he also studied theology. Together with his wife Johanna Eleonora, he developed a mystic and chiliastic form of pietism in which the belief in Universal Restitution came to play a central role.

“What fruit has the doctrine of eternal damnation born up till now? Has it made men more pious? On the contrary, when they have properly considered the cruel, frightful disproportion between the punishments and their own sins, they have begun to believe nothing at all…”

A digitalized version of the original German edition of his Mysterion Apokatastasis Panton can be found on Google Books here: Mystērion Apokatastaseōs Pantōn, Oder Das Geheimniß Der Wiederbringung aller Dinge, Durch Jesum Christum

 

Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906–1945)

“Justification and sanctification are inconceivable for anyone if that individual believer cannot be assured that God will embrace not only them but all those for whose sins they are responsible.”–Dietrich Bonhoeffer

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Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906–1945)

Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a German Lutheran pastor, theologian, anti-Nazi dissident, and founding member of the Confessing Church. In his second dissertation Act and Being he argued that “not all roads appear blocked to the eschatology of apocatastasis.” In his Sanctorum Communio, Bonhoeffer made the stronger claim:

The strongest reason for accepting the idea of apocatastasis would seem to me that all Christians must be aware of having brought sin into the world, and thus aware of being bound together with the whole of humanity in sin, aware of having the sins of humanity on their conscience. Justification and sanctification are inconceivable for anyone if that individual believer cannot be assured that God will embrace not only them but all those for whose sins they are responsible.” (Dietrich Bonhoeffer in Sanctorum Communio)
Though not embracing the belief in a final universal restitution as a theological doctrine, Bonhoeffer seems to have come close at affirming at least the possibility that all will eventually come to faith in Christ.

John Murray (1741-1815)

“We shall all be happy, we were made for happiness: “God hath not created but to bless.” Happiness, however, is not designed for us in the present state; in the world we are taught to expect tribulation. But in the Saviour, blessed be his balmy name, in the Redeemer, we shall, yes, we shall have peace.”

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John Murray (1741-1815)

John Murray was the founder of the Universalist denomination in the United States. He was born in Alton, Hampshire in England. His father was an Anglican and his mother a Presbyterian, both strict Calvinists. In 1770 he emigrated to America, and preached, as a Universalist minister in Good Luck, New Jersey. In 1774 he settled at Gloucester, Massachusetts, and established a congregation out of a Rellyite study group. In 1793 he became pastor of the Universalist society of Boston.

“Many are the scenes I witness as I pass along which lacerate my bosom; but a view of the Christian patiently waiting for the complete salvation of his God always renders me comparatively happy; and I shall be happy, not only comparatively, but altogether happy. We shall all be happy, we were made for happiness: “God hath not created but to bless.” Happiness, however, is not designed for us in the present state; in the world we are taught to expect tribulation. But in the Saviour, blessed be his balmy name, in the Redeemer, we shall, yes, we shall have peace.

His works are available in Letters and Sketches of Sermons, 3 volumes (Boston, 1812).

Read more here.

Alexander Mack (1679-1735)

Alexander Mack was the leader and first minister of the Schwarzenau Brethren (or German Baptists) in Schwarzenau, Germany.

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Alexander Mack (1679-1735).

Alexander Mack was the leader and first minister of the Schwarzenau Brethren (or German Baptists) in Schwarzenau, Germany. Mack founded the Brethren along with seven other Radical Pietists in Schwarzenau in 1708. The Schwarzenau Brethren held to the rejection of any coercion in religion, infant baptism, and saw the New Testament as their only Rule of Faith. Mack was a Universalist and pacifist.

Mack expressed a belief that after the collapse of several eternities or aeons there would be a final and universal restoration of all things, in which the godless through Christ would finally be saved from their torments in hell. It is not, however, necessary to talk or speculate much about it, says Mack. It is much better to practice truth here and now than deliberating about how to escape the torments of hell at a later point. (Wikipedia)

Read more here.

Alexander Mack, Rights and Ordinances; trans. H. R. Holsinger, History of the Tunkers and the Brethren Church (Oakland, Cal.: Pacific Press Publishing Co., 1901), pp. 113-115.

Elhanan Winchester (1751-1797)

“Our belief respecting the restoration of all things is not only founded upon the plainest letter of scripture (as all may see, who will be at the pains to read over the printed collection of texts) but is exactly according to the experience of every Christian.” – Elhanan Winchester

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Elhanan Winchester (1751-1797)

Elhanan Winchester was born in Massachusetts, USA, in 1751. He was raised in a Congrationalist setting but after a conversion experience he joined a Free Will (General) Baptist church in which he became a preacher. Winchester seems to gradually have become convinced of a High Calvinist theology in the vein of John Gill, and, after renouncing Arminianism, Winchester became a minister in a Calvinistic (Particular) Baptist church, first in Bellingham (MA) and then in Welsh Neck (SC).

After a friend of Winchester’s in 1778 brought the English edition of The Everlasting Gospel to Welsh Neck, Winchester became convinced of universalism. Later Winchester would make contact to the German Baptists of Germantown and he would write the foreword for a later edition of The Everlasting Gospel which he published in London in 1792. In the foreword to this edition Winchester noticed that:

The system held out in the following pages appears to me the only one that in the least bids fair to unite the two great bodies of Christians, that have so long and so bitterly opposed each other, viz. those who assert that Christ died for all, and yet that there shall be but few, comparatively, that shall finally derive any saving benefit therefrom; and those who assert that all for whom the savior died shall indeed be saved, but that he died only for a few.

Winchester notes that it seems highly unlikely that either of these sects should change their principles. The one charges the other with a lack of benevolence while the other charges the one with lacking a proper view on the omnipotence of God. For a reconciliation to take place between these two opinions, it must be ‘on some middle ground where both may meet without giving up their favorite opinions’, says Winchester. Such a middle ground is exactly what ‘the system of the Universal Restoration’ offers. As soon as the doctrines of Universal Restoration are accepted, says Winchester, it will bring reconciliation between the two opposing bodies of doctrines in Christian theology.

In the years following Winchester’s profession of universalism he and his congregation would experience exclusion and marginalization from the broader evangelical community which would eventually lead to the foundation of an independent Universal Baptist church. In 1782 Winchester addressed this issue in a sermon delivered at the University in Philadelphia. The sermon was later printed with the title The Outcasts Comforted: A SERMON Delivered at the University in Philadelphia, January 4, 1782 To the Members of the BAPTIST CHURCH, who have been rejected by their Brethren, For holding the Doctrine of the final Restoration of all Things. Winchester argues in the sermon that it is strange that the Universal Baptists are looked upon as heretics when they only affirm the doctrines already held by others:

I have often considered it with astonishment, that two ministers shall preach, and prove what they say from the scriptures, and neither of them shall be looked upon as holding damnable heresy, and yet we shall be looked upon as the worst of heretics by both of them, and all their people, for believing only what both of them put together have asserted.

The counsel of God shall stand and he will perform his pleasure, notwithstanding all the opposition that men can make, says Winchester with reference to Isaiah (Isaiah 46. 10). If God will have all men to be saved, as we hear in the first epistle to Timothy (1 Timotheus 2. 4) and if God is determined to perform his pleasure and if nothing is impossible with God, as stated in Luke 1. 37, then ‘is not the doctrine of the Restoration true?’, Winchester asks rhetorically.

Elhanan Winchester, The Universal Restoration: exhibited in a series of dialogues between a minister and his friend: comprehending the substance of several conversations that the author hath had with various persons, both in America and Europe, on that interesting subject, wherein the most formidable objections are stated and fully answered (UR) (London: Gillet, 1788).

Elhanan Winchester, The Outcasts Comforted. A sermon delivered at the University of Philadelphia, January 4, 1782 (Philadelphia: Towne, 1782).

New edition of Thomas Allin’s Christ Triumphant

Thomas Allin: “Christ Triumphant – or Universalism Asserted as the Hope of the Gospel on the Authority of Reason, the Fathers, and Holy Scripture” In 1885 the Irish Anglican priest Thomas Allin (1838-1909) published his now classic “Christ Triumphant – or Universalism Asserted as the Hope of the Gospel on the Authority of Reason, the … Continue reading New edition of Thomas Allin’s Christ Triumphant

Thomas Allin: “Christ Triumphant – or Universalism Asserted as the Hope of the Gospel on the Authority of Reason, the Fathers, and Holy Scripture”

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“I plead for the acceptance of this central truth as the great hope of the gospel, that the victory of Jesus Christ must be final and complete, i.e., that nothing can impair the power of his cross and passion to save the entire human race.” —Thomas Allin

In 1885 the Irish Anglican priest Thomas Allin (1838-1909) published his now classic “Christ Triumphant – or Universalism Asserted as the Hope of the Gospel on the Authority of Reason, the Fathers, and Holy Scripture”. The book has now been republished with an introductory essay by Robin Parry and a foreword by Thomas Talbott.

Find it at Amazon here or find the old version at Tentmaker here. See also a sample on Robin Parry’s Academia profile here.

There's a Wideness in God's Mercy (hymn)

Frederick William Faber, 1862 “There’s a wideness in God’s mercy like the wideness of the sea; there’s a kindness in his justice, which is more than liberty. There is welcome for the sinner, and more graces for the good; there is mercy with the Savior; there is healing in his blood. There is no place … Continue reading There's a Wideness in God's Mercy (hymn)

Frederick William Faber, 1862

There’s a wideness in God’s mercy
like the wideness of the sea;
there’s a kindness in his justice,
which is more than liberty.
There is welcome for the sinner,
and more graces for the good;
there is mercy with the Savior;
there is healing in his blood.

There is no place where earth’s sorrows
are more felt than in heaven;
there is no place where earth’s failings
have such kind judgment given.
There is plentiful redemption
in the blood that has been shed;
there is joy for all the members
in the sorrows of the Head.

For the love of God is broader
than the measure of man’s mind;
and the heart of the Eternal
is most wonderfully kind.
If our love were but more faithful,
we should take him at his word;
and our life would be thanksgiving
for the goodness of the Lord.”

J. Preston Eby: "If Everyone is Going to be Saved, Why Preach?"

“The knowledge of God’s gracious purpose does not make true men of God careless. It makes them long to become a part of His will and an instrument in His plan of the ages.” – J. Preston Eby

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What does it mean that we have been given the “ministry of reconciliation”? J. Preston Eby explains.

“But all things are of God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and gave unto us the ministry of reconciliation; to wit, that God was in Christ reconciling the world unto himself, not reckoning unto them their trespasses, and having committed unto us the word of reconciliation.” (2 Cor 5:18-19)

There are always those people who object to this truth on the grounds that the preaching of universal salvation will make Christians and unsaved careless. I can hear the unbelieving say, “If I believed that all men were to be saved eventually, I would just go out in the world and enjoy myself. What is the use of going through all these things we have to endure, if we’re going to be saved in the end anyway?”

Such ridiculous talk only reveals the true inner condition of the one who makes such as assertion. It shows that he has no true love for God, but is serving Him only out of fear of going to hell, as a slave in fear of a tyrant. If such a person had the fear of hell removed from him it is obvious that he would promptly tell God to go to hell and then proceed to drown himself in devilish pleasures and fleshly pursuits. I have no hesitation in saying that any man who says that if all are going to be saved in the end we might as well eat, drink, and be merry, is a devil at heart, and convicts himself by his own words. If the wages of sin were removed, he would immediately go out and begin to live it up in the world, serving both the flesh and the devil. He has no love for God at all, and is the most contemptible of hypocrites.

If your heart is that much inclined to the world and your love for God is no greater, then you better go back into the world. People who want to live careless will always find an excuse to be careless and they will have to suffer the result of their carelessness both now and in the day of judgment. The knowledge of God’s gracious purpose does not make true men of God careless. It makes them long to become a part of His will and an instrument in His plan of the ages. We can embrace every travail in understanding, grace, and love, when we clearly see it is working for eternal good according to His purpose which He purposed in Christ before the ages began.

Some press the issue further and raise the question, “If sinners hear that all will be saved eventually, won’t that cause them to relax and live more carelessly?” To which I reply, Has the doctrine of eternal torture kept men from backsliding? Has it turned the world to God? Has it made the streets in your city safe to walk at night? Has it kept the Christians from growing spiritually cold, or from committing disgraceful sins? Has it prevented Churches from becoming worldly, or sinking into apostasy? It has not! If anyone thinks to use their service to God as a fire escape, He will not accept it. Our service must be because we love Him. Everything He did for us was because He loved us, and He will accept nothing less from us. “The love of Christ constrains us” (2 Cor. 5:14). He does not want what we have; He wants us; our heart and affection. And sinners need to discover the love of God in Christ, and be brought to truly love Him. Let us consider these things, and cry mightily unto God to deliver our minds from all prejudice and preconceived ideas and distorted notions, for it is possible He still has truth He has not revealed to us!

Some time ago the following questions were presented to me. “Why preach and teach the Gospel if all are to be saved ultimately? There is no need to witness for they will be saved someday, someway, somewhere – right?” W-R-O-N-G! First, the Christian life is so rich and beautiful and worthwhile that it would be the only life to live, even if there were no hereafter. Ask those who have truly known and experienced Christ over a period of years. Was it not Dr. A. J. Gordon who met an old crippled man on the street, and asked him why, with all his handicap, his face was nevertheless so bright and shining? And the old man answered, “The devil has no happy old men!”

Furthermore, God will never save your loved ones, your neighbors, or any other person who has ever lived or who ever shall live apart from a MEANS, an INSTRUMENT THROUGH WHICH TO REACH THEM. And WE are that instrument! God declares to His elect in Isa. 49:6, “I will also GIVE YOU for a light to the nations, that YOU may BE MY SALVATION unto the end of the earth.” The method by which God causes men to believe is revealed in Rom. 10:14-15. “How then shall they call on Him in whom they have not BELIEVED? and how shall they BELIEVE in Him of whom they have not HEARD? and how shall they HEAR without a PREACHER? and how shall they PREACH except they be SENT?” Does the salvation of all men negate this procedure? NO WAY! It only intensifies it! The simple truth is that God purposes to save all men. The means by which He shall accomplish this is A PEOPLE, a ROYAL PRIESTHOOD, the SONS OF GOD, who are made ONE with the PRIESTLY MINISTRY OF JESUS the great HIGH PRIEST, to intercede, witness, speak, exhort, warn, entreat, preach, and proclaim the redemptive power of the Christ until this ministry conquers all men for God.

Ah – does the fact that God will have all men to be saved mean that it is meaningless to WITNESS, to PREACH? A thousand times no! “It pleased God by the foolishness of PREACHING to save them that believe” (1 Cor. 1:21). So we cannot preach less, we must not witness less, armed now with the hope that the preaching will ultimately BEAR FRUIT we shall preach MORE THAN EVER BEFORE, for this is one of God’s MEANS of salvation! Those who should really give up witnessing to their loved ones, and preaching to the lost are those who believe most of them will burn for ever in hell anyway! What on earth could be more worthless, unprofitable, vain, disturbing and disappointing than witnessing and preaching to men when we actually believe that only a small fraction of them will ever be saved? Why bother? To what end all the labor? The devil gets most of them in the end anyhow!

We who know that God will have all men to be saved are really the only people on earth who have REAL PURPOSE in ministering to the lost. Praise God! He has committed unto us the MINISTRY OF RECONCILIATION. Now comes the word: “And all things are of God, who has reconciled us to Himself by Jesus Christ, and has given UNTO US THE MINISTRY OF RECONCILIATION; to wit, that God was in Christ reconciling T-H-E W-O-R-L-D unto Himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them; and has COMMITTED UNTO US THE WORD OF RECONCILIATION. Now then we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech you by us: WE PRAY YOU IN CHRIST’S STEAD, BE   RECONCILED UNTO GOD” (2 Cor. 5:18-20). The apostle shows how it is that God was in Christ reconciling NOT THE CHURCH, NOT THE SAINTS, NOT JUST BELIEVERS, but T-H-E W-O-R-L-D unto Himself, and now has given the MINISTRY BY WHICH THIS RECONCILIATION IS TO BE EFFECTED … unto us! “We pray you in Christ’s stead.” Not witness to our loved ones because they will be saved anyway? Not preach to the unconverted because they will be saved in the end? The very idea is absurd, a complete contradiction of terms! Because God has made blessed provision for their salvation IS W-H-Y WE WITNESS! On the contrary, to witness and witness and witness to vast numbers of people who will NEVER BE SAVED would be an effort in futility. If I believed that nonsense, then I really might STOP PREACHING!

Will believing that God is the Saviour of all men do away with evangelistic fervor and zeal? Only in men who hold a carnal knowledge of the doctrine in their intellect, but have no deep revelation of the truth of it in their hearts. It did not affect the apostle Paul in this manner. On the contrary it increased his fervor and zeal. Paul states it clearly and emphatically, “For to this end we labor and strive, because we have our hope set on the living God, who is the Saviour of all men” (1 Tim. 4:10). After many years of ministry, being, by the grace of God, an instrument of God to help a great many people in the deep spiritual, psychical, and physical needs of their lives, I testify that I know of no greater joy on earth than the joy of seeing people receive Christ as their own Saviour and Lord. Just ask anyone who has led some person to the Lord, what is the greatest joy he knows. He will not be slow in telling you. Or try it yourself!

The fact that we see and appreciate God’s great and wonderful plan for all men leaves no room in us for a dilatory, DON’T CARE spirit. The elect of God are always conscious of their unique calling. We are given the high honor of being “laborers together with God.” Some day when the last devil has been subjected, and the last sinner broken in humility and contrition at the lovely feet of Jesus, we shall realize, as we may not now, just how great that honor really is, and how much we have missed if we fail to share in this task to which the Almighty has set His hand.

I must confess that I am deeply grieved in my spirit when I meet these would-be Sons of God who look with contempt upon those who still have a passion for souls and desire to see men delivered from the power of the devil. I am aware of the fact that the hour has not yet arrived when God shall deal with all nations, and multitudes of past generations, to bring forth His salvation in them, but it is my deepest conviction that one of the sure marks of sonship is THE SPIRIT OF RECONCILIATION. Why speak of our great hope of what God shall do in the ages to come if THE SPIRIT OF THAT HOPE is not now alive in our hearts? It is not the doctrine of reconciliation that shall change the world, but the MINISTRY OF RECONCILIATION. The ministry of reconciliation springs from the spirit of reconciliation.

If you would not walk across the street to see some poor soul delivered and converted by the redeeming power of Christ, don’t waste your time relating to me how you are chosen of God to help in the delivering of the whole creation from the bondage of sin and death. The Spirit of Reconciliation must reign within our hearts. The Ministry of Reconciliation must issue forth from our lives. Rivers of Living Water must, even now, pour forth out of our innermost being, bringing hope and victory and life to all who will come and drink! Amen!”

Find more writings by J. Preston Eby here: http://www.kingdombiblestudies.org/

Gerry Beauchemin: Hope Beyond Hell

“We need to recognize that God integrates both mercy and judgment. This factor is a crucial piece of the puzzle helping us to better understand God‘s plan for all” – Gerry Beauchemin

indexa“For 25 years I held the Arminian view of God. Then, while a missionary in Senegal, West Africa, the realization that I did not have complete assurance of my salvation unsettled me. I wrestled with this for months and finally concluded that salvation had to be the work of God. I had made a paradigm shift. I began to understand God‘s power in the way our Calvinist and Reformed brethren do. I continued joyfully in this new perspective for about two years, until I no longer found comfort in my ― personal salvation. How could I in the midst of a world of lost people? Living in a Muslim nation deeply affected me. It prepared me to consider a third paradigm — the ‘Blessed Hope’.” (p. 83)

“Have you ever heard the cliché “The gates of hell are locked on the inside”? This is to say sinners choose hell over heaven because they prefer to — even if given the chance to leave they would stay! This is pure twisted logic, and not at all based on Scripture; for we have only to think about it solemnly, and it falls apart. No, it is not we who have the keys of our judgment, but Christ.” (p. 126)

52ff0e80b07d28b590bbc4b30befde52aDownload “Hope Beyond Hell” as PDF

Also see the website for Gerry Beauchemin’s book: hopebeyondhell.net

Ilaria Ramelli: The Christian Doctrine of Apokatastasis

In this extensive work of scholarly literature Dr. Ilaria Ramelli goes into detail with the classical doctrine of universal restitution (apokatastasis) as it is found from the New Testament until the middle ages.

The belief in universal salvation is as old as Christianity itself. In this extensive work of scholarly literature Dr. Ilaria Ramelli goes into detail with the classical doctrine of universal restitution (apokatastasis) as it is found from the New Testament until the middle ages.

Test halalalaoall blabla“The doctrine of apokatastasis, as is found, from the New Testament to Eriugena, in many Christian texts and Patristic authors, is a Christian doctrine and is grounded in Christ. This Christocentrical characterization is especially evident in Bardaisan, Origen, Gregory of Nyssa, Evagrius, and Eriugena. Indeed, the Christian doctrine of apokatastasis is based on the incarnation, death, and resurrection of Christ, and on God’s being the supreme Good. It is also founded upon God’s grace, which will “bestow mercy upon all,” and the divine will—which these Patristic authors saw as revealed by Scripture—“that all humans be saved and reach the knowledge of Truth.” They also considered it to be revealed in Scripture, and in particular in a prophecy by St. Paul, that in the telos, when all the powers of evil and death will be annihilated and all enemies will submit (for Origen and his followers, in a voluntary submission), “God will be all in all.” The apokatastasis doctrine is historically very far from having been produced by an isolated character, excessively influenced or even “contaminated” by Greek theories, such as Origen has been long considered to be.” (p. 817) (Ilaria Ramelli, The Christian Doctrine of Apokatastasis 2013).

“The doctrine of apokatastasis as the eventual universal salvation is an authentically Christian, or Jewish-Christian, doctrine. Before Christianity, no religion or philosophy had ever maintained it, not even Plato or mystery religions.” (p. 819)

“In fact, the main Patristic supporters of this theory, Origen and Nyssen, did support it in defence of Christian “orthodoxy,” against those which were regarded as the most dangerous heresies of their times, as I have argued: Origen supported it against “Gnosticism” and Marcionism, and Gregory against “Arianism.” (p. 823)

Get it at amazon.com.

See also J.W. Hansons classic on early Christian universalism from 1899: Universalism The Prevailing Doctrine Of The Christian Church During Its First Five Hundred Years

Ramelli & Konstan: Terms for Eternity: Aiônios and Aïdios in Classical and Christian Texts

The words translated “eternal”, “eternity” or “forever” in traditional Bible translations do not, in fact, mean eternity or eternal in the sense of endless duration, but “age” or “age-enduring”.

An important element in the argument for biblical universalism is that the words translated “eternal”, “eternity” or “forever” in traditional translations do not, in fact, mean eternity or eternal in the sense of endless duration, but “age” or “age-enduring”. This new scholarly study explains in detail how this works.

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Ilaria L. E. Ramelli & David Konstan (2007)

“Apart from the Platonic philosophical vocabulary, which is specific to few authors, aiónios does not mean “eternal”; it acquires this meaning only when it refers to God, and only because the notion of eternity was included in the concep- tion of God: for the rest, it has a wide range of meanings and its possible renderings are multiple, but it does not mean “eternal.” In particular when it is associated with life or punishment, in the Bible and in Christian authors who keep themselves close to the Biblical usage, it denotes their belonging to the world to come.” (p. 238)

Find the book here: Terms for Eternity: Aiônios and Aïdios in Classical and Christian Texts.

Julie Ferwerda: Raising Hell – Christianity’s most controversial doctrine put under fire!

“Through a very intentional plan that reaches into future ages, I believe the true Gospel is that all people for all time will be willingly and joyfully drawn by the unconditional, irresistible, compelling love of a Father into a relationship with Him through His Son.”–Julie Ferwerda

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Julie Ferwerda, author of Raising Hell (image from julieferwerda.com)

“I know it’s easy to want to rely on the strength of numbers for our beliefs, but of all the multitudes of people He encountered, including welltrained, religious leaders and teachers of His day, Jesus had only a handful of simple, unscholarly followers who were willing to hear, follow, and even die for a different message than the orthodox teachings of His day.

I believe Jesus’ true message, as we’ll fully explore, was that He came to save all people with the assistance of a chosen people, in a purposeful plan that extends long past this mortal lifetime. Jesus died for ALL (1 Peter 3:18), and His Father’s unrelenting will that “none should perish” prevails in the end (2 Peter 3:9).

Throughout the last 2,000 years, this belief, embraced by a significant segment of Christianity, has been referred to as: Universal Reconciliation or Restoration, Universal Salvation, the Blessed Hope, Christian Universalism, Irresistible Grace, and a host of other names. It is not the same as the New Age belief that there are “many ways to God,” or that living a life of sin is of no consequence.

Universal Reconciliation is the belief that all people for all time will eventually be reconciled to God—that this lifetime is not the “only chance” to be saved—but that there is only one way to God, through Jesus Christ.

Through a very intentional plan that reaches into future ages, I believe the true Gospel is that all people for all time will be willingly and joyfully drawn by the unconditional, irresistible, compelling love of a Father into a relationship with Him through His Son.

In the end, every knee will have bowed, and every tongue will have confessed Jesus as Lord, giving praise to God (see Rom 14:11, Philippians 2:10).”

The website for Julie Ferwerda’s book: raisinghellbook.com

Download as pdf: Raising Hell

Download abridged version: Raising Hell (abridged version)

Keith DeRose: Universalism and the Bible – The Really Good News

“So, show me someone who’s under divine punishment forever, or who is simply annihilated, and I’ll show you someone who’s never reconciled to God through Christ, and thus someone who gives the lie to this passage.” – Keith DeRose on Col. 1:19-20

In this paper professor of philosophy Keith DeRose discusses arguments in favor of versions of Biblical Universalism:

v4t5wp“Universalism is far from a mere doctrine of barren theology; many, like Paul, find great joy in the belief. Part of the joy some find is in the thought that not only they, but their fellow humans, will, eventually at least, experience everlasting life with Christ. But, like Paul, you may find the joy is focused rather on God, and on how wondrous and complete a victory will be won by the God “who desires everyone to be saved” (I Timothy 2:4). And, on the other side, the non-universalist picture may come to look strangely dim, not exclusively because of the awful fate that awaits some of your fellows on this picture, but because God is deprived of such a complete victory, and, in winning only a partial victory, his desire that everyone be saved will ultimately be frustrated.

For myself, it’s hard to even imagine going back to my earlier way of thinking about God”

Find it here: Universalism and the Bible – The Really Good News

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Jacques Ellul (1912-1994)

“Am I a pessimist? Not at all. I am convinced that the history of the human race, no matter how tragic, will ultimately lead to the Kingdom of God.” – Jacques Ellul (1912-1994)

Jacques Ellul (1912 – 1994) was a French philosopher, law professor, sociologist, lay theologian, and Christian anarchist. Ellul was a longtime Professor of History and the Sociology of Institutions on the Faculty of Law and Economic Sciences at the University of Bordeaux.

In his book What I Believe, Jacques Ellul writes:

Jacques Ellul (1912-1994) Professor at the University of Bordeaux

“I am convinced that all the works of humankind will be reintegrated in the work of God, and that each of us, no matter how sinful, will ultimately be saved. Salvation is universal because the love of God encompasses all. If God is God and if God is love, nothing is outside the love of God.

A place like hell is thus inconceivable. The difference between the Christian and the non-Christian is not one of salvation. Salvation is given by grace to everyone. Christians are simply those charged by God with a special mission. The meaning of being a Christian is not working at your own little salvation, but changing human history.

It is inconceivable that the God who gives Himself in His Son to save us, should have created some people ordained to evil and damnation. There can only be one predestination to salvation. In and through Jesus Christ all people are predestined to be saved.

Our free choice is ruled out in this regard. God wants free people, except in relation to this last and definitive decision. We are not free to decide and choose to be damned. […] Being saved or lost does not depend on our own free decision. An explicit confession of Jesus Christ is not the condition for salvation. Salvation is always for everyone, by grace. All people are included in the grace of God. A theology of grace implies universal salvation.”  (Jacques Ellul, What I Believe 1989)

Jürgen Moltmann: The Coming of God

Jürgen Moltmann (1926-) is a German Reformed theologian and Professor Emeritus of Systematic Theology at the University of Tübingen. In his book The Coming of God Moltmann deals extensively with Christian eschatology. “True hope must be universal, because its healing future embraces every individual and the whole universe. If we were to surrender hope for as much as one single creature, for us God would not be God.” – Jürgen Moltmann

Jürgen Moltmann (1926-) is a German Reformed theologian and Professor Emeritus of Systematic Theology at the University of Tübingen. In his book The Coming of God Moltmann deals extensively with Christian eschatology:

“True hope must be universal, because its healing future embraces every individual and the whole universe. If we were to surrender hope for as much as one single creature, for us God would not be God.”

“The Lausanne Covenant of evangelical theologians says: “Those who reject Christ repudiate the joy of salvation and condemn themselves to eternal separation from God.” They will therefore not only be damned by God. They also damn themselves. Is this theologically conceivable? Can some people damn themselves, and others redeem themselves by accepting Christ? If this were so, God’s decisions would be dependent on the will of human beings. God would become the auxiliary who executes the wishes of people who decide their fate for themselves. If I can damn myself, I am my own God and judge. Taken to a logical conclusion this is atheistic. There is a more modern evangelical idea about a conditional immortality, according to which no one finds a life after death without believing and unless God confers eternal life; all the rest simply remain dead. But I do not find this very helpful either, because it excludes God’s judgment. Mass murderers might possibly welcome this solution, because they would then not have to answer before God’s judgment for what they had done. The annihilationists think that unbelievers do not go to hell eternally but are simply destroyed and fall into an eternal nothingness; but this too does not seem to me compatible with the coming omnipresence of God and his faithfulness to what he has created. For the lost to ‘disappear’ conforms to the terrible experiences with the murder squads in military dictatorships, but it does not accord with God. The God of the Bible is the Creator, not simultaneously the Destroyer, like the Indian god Shiva.

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Jürgen Moltmann: The Coming of God (Augsburg Books 2004)

Christian tradition occasionally introduced a distinction here between the first resurrection (Rev 20:6) and the second. Believers will appear with Christ at his parousia (Col. 3:4) and will reign with him in his kingdom. But all human beings will be raised later for God’s eternal judgment. The first resurrection is therefore called ‘blessed’ but not the second. The raising of believers for the kingdom of Christ is a resurrection from the dead; it is only the second that will be the resurrection of the dead. This distinction presupposes an intermediate, millenarian kingdom of Christ before the universal end of the world. But it leaves unchanged the universal resurrection of the dead ‘for judgment’ in the legalistic form of Daniel 12:2, so that the gospel of Christ is for believers only, while the law of God applies universally to everyone. This is a profoundly unsatisfactory solution, because on the one hand it shakes the certainty of the hope of Christians (who know whether he or she really belongs?) and on the other hand it surrenders not only the rest of the human race but everyone who lived before Christ to the divine judgment, without hope. But the distinction can also be seen as meaning that ‘the first resurrection’ is the beginning of the general resurrection of the dead, and that the second is the goal of the first.

Because cosmically the personal resurrection of the dead means the annihilation of death – that it will be ‘swallowed up’ in the victory of life – death’s subjugation begins with the eternal life already lived with Christ here and now; it is experienced in the Spirit of life here by those who are his, and in the life given to their bodies there. This is how Paul described it in 1 Cor. 15:23-26, unfolding it as the ‘order’ of the resurrection process: Christ ‘the first fruits’ – then at his coming those who belong to him – afterwards the end … the last enemy to be destroyed will be death. If we follow this processual thinking, the hope of Christians is not exclusive, and not particularist either. It is an inclusive and universal hope for the life which overcomes death. It is true not only for Christians but for everything living that wants to live and has to die.” (Jürgen Moltmann: The Coming of God, pp.  109-110)

Who makes the decision about the salvation of lost men and women, and where is the decision made? Every Christian theologian is bound to answer: God decides for a person and for his or her salvation, for otherwise there is no assurance of salvation at all. ‘If God is for us, who can be against us…’ (Rom. 8:31) – we may add: not even ourselves! God is ‘for us’: that has been decided once and for all in the self-surrender and raising of Christ. It is not just a few of the elect who have been reconciled with God, but the whole cosmos (2 Cor. 5:19). It is not just believers whom God loved, but the world (John 3:16). The great turning point from disaster to salvation took place on Golgotha; it does not just happen for the first time at the hour when we decide for faith, or are converted. Faith means experiencing and receiving this turning point personally, but faith is not the turning point itself. It is not my faith that creates salvation for me; salvation creates for me faith. If salvation and damnation were the results of human faith or unfaith, God would be dispensable. The connection between act and destiny, and the law of karma, would suffice to create the causal link. If, even where eternity is at stake, everyone were to forge their own happiness and dig their own graves, human beings would be their own God. It is only if a qualitative difference is made between God and human beings that God’s decision and human decision can be valued and respected. God’s decision ‘for us’, and our decisions for faith or disbelief no more belong on the same level than do eternity and time.” (Jürgen Moltmann: The Coming of God, p. 245)

“The true Christian foundation for the hope of universal salvation is the theology of the cross, and the realistic consequence of the theology of the cross can only be the restoration of all things.” (Jürgen Moltmann: The Coming of God, p. 251)

William Barclay: Reasons for believing in universal salvation

“I am a convinced universalist. I believe that in the end all men will be gathered into the love of God.” – William Barclay

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William Barclay (1907-1978) was professor of Divinity and Biblical Criticism at Glasgow University and the author of many Biblical commentaries and books, including a translation of the New Testament, “Barclay New Testament,” and “The Daily Study Bible Series.”

First, there is the fact that there are things in the New Testament which more than justify this belief. Jesus said: “I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself” (John 12:32). Paul writes to the Romans: “God has consigned all men to disobedience that he may have mercy on all” (Rom. 11:32). He writes to the Corinthians: “As in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive” (1 Cor. 15:22); and he looks to the final total triumph when God will be everything to everyone (1 Cor. 15:28). In the First Letter to Timothy we read of God “who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth,” and of Christ Jesus “who gave himself as a ransom for all” (1 Tim 2:4-6). The New Testament itself is not in the least afraid of the word all.

Second, one of the key passages is Matthew 25:46 where it is said that the rejected go away to eternal punishment, and the righteous to eternal life. The Greek word for punishment is kolasis, which was not originally an ethical word at all. It originally meant the pruning of trees to make them grow better. I think it is true to say that in all Greek secular literature kolasis is never used of anything but remedial punishment. The word for eternal is aionios. It means more than everlasting, for Plato – who may have invented the word – plainly says that a thing may be everlasting and still not be aionios. The simplest way to out it is that aionios cannot be used properly of anyone but God; it is the word uniquely, as Plato saw it, of God. Eternal punishment is then literally that kind of remedial punishment which it befits God to give and which only God can give.

Third, I believe that it is impossible to set limits to the grace of God. I believe that not only in this world, but in any other world there may be, the grace of God is still effective, still operative, still at work. I do not believe that the operation of the grace of God is limited to this world. I believe that the grace of God is as wide as the universe.

Fourth, I believe implicitly in the ultimate and complete triumph of God, the time when all things will be subject to him, and when God will be everything to everyone (1 Cor. 15:24-28). For me this has certain consequences. If one man remains outside the love of God at the end of time, it means that that one man has defeated the love of God – and that is impossible. Further, there is only one way in which we can think of the triumph of God. If God was no more than a King or Judge, then it would be possible to speak of his triumph, if his enemies were agonizing in hell or were totally and completely obliterated and wiped out. But God is not only King and Judge, God is Father – he is indeed Father more than anything else. No father could be happy while there were members of his family for ever in agony. No father would count it a triumph to obliterate the disobedient members of his family. The only triumph a father can know is to have all his family back home. The only victory love can enjoy is the day when its offer of love is answered by the return of love. The only possible final triumph is a universe loved by and in love with God.

(William Barclay: A Spiritual Autobiography, 1977)

In the Hands of a Happy God: The "No-Hellers" of Central Appalachia

“Popularly known as the No-Hellers, this small Baptist sub-denomination rejects the notion of an angry God bent on punishment and retribution and instead embraces the concept of a happy God who consigns no one to eternal damnation. This book is the first in-depth study of the PBUs and their beliefs.”

In this book Howard Dorgan introduces the faith, practices and history of the Primitive Baptist Universalists of Central Appalachia.

d1eb1c24f4d3c82b426b2e90e2f9326b“Among the many forms of religious practice found in the ridges and hollows of Central Appalachia, one of the most intriguing — and least understood — is that of the Primitive Baptist Universalists (PBUs).

Popularly known as the No-Hellers, this small Baptist sub-denomination rejects the notion of an angry God bent on punishment and retribution and instead embraces the concept of a happy God who consigns no one to eternal damnation. This book is the first in-depth study of the PBUs and their beliefs.

As Howard Dorgan points out, the designation No-Heller is something of a misnomer. Primitive Baptist Universalists, he notes, believe in hell — but they see it as something that exists in this life, in the temporal world, rather than in an afterlife.

For a PBU, sinfulness is the given state of natural man, and hell a reality of earthly life — the absence-from-God’s-blessing torment that sin generates.

PBUs further believe that, at the moment of Resurrection, all temporal existence will end as all human-kind joins in a wholly egalitarian heaven, the culmination of Christ’s universal atonement.

In researching this book, Dorgan spent considerable time with PBU congregations, interviewing their members and observing their emotionally charged and joyous worship services. He deftly combines lucid descriptions of PBU beliefs with richly texturedvignettes portraying the people and how they live their faith on a daily basis. He also explores a fascinating possibility concerning PBU origins: that a strain of early- nineteenth-century American Universalism reached the mountains of Appalachia and there fused with Primitive Baptist theology to form this subdenomination, which barely exists outside a handful of counties in Tennessee, Virginia, Kentucky, and West Virginia. Like Dorgan’s earlier books, In the Hands of a Happy God offers an insightful blend of ethnography, history, and theological analysis that will appeal to both Appalachian scholars and all students of American religion.”

Get it at amazon.com.

Read more about the beliefs of Primitive Baptist Universalists here.

Hannah Whitall Smith (1832-1911)

“I saw all this that day on the tram-car on Market street, Philadelphia –not only thought it, or hoped it, or even believed it–but knew it. It was a Divine fact.”–Hannah Whitall Smith in The Unselfishness of God and How I Discovered It

Hannah Tatum Whitall Smith (1832-1911) was a lay speaker and author in the Holiness movement in the United States and the Higher Life movement in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland. She was also active in the Women’s suffrage movement and the Temperance movement. In her book The Unselfishness of God and How I Discovered It she explains how she came to embrace the belief in the final restitution of all things. The popular book has been reprinted many times, but often without the last three chapters, that contains the whole point of the book. Below is an excerpt from chapter 22:

220px-Hannah_Whitall_Smith“I saw all this that day on the tram-car on Market street, Philadelphia –not only thought it, or hoped it, or even believed it–but knew it. It was a Divine fact. And from that moment I have never had one questioning thought as to the final destiny of the human race. God is the Creator of every human being, therefore He is the Father of each one, and they are all His children; and Christ died for every one, and is declared to be “the propitiation not for our sins only, but also for the sins of the whole world” (1 John 2:2). However great the ignorance therefore, or however grievous the sin, the promise of salvation is positive and without limitations. If it is true that “by the offense of one judgment came upon all men to condemnation,” it is equally true that “by the righteousness of one the free gift came upon all men unto justification of life.” To limit the last “all men” is also to limit the first. The salvation is absolutely equal to the fall. There is to be a final “restitution of all things,” when “at the name of Jesus every knee shall bow, of things in heaven, and things on earth, and things under the earth, and every tongue shall confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father.” Every knee, every tongue-words could not be more embracing. The how and the when I could not see; but the one essential fact was all I needed-somewhere and somehow God was going to make every thing right for all the creatures He had created. My heart was at rest about it forever.

I hurried home to get hold of my Bible, to see if the magnificent fact I had discovered could possibly have been all this time in the Bible, and I had not have seen it; and the moment I entered the house, I did not wait to take off my bonnet, but rushed at once to the table where I always kept my Bible and Concordance ready for use, and began my search. Immediately the whole Book seemed to be illuminated. On every page the truth concerning the “times of restitution of all things” of which the Apostle Peter says “God Hath spoken by the mouth of all His holy prophets since the world began,” shone forth, and no room was left for questioning. I turned greedily from page to page of my Bible, fairly laughing aloud for joy at the blaze of light that illuminated it all. It became a new book. Another skin seemed to have been peeled off every text, and my Bible fairly shone with a new meaning. I do not say with a different meaning, for in no sense did the new meaning contradict the old, but a deeper meaning, the true meaning, hidden behind the outward form of words. The words did not need to be changed, they only needed to be understood; and now at last I began to understand them.”

Read the rest here.

J. Preston Eby: The Two Hands of God

“He will use the surgeon’s knife when He sees a tumor of self-will or a deadly virus of carnality sapping our spiritual lives, or when He sees the cancerous growth of sin. He does not hesitate to deal with us severely. We must learn this fact early: He loves us just as much when He … Continue reading J. Preston Eby: The Two Hands of God

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“He will use the surgeon’s knife when He sees a tumor of self-will or a deadly virus of carnality sapping our spiritual lives, or when He sees the cancerous growth of sin. He does not hesitate to deal with us severely. We must learn this fact early: He loves us just as much when He is subjecting us to surgery, as when He sends us blessings and gifts and brings us into the sunshine of His glory. […] Even in judgment, dear ones, God is love! May all who are called to be KINGS AND PRIESTS of God be possessed by such a divine love for the whole world! “For God SO LOVED the world, that He GAVE His only begotten Son” (Jn. 3:16). God so loved that He was willing to pay the VERY HIGHEST PRICE to redeem the World unto Himself. God gave His blessed Son to be slain for us, and now He says to us, “I will save you and I will conform you to My image – even if I have to KILL YOU to do it!” “See now that I, even I, am He, and there is no god with Me: I kill, and I make alive; I wound, and I heal: neither is there any that can deliver out of My hand” (Deut. 32:29). Praise God! This is how His righteous hands work, He kills only to make alive and wounds only to heal. He kills only those things that should die and makes alive the things that should live. What beautiful co-ordination in all the works of HIS HANDS!”

See also Preston Eby’s website: www.kingdombiblestudies.org

George MacDonald: Love Thy Neighbour (1867)

“St Paul would be wretched before the throne of God, if he thought there was one man beyond the pale of his mercy, and that as much for God’s glory as for the man’s sake.” – George MacDonald

George MacDonald (1824–1905) was a Scottish author, poet, and Congregationalist minister. He was a pioneer in the field of fantasy literature and the mentor of Lewis Carroll and C.S. Lewis. The following is a sermon from Unspoken Sermons (1867).

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George MacDonald (1824-1905)

Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.

–  Matthew 22:39.

The original here quoted by our Lord is to be found in the words of God to Moses, (Leviticus 19:18) “Thou shalt not avenge, nor bear any grudge against the children of thy people, but thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself: I am the Lord” Our Lord never thought of being original. The older the saying the better, if it utters the truth he wants to utter. In him it becomes fact: The Word was made flesh. And so, in the wondrous meeting of extremes, the words he spoke were no more words, but spirit and life.

The same words are twice quoted by St Paul, and once by St James, always in a similar mode: Love they represent as the fulfilling of the law.

Is the converse true then? Is the fulfilling of the law love? The apostle Paul says: “Love worketh no ill to his neighbour, therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.” Does it follow that working no ill is love? Love will fulfil the law: will the law fulfil love? No, verily. If a man keeps the law, I know he is a lover of his neighbour. But he is not a lover because he keeps the law: he keeps the law because he is a lover. No heart will be content with the law for love. The law cannot fulfil love.

“But, at least, the law will be able to fulfil itself, though it reaches not to love.”

I do not believe it. I am certain that it is impossible to keep the law towards one’s neighbour except one loves him. The law itself is infinite, reaching to such delicacies of action, that the man who tries most will be the man most aware of defeat. We are not made for law, but for love. Love is law, because it is infinitely more than law. It is of an altogether higher region than law–is, in fact, the creator of law. Had it not been for love, not one of the shall-nots of the law would have been uttered. True, once uttered, they shew themselves in the form of justice, yea, even in the inferior and worldly forms of prudence and self-preservation; but it was love that spoke them first. Were there no love in us, what sense of justice could we have? Would not each be filled with the sense of his own wants, and be for ever tearing to himself? I do not say it is conscious love that breeds justice, but I do say that without love in our nature justice would never be born. For I do not call that justice which consists only in a sense of our own rights. True, there are poor and withered forms of love which are immeasurably below justice now; but even now they are of speechless worth, for they will grow into that which will supersede, because it will necessitate, justice.

Of what use then is the law? To lead us to Christ, the Truth,–to waken in our minds a sense of what our deepest nature, the presence, namely, of God in us, requires of us,–to let us know, in part by failure, that the purest effort of will of which we are capable cannot lift us up even to the abstaining from wrong to our neighbour. What man, for instance, who loves not his neighbour and yet wishes to keep the law, will dare be confident that never by word, look, tone, gesture, silence, will he bear false witness against that neighbour? What man can judge his neighbour aright save him whose love makes him refuse to judge him? Therefore are we told to love, and not judge. It is the sole justice of which we are capable, and that perfected will comprise all justice. Nay more, to refuse our neighbour love, is to do him the greatest wrong. But of this afterwards. In order to fulfil the commonest law, I repeat, we must rise into a loftier region altogether, a region that is above law, because it is spirit and life and makes the law: in order to keep the law towards our neighbour, we must love our neighbour. We are not made for law, but for grace–or for faith, to use another word so much misused. We are made on too large a scale altogether to have any pure relation to mere justice, if indeed we can say there is such a thing. It is but an abstract idea which, in reality, will not be abstracted. The law comes to make us long for the needful grace,–that is, for the divine condition, in which love is all, for God is Love.

Though the fulfilling of the law is the practical form love will take, and the neglect of it is the conviction of lovelessness; though it is the mode in which a man’s will must begin at once to be love to his neighbour, yet, that our Lord meant by the love of our neighbour; not the fulfilling of the law towards him, but that condition of being which results in the fulfilling of the law and more, is sufficiently clear from his story of the good Samaritan. “Who is my neighbour?” said the lawyer. And the Lord taught him that every one to whom he could be or for whom he could do anything was his neighbour, therefore, that each of the race, as he comes within the touch of one tentacle of our nature, is our neighbour. Which of the inhibitions of the law is illustrated in the tale? Not one. The love that is more than law, and renders its breach impossible, lives in the endless story, coming out in active kindness, that is, the recognition of kin, of kind, of nighness, of neighbourhood; yea, in tenderness and loving-kindness– the Samaritan-heart akin to the Jew-heart, the Samaritan hands neighbours to the Jewish wounds.

Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.

So direct and complete is this parable of our Lord, that one becomes almost ashamed of further talk about it. Suppose a man of the company had put the same question to our Lord that we have been considering, had said, “But I may keep the law and yet not love my neighbour,” would he not have returned: “Keep thou the law thus, not in the letter, but in the spirit, that is, in the truth of action, and thou wilt soon find, O Jew, that thou lovest thy Samaritan”? And yet, when thoughts and questions arise in our minds, he desires that we should follow them. He will not check us with a word of heavenly wisdom scornfully uttered. He knows that not even his words will apply to every question of the willing soul; and we know that his spirit will reply. When we want to know more, that more will be there for us. Not every man, for instance, finds his neighbour in need of help, and he would gladly hasten the slow results of opportunity by true thinking. Thus would we be ready for further teaching from that Spirit who is the Lord.

“But how,” says a man, who is willing to recognize the universal neighbourhead, but finds himself unable to fulfil the bare law towards the woman even whom he loves best,–“How am I then to rise into that higher region, that empyrean of love?” And, beginning straightway to try to love his neighbour, he finds that the empyrean of which he spoke is no more to be reached in itself than the law was to be reached in itself. As he cannot keep the law without first rising into the love of his neighbour, so he cannot love his neighbour without first rising higher still. The whole system of the universe works upon this law–the driving of things upward towards the centre. The man who will love his neighbour can do so by no immediately operative exercise of the will. It is the man fulfilled of God from whom he came and by whom he is, who alone can as himself love his neighbour who came from God too and is by God too. The mystery of individuality and consequent relation is deep as the beginnings of humanity, and the questions thence arising can be solved only by him who has, practically, at least, solved the holy necessities resulting from his origin. In God alone can man meet man. In him alone the converging lines of existence touch and cross not. When the mind of Christ, the life of the Head, courses through that atom which the man is of the slowly revivifying body, when he is alive too, then the love of the brothers is there as conscious life. From Christ through the neighbours comes the life that makes him a part of the body.

It is possible to love our neighbour as ourselves. Our Lord never spoke hyperbolically, although, indeed, that is the supposition on which many unconsciously interpret his words, in order to be able to persuade themselves that they believe them. We may see that it is possible before we attain to it; for our perceptions of truth are always in advance of our condition. True, no man can see it perfectly until he is it; but we must see it, that we may be it. A man who knows that he does not yet love his neighbour as himself may believe in such a condition, may even see that there is no other goal of human perfection, nothing else to which the universe is speeding, propelled by the Father’s will. Let him labour on, and not faint at the thought that God’s day is a thousand years: his millennium is likewise one day–yea, this day, for we have him, The Love, in us, working even now the far end.

But while it is true that only when a man loves God with all his heart, will he love his neighbour as himself, yet there are mingled processes in the attainment of this final result. Let us try to aid such operation of truth by looking farther. Let us suppose that the man who believes our Lord both meant what he said, and knew the truth of the matter, proceeds to endeavour obedience in this of loving his neighbour as himself. He begins to think about his neighbours generally, and he tries to feel love towards them. He finds at once that they begin to classify themselves. With some he feels no difficulty, for he loves them already, not indeed because they are, but because they have, by friendly qualities, by showing themselves lovable, that is loving, already, moved his feelings as the wind moves the waters, that is without any self-generated action on his part. And he feels that this is nothing much to the point; though, of course, he would be farther from the desired end if he had none such to love, and farther still if he loved none such. He recalls the words of our Lord, “If ye love them which love you, what reward have ye?” and his mind fixes upon–let us say–one of a second class, and he tries to love him. The man is no enemy–we have not come to that class of neighbours yet–but he is dull, uninteresting–in a negative way, he thinks, unlovable. What is he to do with him? With all his effort, he finds the goal as far off as ever.

Naturally, in his failure, the question arises, “Is it my duty to love him who is unlovable?”

Certainly not, if he is unlovable. But that is a begging of the question.

Thereupon the man falls back on the primary foundation of things, and asks–

“How, then, is the man to be loved by me? Why should I love my neighbour as myself?”

We must not answer “Because the Lord says so.” It is because the Lord says so that the man is inquiring after some help to obey. No man can love his neighbour merely because the Lord says so. The Lord says so because it is right and necessary and natural, and the man wants to feel it thus right and necessary and natural. Although the Lord would be pleased with any man for doing a thing because he said it, he would show his pleasure by making the man more and more dissatisfied until he knew why the Lord had said it. He would make him see that he could not in the deepest sense–in the way the Lord loves–obey any command until he saw the reasonableness of it. Observe I do not say the man ought to put off obeying the command until he see its reasonableness: that is another thing quite, and does not lie in the scope of my present supposition. It is a beautiful thing to obey the rightful source of a command: it is a more beautiful thing to worship the radiant source of our light, and it is for the sake of obedient vision that our Lord commands us. For then our heart meets his: we see God.

Let me represent in the form of a conversation what might pass in the man’s mind on the opposing sides of the question.–“Why should I love my neighbour?”

“He is the same as I, and therefore I ought to love him.”

“Why? I am I. He is he.”

“He has the same thoughts, feelings, hopes, sorrows, joys, as I.”

“Yes; but why should I love him for that? He must mind his, I can only do with mine.”

“He has the same consciousness as I have. As things look to me, so things look to him.”

“Yes; but I cannot get into his consciousness, nor he into mine. I feel myself, I do not feel him. My life flows through my veins, not through his. The world shines into my consciousness, and I am not conscious of his consciousness. I wish I could love him, but I do not see why. I am an individual; he is an individual. My self must be closer to me than he can be. Two bodies keep me apart from his self. I am isolated with myself.”

Now, here lies the mistake at last. While the thinker supposes a duality in himself which does not exist, he falsely judges the individuality a separation. On the contrary, it is the sole possibility and very bond of love. Otherness is the essential ground of affection. But in spiritual things, such a unity is pre-supposed in the very contemplation of them by the spirit of man, that wherever anything does not exist that ought to be there, the space it ought to occupy, even if but a blank, assumes the appearance of a separating gulf. The negative looks a positive. Where a man does not love, the not-loving must seem rational. For no one loves because he sees why, but because he loves. No human reason can he given for the highest necessity of divinely created existence. For reasons are always from above downwards. A man must just feel this necessity, and then questioning is over. It justifies itself. But he who has not felt has it not to argue about. He has but its phantom, which he created himself in a vain effort to understand, and which he supposes to be it. Love cannot be argued about in its absence, for there is no reflex, no symbol of it near enough to the fact of it, to admit of just treatment by the algebra of the reason or imagination. Indeed, the very talking about it raises a mist between the mind and the vision of it. But let a man once love, and all those difficulties which appeared opposed to love, will just be so many arguments for loving.

Let a man once find another who has fallen among thieves; let him be a neighbour to him, pouring oil and wine into his wounds, and binding them up, and setting him on his own beast, and paying for him at the inn; let him do all this merely from a sense of duty; let him even, in the pride of his fancied, and the ignorance of his true calling, bate no jot of his Jewish superiority; let him condescend to the very baseness of his own lowest nature; yet such will be the virtue of obeying an eternal truth even to his poor measure, of putting in actuality what he has not even seen in theory, of doing the truth even without believing it, that even if the truth does not after the deed give the faintest glimmer as truth in the man, he will yet be ages nearer the truth than before, for he will go on his way loving that Samaritan neighbour a little more than his Jewish dignity will justify. Nor will he question the reasonableness of so doing, although he may not care to spend any logic upon its support. How much more if he be a man who would love his neighbour if he could, will the higher condition unsought have been found in the action! For man is a whole; and so soon as he unites himself by obedient action, the truth that is in him makes itself known to him, shining from the new whole. For his action is his response to his maker’s design, his individual part in the creation of himself, his yielding to the All in all, to the tides of whose harmonious cosmoplastic life all his being thenceforward lies open for interpenetration and assimilation. When will once begins to aspire, it will soon find that action must precede feeling, that the man may know the foundation itself of feeling.

With those who recognize no authority as the ground of tentative action, a doubt, a suspicion of truth ought to be ground enough for putting it to the test.

The whole system of divine education as regards the relation of man and man, has for its end that a man should love his neighbour as himself. It is not a lesson that he can learn by itself, or a duty the obligation of which can be shown by argument, any more than the difference between right and wrong can be defined in other terms than their own. “But that difference,” it may be objected, “manifests itself of itself to every mind: it is self-evident; whereas the loving of one’s neighbour is not seen to be a primary truth; so far from it, that far the greater number of those who hope for an eternity of blessedness through him who taught it, do not really believe it to be a truth; believe, on the contrary, that the paramount obligation is to take care of one’s self at much risk of forgetting one’s neighbour.”

But the human race generally has got as far as the recognition of right and wrong; and therefore most men are born capable of making the distinction. The race has not yet lived long enough for its latest offspring to be born with the perception of the truth of love to the neighbour. It is to be seen by the present individual only after a long reception of and submission to the education of life. And once seen, it is believed.

The whole constitution of human society exists for the express end, I say, of teaching the two truths by which man lives, Love to God and Love to Man. I will say nothing more of the mysteries of the parental relation, because they belong to the teaching of the former truth, than that we come into the world as we do, to look up to the love over us, and see in it a symbol, poor and weak, yet the best we can have or receive of the divine love.

[Footnote: It might be expressed after a deeper and truer fashion by saying that, God making human affairs after his own thoughts, they are therefore such as to be the best teachers of love to him and love to our neighbour. This is an immeasurably nobler and truer manner of regarding them than as a scheme or plan invented by the divine intellect.]

And thousands more would find it easy to love God if they had not such miserable types of him in the self-seeking, impulse-driven, purposeless, faithless beings who are all they have for father and mother, and to whom their children are no dearer than her litter is to the unthinking dam. What I want to speak of now, with regard to the second great commandment, is the relation of brotherhood and sisterhood. Why does my brother come of the same father and mother? Why do I behold the helplessness and confidence of his infancy? Why is the infant laid on the knee of the child? Why do we grow up with the same nurture? Why do we behold the wonder of the sunset and the mystery of the growing moon together? Why do we share one bed, join in the same games, and attempt the same exploits? Why do we quarrel, vow revenge and silence and endless enmity, and, unable to resist the brotherhood within us, wind arm in arm and forget all within the hour? Is it not that Love may grow lord of all between him and me? Is it not that I may feel towards him what there are no words or forms of words to express– a love namely, in which the divine self rushes forth in utter self-forgetfulness to live in the contemplation of the brother–a love that is stronger than death,–glad and proud and satisfied? But if love stop there, what will be the result? Ruin to itself; loss of the brotherhood. He who loves not his brother for deeper reasons than those of a common parentage will cease to love him at all. The love that enlarges not its borders, that is not ever spreading and including, and deepening, will contract, shrivel, decay, die. I have had the sons of my mother that I may learn the universal brotherhood. For there is a bond between me and the most wretched liar that ever died for the murder he would not even confess, closer infinitely than that which springs only from having one father and mother. That we are the sons and the daughters of God born from his heart, the outcoming offspring of his love, is a bond closer than all other bonds in one. No man ever loved his own child aright who did not love him for his humanity, for his divinity, to the utter forgetting of his origin from himself. The son of my mother is indeed my brother by this greater and closer bond as well; but if I recognize that bond between him and me at all, I recognize it for my race. True, and thank God! the greater excludes not the less; it makes all the weaker bonds stronger and truer, nor forbids that where all are brothers, some should be those of our bosom. Still my brother according to the flesh is my first neighbour, that we may be very nigh to each other, whether we will or no, while our hearts are tender, and so may learn brotherhood. For our love to each other is but the throbbing of the heart of the great brotherhood, and could come only from the eternal Father, not from our parents. Then my second neighbour appears, and who is he? Whom I come in contact with soever. He with whom I have any transactions, any human dealings whatever. Not the man only with whom I dine; not the friend only with whom I share my thoughts; not the man only whom my compassion would lift from some slough; but the man who makes my clothes; the man who prints my book; the man who drives me in his cab; the man who begs from me in the street, to whom, it may be, for brotherhood’s sake, I must not give; yea, even the man who condescends to me. With all and each there is a chance of doing the part of a neighbour, if in no other way yet by speaking truly, acting justly, and thinking kindly. Even these deeds will help to that love which is born of righteousness. All true action clears the springs of right feeling, and lets their waters rise and flow. A man must not choose his neighbour; he must take the neighbour that God sends him. In him, whoever he be, lies, hidden or revealed, a beautiful brother. The neighbour is just the man who is next to you at the moment, the man with whom any business has brought you in contact.

Thus will love spread and spread in wider and stronger pulses till the whole human race will be to the man sacredly lovely. Drink-debased, vice-defeatured, pride-puffed, wealth-bollen, vanity-smeared, they will yet be brothers, yet be sisters, yet be God-born neighbours. Any rough-hewn semblance of humanity will at length be enough to move the man to reverence and affection. It is harder for some to learn thus than for others. There are whose first impulse is ever to repel and not to receive. But learn they may, and learn they must. Even these may grow in this grace until a countenance unknown will awake in them a yearning of affection rising to pain, because there is for it no expression, and they can only give the man to God and be still.

And now will come in all the arguments out of which the man tried in vain before to build a stair up to the sunny heights of love. “Ah brother! thou hast a soul like mine,” he will say. “Out of thine eyes thou lookest, and sights and sounds and odours visit thy soul as mine, with wonder and tender comforting. Thou too lovest the faces of thy neighbours. Thou art oppressed with thy sorrows, uplifted with thy joys. Perhaps thou knowest not so well as I, that a region of gladness surrounds all thy grief, of light all thy darkness, of peace all thy tumult. Oh, my brother! I will love thee. I cannot come very near thee: I will love thee the more. It may be thou dost not love thy neighbour; it may be thou thinkest only how to get from him, how to gain by him. How lonely then must thou be! how shut up in thy poverty-stricken room, with the bare walls of thy selfishness, and the hard couch of thy unsatisfaction! I will love thee the more. Thou shalt not be alone with thyself. Thou art not me; thou art another life–a second self; therefore I can, may, and will love thee.”

When once to a man the human face is the human face divine, and the hand of his neighbour is the hand of a brother, then will he understand what St Paul meant when he said, “I could wish that myself were accursed from Christ for my brethren.” But he will no longer understand those who, so far from feeling the love of their neighbour an essential of their being, expect to be set free from its law in the world to come. There, at least, for the glory of God, they may limit its expansive tendencies to the narrow circle of their heaven. On its battlements of safety, they will regard hell from afar, and say to each other, “Hark! Listen to their moans. But do not weep, for they are our neighbours no more.” St Paul would be wretched before the throne of God, if he thought there was one man beyond the pale of his mercy, and that as much for God’s glory as for the man’s sake. And what shall we say of the man Christ Jesus? Who, that loves his brother, would not, upheld by the love of Christ, and with a dim hope that in the far-off time there might be some help for him, arise from the company of the blessed, and walk down into the dismal regions of despair, to sit with the last, the only unredeemed, the Judas of his race, and be himself more blessed in the pains of hell, than in the glories of heaven? Who, in the midst of the golden harps and the white wings, knowing that one of his kind, one miserable brother in the old-world-time when men were taught to love their neighbour as themselves, was howling unheeded far below in the vaults of the creation, who, I say, would not feel that he must arise, that he had no choice, that, awful as it was, he must gird his loins, and go down into the smoke and the darkness and the fire, travelling the weary and fearful road into the far country to find his brother?–who, I mean, that had the mind of Christ, that had the love of the Father?

But it is a wild question. God is, and shall be, All in all. Father of our brothers and sisters! thou wilt not be less glorious than we, taught of Christ, are able to think thee. When thou goest into the wilderness to seek, thou wilt not come home until thou hast found. It is because we hope not for them in thee, not knowing thee, not knowing thy love, that we are so hard and so heartless to the brothers and sisters whom thou hast given us.

One word more: This love of our neighbour is the only door out of the dungeon of self, where we mope and mow, striking sparks, and rubbing phosphorescences out of the walls, and blowing our own breath in our own nostrils, instead of issuing to the fair sunlight of God, the sweet winds of the universe. The man thinks his consciousness is himself; whereas his life consisteth in the inbreathing of God, and the consciousness of the universe of truth. To have himself, to know himself, to enjoy himself, he calls life; whereas, if he would forget himself, tenfold would be his life in God and his neighbours. The region of man’s life is a spiritual region. God, his friends, his neighbours, his brothers all, is the wide world in which alone his spirit can find room. Himself is his dungeon. If he feels it not now, he will yet feel it one day–feel it as a living soul would feel being prisoned in a dead body, wrapped in sevenfold cerements, and buried in a stone-ribbed vault within the last ripple of the sound of the chanting people in the church above. His life is not in knowing that he lives, but in loving all forms of life. He is made for the All, for God, who is the All, is his life. And the essential joy of his life lies abroad in the liberty of the All. His delights, like those of the Ideal Wisdom, are with the sons of men. His health is in the body of which the Son of Man is the head. The whole region of life is open to him–nay, he must live in it or perish.

Nor thus shall a man lose the consciousness of well-being. Far deeper and more complete, God and his neighbour will flash it back upon him– pure as life. No more will he agonize “with sick assay” to generate it in the light of his own decadence. For he shall know the glory of his own being in the light of God and of his brother.

But he may have begun to love his neighbour, with the hope of ere long loving him as himself, and notwithstanding start back affrighted at yet another word of our Lord, seeming to be another law yet harder than the first, although in truth it is not another, for without obedience to it the former cannot be attained unto. He has not yet learned to love his neighbour as himself whose heart sinks within him at the word, I say unto you, Love your enemies.

THE END.

 

Søren Kierkegaard (1813-1855): “If the others are going to hell, then I am going along with them.”

“If others go to Hell, I will go too. But I do not believe that; on the contrary, I believe that all will be saved, myself with them—something which arouses my deepest amazement.” – Søren Kierkegaard in Journals and Papers, Vol. 6

Søren Kierkegaard (1813-1855)

“I do not pretend to be better than others. Therefore what the old Bishop once said to me is not true–namely, that I spoke as if the others were going to hell. No, if I can be said to speak at all of going to hell then I am saying something like this: If the others are going to hell, then I am going along with them. But I do not believe that; on the contrary, I believe that we will all be saved, I, too, and this awakens my deepest wonder.”

Søren Kierkegaard

Søren Kierkegaard’s Journals and Papers: Autobiographical, 1848-1855, p. 557

Søren Kierkegaard (1813–1855) was a 19th-century Danish philosopher who has often been considered the Father of (Christian) Existentialism. During his later years (1848–1855), most of his writings shifted from being philosophical in nature to being religious. Kierkegaard became well-known for his harsh criticism of Christendom and his call to radical discipleship, seemingly holding the belief that most people except himself were going to hell. In the quote above Kierkegaard refutes that assumption about him as mistaken. Søren Kierkegaard’s thinking has been a major influence in the development of 20th century theology.

Elhanan Winchester: The Outcasts Comforted – Sermon on Universal Restoration (1782)

“One will say, God loves all his creatures without exception, that he is good to all and his tender mercies are over all his works. Another will maintain that all the objects of his love must finally come to the enjoyment of himself; and that his mercy endureth forever and cannot fail. We heartily believe both these testimonies. One will assert that Christ died for all, tasted death for everyone; the other, that Christ shall see of the travail of his soul, and shall be satisfied, and that all for whom his blood was shed shall be cleansed thereby. All this we steadfastly believe.”

elhananwinchester
Elhanan Winchester (1751-1797)

Elhanan Winchester was a Baptist preacher and a founder of the Society of Universal Baptists and the United States General Convention of Universalists.

In his “The Outcasts Comforted – Sermon to the Members of the baptist church, who have been rejected by their Brethren, For holding the Doctrine of the final Restoration of all Things” from 1782 Winchester argues that both Calvinism and Arminianism are only partly right – but put together they form the complete gospel of universal reconciliation.

The Outcasts Comforted

A SERMON Delivered at the University in Philadelphia, January 4, 1782

To the Members of the BAPTIST CHURCH, who have been rejected by their Brethren,
For holding the Doctrine of the final Restoration of all Things.

By Elhanan Winchester.
Published at the earnest Desire of the Hearers.


But this I confess unto thee, that after the Way which they call Heresy, so worship I the GOD of my Fathers, believing all Things which are written in the Law and the Prophets. Acts 24: 14.


Philadelphia: Printed in the Year 1782

To all those of every Denomination, who have been, or may be, rejected by their Brethren, for the Belief of the glorious Doctrine of the Restitution of all Things (of which God hath spoken by the Mouth of all his holy Prophets, since the World began) and especially to the Baptist Church in Philadelphia, holding the same, his
plain Sermon is humbly inscribed, by their sincere Friend, and Servant for the Lord’s Sake,

-THE AUTHOR.


Isaiah 66:5. Hear the Word of the L O R D, ye that tremble at his Word; your Brethren that hated you, and cast you out for my Name’s Sake, said, Let the L O R D be glorified, but H E shall appear to your joy, and they shall be ashamed.


Oh what comfortable Words are these! Words sufficient to cheer the hearts of the mourners, and to cause the outcasts to rejoice. Here is an invitation to those who tremble at the Word of the Lord, they are called to hearken to the cheering voice of their God, who promises to appear to their joy, and to the shame of their brethren, who cast them out, under a pretense of glorifying God thereby.

Let us in the first place inquire into the characters of those who are spoken to in the words of my text; they are such as tremble at the word of the Lord.

We read in Ezra 10:3 of those who trembled at the commandment of God. These are such as believe the truth of God with their whole hearts, who feel the power of the same within their breasts, who loathe themselves on the account of their iniquities, and live so under a sense of the Majesty of God, that they are continually abased and humbled before Him. Persons of this character are very dear to God, as we find written in Psalm 34:18 – “The Lord is nigh unto them that are of a broken heart; and saveth such as be of a contrite Spirit,” and in Psalm 51:17 – “The sacrifices of God are a broken Spirit; a broken and a contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise,” and Psalm 138:6 – “Though the Lord be high, yet hath he respect unto the lowly; but the proud he knoweth afar off,” and Psalm 147:3 – “He healeth the broken in heart, and bindeth up their wounds.” Isaiah 57:15 – “For thus saith the high and lofty One that inhabiteth eternity, whose Name is Holy; I dwell in the high and holy place, with him also that is of a contrite and humble Spirit, to revive the Spirit of the humble, and to revive the Heart of the contrite ones.” Isaiah 57:2 – “But to this man will I look (or have regard) even to him that is poor, and of a contrite Spirit, and trembleth at my Word.”

And how often doth our Savior say, “He that humbleth himself shall be exalted.” Matthew 23:12. Luke 14:11; 18:14. There is nothing so contrary to God as a proud haughty Spirit, but he delights in the humble: Let us therefore humble ourselves under the mighty Hand of God, that he may exalt us in due time; yea, let us be clothed with humility, for God resisteth the proud, and giveth grace to the humble. I Peter 5:5, etc.

The nearer beings are to God, the more humble they are; and the farther from him, the prouder. A better instance to prove this can hardly be found than that of Michael the Archangel. Contending with the devil (or Lucifer) he disputed about the body of Moses, yet dared not bring a railing accusation against him, but said, “The Lord rebuke thee.” – Jude verse 9. But Satan is said to be the “Accuser of the brethren, which accused them before God day and night.” – Rev. 12:10. See Michael the nighest being to God, and Lucifer the farthest from him; one filled with the profoundest humility, and the other with most daring pride and insolence; Michael not daring to bring a railing accusation against the devil himself, yet the devil daring to accuse the brethren day and night before God. The difference is amazing, and is a proper looking glass for us all. Pride is the image of Satan, humility the image of Christ, in which all beings stand that are conformed to him, in proportion as they are so.

Those who tremble at the Word of the Lord, may be described in the following manner:

  • They feel the power of it in their hearts;
  • They believe every Word of God is true, and shall have its accomplishment;
  • They fear to deny with the mouth what they believe in the heart, even though the confession of the same should expose them to the scorn and derision of their acquaintance;
  • The endeavor to be conformed, both in temper and conduct, to the will of God made know to them;
  • and to obey God rather than men.

I think these are the true marks of those who tremble at the word of God. Happy are they who answer this description!

Having very briefly described those to whom the Lord speaks, let us consider what he saith, “Your brethren that hated you, and cast you out for my name’s sake, etc.”

We are assured in the sacred pages, that reproach and persecution must infallibly be every living Christian’s lot; and the Savior of mankind has pronounced a blessing to those who meet therewith for his sake, saying, “Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness sake, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven. Blessed are ye when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake: Rejoice, and be exceeding glad; for great is your reward in heaven; for so persecuted they the prophets, which were before you.” – Matthew 5:10, 11, 12. “Blessed are ye when men shall hate you, and when they shall separate you from their company, and shall reproach you, and cast out your name as evil for the Son of Man’s sake. Rejoice ye in that day, and leap for joy; for behold your reward is great in Heaven; for in like manner did their fathers unto the prophets. Luke 6: 22, 23. And Jesus assured his disciples, that they must continually expect hatred, calumny, and persecution, from the men of the world. Some of his intimations of that kind, I will repeat to you: “And ye shall be hated of all men for my Name’s sake,” – Matthew 10:22; 24:9; Mark 13:13; Luke 21:17. “It is enough for the disciple, that he be as his master, and the servant as his Lord. If they have called the master of the house Beelzebub, how much more shall they call them of his household?” – Matthew 10:25. “If the world hate you, ye know that it hated me before it hated you. If ye were of the world, the world would love his own; but because ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you. Remember the word that I said unto you, the servant is not greater than the Lord. If they have persecuted me, they will also persecute you; if they have kept my saying, they will keep yours also. But all these things will they do unto you for my Name’s sake, because they know not him that sent me.” – John 15:18, 19, 20, 21. “These things I have spoken unto you, that ye should not be offended. They shall put you out of the synagogues, yea, the time cometh that whosoever killeth you, will think that he doth God service. In the world ye shall have tribulation.” – John 16: 1, 2, 33.

And the apostles of Christ experienced these things, and taught all Christians to expect the same. St. Paul, after speaking of his own trials (lest any should think them peculiar to Paul and the apostles) adds, “Yea, and all that will live godly in Christ Jesus, shall suffer persecution.” – II. Tim. 3:12. And St. Peter says, “If ye be reproached for the Name of Christ happy are ye; For the Spirit of Glory and of God resteth on you. On their part he is evil spoken of, but on your part he is glorified.” – I Pet. 4:14.

And St. John observes that, “Cain was of that wicked one, and slew his brother; and wherefore slew he him? (saith he) because his own works were evil, and his brother’s righteous.” And then he adds, very pertinently, “Marvel not, my brethren, if the world hate you.” – I John 3:12, 13. What St. Paul said concerning Ishmael the mocker, remains still as true as ever, “But as then, he that was born after the flesh, persecuted him that was born after the Spirit, even so it is now.” – Gal. 4:29.

From the world we are taught to expect persecution; but our text says, “Your brethren that hated you, and cast you out for my Name’s sake, said, Let the Lord be glorified.”

We have experienced something of what the spouse did; for she says Sol. Songs 1:6 – “My mother’s children were angry with me.” It has been the unhappy case almost ever since Christianity has been known in the world, that its professors have been exceeding divided in their judgments, and not only so, but they have reproached, reviled, censured and persecuted one another in the most dreadful manner; many times even to death, and where they have not had that in their power, they have often shown by their bitter words, hard speeches, false accusations, and malicious reproaches, what they would have done if they could. Strange as it may seem, the best profession in the world has been abused and made the occasion of more war and bloodshed in Christendom for many centuries, than all other things put together.

One great cause of so much unprofitable contention is that Truth has been divided, torn to pieces and sometimes even lost in the debates raised about it. One party has had some truth, another has also had some, but each thinking they had the whole, have endeavored to overthrow all that their antagonists held; both have been dividing the living child of truth, under a notion that it was found no where but with them. Thus each have opposed the truth in each other under the notion of its being erroneous. On the contrary, we say that all denominations have it among them in part and those divided parts brought together just make up that collection of truths that we believe.

I have often considered it with astonishment, that two ministers shall preach, and prove what they say from the scriptures, and neither of them shall be looked upon as holding damnable heresy, and yet we shall be looked upon as the worst of heretics by both of them, and all their people, for believing only what both of them put together have asserted. Note– I was in company once with two public speakers, one of them said that he believed as much as he did his own existence, that God loved all, and that Christ died for all without exception; the other said that nothing was more evident to him than this, viz. that Christ could not die in vain for any, that he must see of the travail of his soul, and be satisfied, and that all for whom the Savior died, must be finally made happy; now could each of these have believed those truths which the other held as incontestable, they would have held things as we do immediately, for we believe firmly what both of them put together did; and therefore it is possible that we are heretics, for believing the foundation principles of the whole Christian world, I leave every one to judge! –end of note)

One will say, God loves all his creatures without exception, that he is good to all and his tender mercies are over all his works. Another will maintain that all the objects of his love must finally come to the enjoyment of himself; and that his mercy endureth forever and cannot fail. We heartily believe both these testimonies. One will assert that Christ died for all, tasted death for everyone; the other, that Christ shall see of the travail of his soul, and shall be satisfied, and that all for whom his blood was shed shall be cleansed thereby. All this we steadfastly believe.

One will declare that God willeth that all shall be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth; the other, that whatever God willeth, must be accomplished at last. None can say with truth, that we deny either of these assertions.

One will say that God at first purposed all his creatures to praise and glorify his Name to all eternity and to be happy in the enjoyment of himself. The other will declare that the purposes of God must stand, that with God there is no variableness, nor shadow of turning. That he is of one mind, and that none can turn him and that what his soul desireth that he will do. We freely consent to the truth of all this.

One will say that God would have all if he could, that his will is good towards all; the other will assert, that he is infinitely able to do all that he pleases, and that he could bring all to him if he would.

And do not we as fully believe both of these positions, as we do our own existence?

One will declare that the blood of Jesus Christ was freely shed for all; the other, that his blood is infinitely sufficient to cleanse and purify all. This is what we believe.

One will say, with the scripture, that all things are given to Christ; the other, in conformity to the same sacred writings will maintain that all that the Father giveth him shall come to him; that he will give eternal life to as many as the Father has given him. This is our belief. We believe the truth of both those positions. None will come to Christ but those whom the Father giveth him; and he hath given him all things without exception. Thus we see that our belief is in fact the belief of all the Christian world put together. And instead of tending to increase the divided churches, it tends to unite them all in one, as it allows the truth in a measure amongst all, and that as there is no church wholly pure in all things, so none can be found but what has some true witnesses for God therein; some tokens of the divine presence, and some glorious truths remain in every church under the sun; and this glorious chain of truths that, we believe, bids fair one day to unite all together in one close system of benevolence; and it is my opinion that the time is not very remote when “Zion’s watchmen shall see eye to eye. When we shall not need to teach every man his neighbor, saying, know the Lord, for all shall know him from the least to the greatest, and serve him with one consent.”

Our belief respecting the restoration of all things is not only founded upon the plainest letter of scripture (as all may see, who will be at the pains to read over the printed collection of texts) but is exactly according to the experience of every Christian. For let me ask any who were ever made to experience the love of God shed abroad in their hearts, by the Holy Ghost, these questions: Did you not at that time see and feel yourselves the vilest of all sinners, even the most stubborn and rebellious of the human race?

Did you not view the love of God infinitely full, free, unmerited, and undeserved? Did you not behold in Christ an infinite fullness, sufficiency and willingness to save all? Did you not earnestly long that all might come and partake of his grace? If you had as much power as good will, would you not have brought all to bow to the scepter of grace, and to be reconciled to their God through Jesus Christ? Did you not feel a disposition to pray for all men, that they might be saved? To these questions all new born simple souls, who have ever tasted of love divine, would answer in the affirmative, with all their hearts, if they were not led aside by some system. Now then let me say, from whence do these views and desires come? Certainly from the ocean of all goodness can a small drop then be larger than the unfathomed abyss of love? Have you more compassion towards your fellow-creatures, than their creator, to whom they are all nearer than children are to their parents? Would you bring all to submit to God, and be happy, if you could? And will not he to whom nothing (that he pleases to do) is impossible, bring all his creatures to be reconciled to himself? Has he taught us to love all, even our worst enemies? And does he not love all himself? Has he taught us to pray for all that they might be saved? And will he never hear nor answer those prayers, put up in the name of Christ, agreeable to his will? Has he taught us to do good to all? And will he not much more do good to all? Has he taught us to be more perfect than himself? Has he provided so much for the bodies of all, and nothing for the souls of the most of his creatures? Will he suffer his gracious designs to be frustrated and thereby lose his labor?

But above all will he suffer his words, his promises, his oaths, to made null, void and of none effect? God forbid. “God is not a man that he should lie, neither the son of man that he should repent. Hath he said, and shall he not do it? Or hath he spoken, and shall he not make it good?” – Num 19:23. “And also the strength (or eternity) of Israel, will not lie nor repent: for he is not a man that he should repent.” – Sam 15:29. “For the gifts and calling of God are without repentance.” – Rom. 11:29.

Now if we attend to the plain letter of the scripture, we shall find that God hath declared that he will “make all things new; that he will gather together in Christ all things born in heaven and on earth; even in him who having made peace, through the blood of his cross, shall have that great honor to reconcile all things to God, both which are in heaven and on earth; yea, he hath sworn by himself, that to him every knee shall bow, every tongue shall swear.” – See Rev. 21:5; Ephesians 1:10; Col. 1:20; Isaiah 14:23. Then when all things shall be made new, gathered together in Christ , reconciled to God, brought to bow the knee and swear to him; shall that glorious passage, Rev. 5:13, be fulfilled. “And every creature which is in heaven, and on the earth, and under the earth, and such as are in the sea, and all that are in them, heard I saying, blessing, and honor, and glory, and power, be unto him that sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb for ever and ever.” O what a glorious day will that be! The distant thought of which fills us with the greatest joy and satisfaction. If “there is joy in heaven over one sinner that repenteth,” what unknown, what inconceivable joy shall there be when all that have sinned against their great creator, shall repent, acknowledge him to be wholly just, and themselves entirely to blame, fall at his feet, and swear allegiance to their righteous sovereign; never more to rebel against him to all eternity! O glorious period, when the chordage of all hearts shall be taken in hand by God himself, and tuned to his never ceasing praise!

But could we believe that sin and misery should endure to all eternity, that the blessed God, worthy of all praise, from all intelligences, should be hated by vast numbers of the beings he hath made capable of loving and serving him, and that to all endless ages, we should be filled with the greatest sorrow imaginable! For even when we see poor miserable wretches, under the power and government of Satan, profaning and blaspheming the name of God, it fills our hearts with grief inexpressible; how inconceivable would our distress then be, if we could be made to believe, that they must, to all endless ages, continue in rage, blasphemy, and despair! But glory to God in the highest, we believe that the wisdom, power, and goodness, of the ever adorable JEHOVAH shall shine most gloriously, in the entire destruction of all evil, and total subjection, and complete restoration of all his creatures. “We believe, and therefore we speak.” Great is our joy; though we are despised, rejected, and treated with contempt by many for the gospel’s sake which we believe, yet we would not part with the satisfaction we find therein, for all the glories of the world, and the applause of all mankind.

Many say, “What need have we to care about what becomes of others? If we are happy ourselves, that is all that we need to seek after or be concerned about.” This language well enough becomes those that have a religion founded in selfishness, or those who have narrow notions and ideas of God’s love, supposing it to be confined to them and their party; but it is as opposite to the true Spirit of Christianity, and the language of those who dwell in “love, and dwell in God”, as darkness is to light, evil to good or Satan to Christ. The Spirit of Jesus teaches us to fulfill the royal Law, “Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.” Christianity leads us to seek the salvation and happiness of all; and certainly then to rejoice in the welfare of all; and he who is not willing that God should bring all to love, praise, and enjoy him; nay, who would not be ready to wish, at least that the doctrine of the restoration might be true, discovers a temper very different from Christ, who died that sinners might be restored; and from Moses, who begged the Lord to pardon Israel’s sins; and if not, to blot him out of His Book; and from St. Paul, who could with himself accursed from Christ, for his brethren, and kinsmen according to the flesh. See Exod. 32:32; Rom 9:3.

The nature of grace leads us to desire the happiness of all our fellow creatures; this is known to all experienced Christians; and I suppose that the joy in heaven will continue increasing, as the divine work of the restoration goes on and will not come to its highest pitch, till every creature in the universe shall be brought willingly to submit to Jesus and be made happy in His love.

This is our belief for which we have suffered reproach, and censure from our brethren; for this we are called heretics, deceivers, deceived ones, etc. Yea some of our brethren do not scruple to tell us, that we shall be damned if we live and die in the belief of restoration.* But they would do well to consider what Christ says. Matthew 7:1, 2; Luke 6:37 – “judge not, that ye be not judged. For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged, and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again. Judge not and ye shall not be judged; condemn not, and ye shall not be condemned.” Paul says, Rom 14:4, 10, 14 – “Who art thou that judgest another man’s servant? To his own master he standeth or falleth; yea, he shall be holden up; for God is able to make him stand. But why dost thou judge thy brother? Or why dost thou set at nought thy brother? For we shall all stand before the judgement seat of Christ. Let us not therefore judge one another any more; but judge this rather, that no Man put a stumbling block or an occasion to fall in his brother’s way.”

*This perhaps may startle some, but it has been frequently said; and a certain minister, who held none could be saved but a certain elect number, once said to me (among other things of the like nature) these words, “If you are one of God’s elect, he will bring you off from these sentiments before you die.”

And in I Cor. 4:5 – “Therefore judge nothing before the time, until the Lord come, who both will bring to light the hidden things of darkness, and will make manifest the counsels of the hearts; and then shall every man have praise of God.” St. James speaks to the same purpose saying, “There is one lawgiver, who is able to save, and to destroy; who art thou that judgest another? – James 4:12. We read, “He that believeth not shall be damned.” – Mark 16:16. But where do we read that we shall be damned for believing “the restitution of all things, which God hath spoken by the mouth of all his holy prophets since the world began?” – Acts 3:21. St. Paul says, Rom. 10:9 – “That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shall believe in thy heart, that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved.” Now it is evident that we confess Christ Jesus with our mouths, and God knows that we believe in our hearts, that he was raised from the dead, by the Almighty power of God. We can freely subscribe to the articles of the creeds used in the Protestant church; where then is our belief defective? Surely we believe in God the Father, one Lord Jesus Christ, the Holy Ghost, etc. But it is said, that we shall be damned for believing too much; that is what we cannot believe, because we receive nothing as a matter of faith or practice, but what we look upon to be plainly expressed in the very letter of the scripture; our belief is according to the ideas we have of infinite wisdom, power, and goodness united, and every way worthy of the God we adore. The very Spirit of the whole Bible holds forth to our view the doctrine that we profess; and even upon a supposition that we are mistaken, we cannot think that our God will cast us off, for having too grand and exalted ideas of his character, and the prefections of infinite wisdom, power, and goodness, of which he is possessed.

It is said that we bring in damnable heresies, etc. The words “damnable heresies” occur but once in scripture, viz. in II Peter 2:1 – “But there were false prophets also among the people, even as there shall be false teachers among you, who privily shall bring in damnable heresies, even denying the Lord that bought them, and bring upon themselves swift destruction.” Surely this character cannot fairly be applied to us; we trust that we do not deny the Lord that bought us; but we may observe that the Lord bought even the persons who denied him; which proves something very different from what the text is usually brought for. The word “heresies” is mentioned in I Cor. 11:19 – “For there must be also heresies or sects among you, that they which are approved may be manifest.” But nothing can be concluded from that passage against us, as heresy seems to signify only a division or sect, and if we are heretics for being divided from other churches, all Protestant churches are heretics for separating from the church of Rome. And indeed it is come to that pass in the world, that the church of Rome declares all damned, that die out of the pale of the same; and many Protestants declare that all are damned who die in it. Thus how shall unlearned people know what to believe, when the learned differ so much? We say, “That God is no respecter of persons; but as in every nation, so in every denomination, him that feareth God and worketh righteousness is accepted before him.” Christ is not confined to any outward church, but hath his precious ones in all.

The word “heresies” is mentioned in Gal. 5:20, joined with adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, strife, seditions, envyings, murders, drunkenness, reveling, and such like, which are the fruits of the flesh; heresies are reckoned in the number, and are therefore akin to those abominable vices; but surely no person that understands our belief, can suppose that it has any connection at all with that catalogue of sins; but, on the other hand, that it leads to the strictest holiness.

St. Paul in his epistle to Titus 3:10, 11 – “A man that is an heretic, after the first and second admonition reject; knowing that he that is such is subverted, and sinneth, being condemned of himself.” It appears plain from these words, that a heretic is one who sins in such a manner, as not only to be known, and rejected by others, but to be self condemned; and even then he was not to be rejected till after the first and second admonition. But we can say (I believe) with truth, that we are not self condemned for our principles; our hearts do not condemn us, for believing that he who has conquered our stubborn wills, will finally conquer, and bring into subjection to himself all his creatures. Yet we are rejected for this innocent belief, and that without one previous admonition, or any conviction laid before us, to prove that we are wrong.

St. Paul, in Acts 24:14 – “But this I confess unto thee, that, after the way which they call heresy, so worship I the God of my Fathers, believing all things which are written in the law and in the prophets.” So we find that heresy is an ancient name for true religion, and that a man may believe all that Moses and the prophets have written, and truly worship God, and yet be charged with heresy; which is the case with us at this time; for we sincerely believe all that the scriptures declare, as we understand them, and endeavor to worship God through Christ, according to his directions; yet we are charged with heresy. (note– As for the word heresy, it has been used for so many different things, and on so many occasions, that nothing can be concluded against any persons on the account of their being called heretics; for it is well known, that all kinds of opinions in matters of religion have been branded as heresies; those who have the power in their hands, always esteem themselves orthodox, and call those whom they oppress and persecute heretics; and it frequently happens that what is called orthodoxy in one nation, is called heresy in another; and what is praised and extolled for truth in one age or generation, is condemned for error in the next; yea sometimes in the same age, under different administrations of government, each party will have an opportunity of persecuting the other as heretics. And it is well known in the world, that not only religions, but philosophical sentiments, have been called heresies; among the ancient fathers, the opinion of there being antipodes, or people who inhabited an opposite part of the earth from that where they dwelt, was looked upon absurd, blasphemous, and heretical; yet we know the truth of it now with certainty. Columbus was excommunicated by the Pope’s bull as a heretic, for daring to believe that there was a western passage to China, and for the wild design that he had of seeking a new country, etc., but what a loss would it have been to mankind, if he and all others, had been (through fear of the curses of the church) deterred from making discoveries? Galileo, the famous improver of telescopes, because he was convinced of the Copernican System by the discoveries he made, was sent for to Rome, as being a dangerous heretic; and was there obliged to renounce his belief of the sun’s being fixed in the heavens, and that the earth and planets performed their revolutions round it, etc., and upon his relapsing into his former errors again after his return home, etc., and upon his relapsing into his former errors again after his return home, he was sent for the second time to Rome, imprisoned in the inquisition (it is a wonder he was not burnt for his heresy) and when released from prison, was ever afterwards confined to certain limits, as a very dangerous person, and forbid to propagate such heretical notions.–end of note) But that is but a small matter. The worst heresy is that of the heart, which is a selfish, envious, proud, wrathful and worldly Spirit; from which if we are entirely delivered, there is nothing that can harm us.

We have experienced what it is to be hated and cast out by our brethren, for the name of the Lord, for the sake of the dear savior and the testimony that we hold. We have searched the scriptures for ourselves, and the belief of them that we have, has not been taught us by tradition, education or the will of man; but as we trust by the spirit of the living God. Since it has pleased the Lord therefore to confirm us in the truth as it is in Jesus, we have reason to rejoice in being persecuted for his sake. (note– It is a question, whether if we had been guilty of any scandalous crimes, such as lying, drunkenness, or any thing of the like nature, we had been cast out as soon for those as we have been for the belief of what appears to us to be the truth of God. Are not some tolerated and even esteemed in churches, who have been guilty of some of those things, while those who have professed the belief of the restoration, have not had common civility shown them? –end of note)

It is not melancholy to think, that different sentiments respecting religion should cause hatred and persecution? Yet this we find to be the case; and especially we see, that the doctrine that we hold, raises the enmity of mankind more than any thing else; this, it is likely, is because it proclaims the entire destruction of Satan’s kingdom at last. What makes our trials the more grievous, is the same consideration that David had, “For it was not an enemy that reproached me; then I could have borne it; neither was it he that hated me, that did magnify himself against me; then I would have hid myself from him; but it was thou, a man, mine equal, my guide, and mine acquaintance: we took sweet counsel together, and walked unto the House of God in company.” – Psalm 55:12, 13, 14.

Who could have thought that those with whom we were united, should so soon separate us from their company, since we were willing to allow every one liberty of thinking, and freedom of conversation, and had no desire to break fellowship with any of them? But we may learn thereby not to trust in the warmest professions of friendship.

Jer. 9:4 – “Take ye heed every one of his neighbor, and trust ye not in any brother; for every brother will utterly supplant, every neighbor will walk with slanders.” And the prophet Micah speaks in much the same language, saying, “The best of them is a brier, and the most upright is sharper than a thorn hedge; trust ye not in a friend, put ye not confidence in a guide; keep the doors of thy mouth from her that lieth in thy bosom.” – Micah 7:4, 5.

This advice given by the spirit of god is worthy of attention in this day, as well as when it was first written, I have considered the reasons of our being hated, and cast out by our brethren, and have endeavored to clear up the matter, and set our sentiments in a proper light, thereby to show that we are rejected for the Lord’s sake, though their language is according to the text, “Let the Lord be glorified;” all is done for the glory of God, the welfare of the church, and the good of the excommunicated ones, through absolute necessity; and was there ever a persecution in christendom, but the same pretensions were made in favor of it? (note– Had not the author been betrayed by some of his peculiar friends, it is not certain whether to this day he had been confirmed in his present sentiments far less advanced them in public; but in the freedom of conversation, happening to drop some words that way, not thinking they would ever be mentioned, he was presently complained of to two ministers, whom he desired to keep the matter secret for the present, as he was not fully confirmed in it; but the affair getting abroad, he was obliged either to retract publicly as an error what he was partly convinced of, or maintain and openly vindicate the same; this necessity brought him to cry to God for direction, and to search the scriptures to find the truth, by which means he was established in the belief of the restoration, which he has ever since confessed, and publicly proclaimed, believing it to be his duty so to do as a minister of the gospel. –end of note)

But let us attend to the comforting words of the Lord, in conclusion of my text, “But he shall appear to your joy, and they shall be ashamed.” Blessed by God, he does not despise the outcasts; he forsakes not those who tremble at his word, even though they are rejected by their brethren. God is never nearer at hand to his children, than when they are in the midst of the furnace of affliction.

“But he shall appear to your joy.” O my brethren, have we not abundant reason to believe that God will appear to our joy? Has he not manifested himself already in our hearts? Do we not feel his presence with us? He has already discovered to us more of the beauty of religion than we formerly knew; more of the nature and necessity of that saving change, without which none can enter into the kingdom of heaven; these discoveries give us great comfort, and an earnest desire to be perfectly conformed to that divine being, who hath thus far appeared to our joy and satisfaction.

Blessed be God, we trust the time is at hand, when the Lord will appear more abundantly to our joy, and cause his power to be known through the earth, when he will build up Zion, and appear in his glory, and destroy antichrist with the spirit of his mouth, and the brightness of his appearing, and spread the glorious gospel of his universal love and power, through the earth; and cause that blessed doctrine now so much despised, to be heard and received from pole to pole, and the whole world to submit to the Savior of mankind, who died to restore all to God again. Will not those then be ashamed, who have hated us, and cast us out for belief of God’s universal love, when the knowledge thereof shall be as universal as the light of the Sun?

But, oh, when Christ shall appear to judge the world, what account will they be able to give him of their conduct towards us? He will then put to silence the ignorant cavils, and hard speeches of men, who have set themselves against his truth. Will they be able to answer him, when he shall say, “Who hath required this at your hands?” But God is good, and just; therefore to him we would refer the whole matter.

I shall now close the whole with an address to you who have been hated and cast out by your brethren, for the glorious cause of Jesus Christ, and the profession of his gospel of universal love; called “damnable heresy” by many.

My dear Brethren and Sisters,

You have been highly favored of the Lord, not only in having experienced the truth in your hearts, but in being called to stand as witnesses of the everlasting, universal, restoring love and power of our dear Savior. You have already suffered much of your brethren, and have been rejected by them. Thanks to the providence of God, we live in a country where we are allowed to worship according to our own consciences, and none can hinder us.

But though we may not expect to meet with imprisonment, banishment, confiscation of goods or death, at present, yet we may expect, as we have already experienced, what the Apostle Paul calls “cruel mockings,” reproaches, revilings, slanders, censures, and the unbounded rage and persecution of the tongue; which is frequently worse to bear than death itself, as the experience of many testifies, and therefore it is called by St. Paul “cruel,” in preference to all other kinds of sufferings.

Arm yourselves therefore continually with humility, meekness, universal benevolence, and unfeigned resignation to the will of God; and then you will not only be able to bear all that the rage and malice of men can cast upon you, with patience, but will be able to repay them all with loving kindness.

You must expect that the adversary of mankind will try his utmost to draw you off from the truth; for he is loth to have it known in the world, that he is a conquered potentate, and that his kingdom must one day be entirely destroyed; and as he has for a long time kept the doctrine of the final restoration of all things, hid and covered, so you may expect he will greatly rage against it now it begins again to appear. But fear not my brethren, the cause is God’s and not ours; let us commit ourselves into his hands, who is able to keep us from falling, and to give us the victory over the powers of darkness, through the blood of the lamb, and the word of our testimony.

Finally, as our religion calls us to the greatest purity and holiness imaginable, even to be clothed with the image and nature of Christ, let us endeavor to enter into the Spirit of the Gospel continually, that we may grow more and more into the likeness of the Savior, that when he shall appear, we may rejoice in his coming, and not be ashamed.

The Schizophrenic Gospel? Christian and Anti-Christian Paradoxes

In the schizophrenic gospel, God is both darkness and light. In the Christian gospel, there is no darkness in God (1 John 1:5), but God’s light reveals, contradicts and convicts our darkness. The so-called double-bind theory was developed by Gregory Bateson in the 1950s as an explanation for schizophrenia. It explains how a certain kind … Continue reading The Schizophrenic Gospel? Christian and Anti-Christian Paradoxes

In the schizophrenic gospel, God is both darkness and light. In the Christian gospel, there is no darkness in God (1 John 1:5), but God’s light reveals, contradicts and convicts our darkness.

The so-called double-bind theory was developed by Gregory Bateson in the 1950s as an explanation for schizophrenia. It explains how a certain kind of communication leads to a breakdown of personality, rendering the subject completely dependent upon the communicating authority.

According to Wikipedia, 

“A double bind is an emotionally distressing dilemma in communication in which an individual (or group) receives two or more conflicting messages, in which one message negates the other. This creates a situation in which a successful response to one message results in a failed response to the other (and vice versa), so that the person will be automatically wrong regardless of response. The double bind occurs when the person cannot confront the inherent dilemma, and therefore cannot resolve it or opt out of the situation. […] A double bind generally includes different levels of abstraction in orders of messages, and these messages can be stated or implicit within the context of the situation, or conveyed by tone of voice or body language. Further complications arise when frequent double binds are part of an ongoing relationship to which the person or group is committed.”

Double binds are a kind of paradoxes, but the contradictory statements are alwas on different logical levels, e.g. between the pragmatic and the linguistic. This makes the double bind hard to discover and rebuke (obvious self-contradictory statements would not be so). Examples of double-binds are:

“[…]a mother telling her child that she loves him or her, while at the same time turning away in disgust. (The words are socially acceptable; the body language is in conflict with it). The child doesn’t know how to respond to the conflict between the words and the body language and, because the child is dependent on the mother for basic needs, he or she is in a quandary. Small children have difficulty articulating contradictions verbally and can neither ignore them nor leave the relationship. Another example is when one is commanded to “be spontaneous”. The very command contradicts spontaneity, but it only becomes a double bind when one can neither ignore the command nor comment on the contradiction.”

It is easy to point out apparent examples of double-bind communication in traditional evangelical rhetoric. For example, ‘not works, faith!’, or ‘God has paid the price himself, but you still have to believe!’ (where faith is considered something you do). Or ‘hate the sin, love the sinner’ (how do we distinguish?). Are these not paradoxes between the pragmatic and linguistic levels? Or what about this: ‘Yes, God is love, but he is also righteous!’. Or even worse: God loves you and will give you eternal life if you put faith in him. But if you don’t he will torture you in eternity as a punishment. The Father abhores you, the Son loves you. Jesus protects you from the Father. But they are one and have the same will. Such ‘yes, but’-theology paints a picture of a two-faced God, making us constantly oscillate between fear and thankfulness. This is what we, lacking a better term (suggestions?), could call the schizophrenic gospel (skhizein, σχίζειν, “to split”, and phrēn, φρήν, φρεν-, “mind”).

True and false paradoxes

One of the appealing things about the ‘schizophrenic gospel’ is that it seems to keep a firm grip on the paradoxical character of the Christian gospel. Not so: While it is obviously ‘paradoxical’, it’s paradoxality is different from that of the true gospel.

Rightly put, God’s judgment and salvation are two sides of the same coin, but this does not mean that God simultaneously hates and loves us. God does not judge because he is offended or vengeful, but because this is the way he saves his beloved creation.

The true dialectics of the Christian gospel is, that when we face the extreme limits of our existence, death, we come to know that we cannot save ourselves. This is where God reveals himself as our savior. The paradox is that we are brought to realize that God does not hate us, even if everything speaks against this truth. The paradox, which is really only a paradox from the perspective of ‘this world’, is that we have to die in order to live.

In the schizophrenic gospel, there is no real dying leading to true life. There is a dying of personality, alright, but only one that crumbles personality and makes it dependent upon some authority or other. The result is pietism, an infantile religiosity, mega churches full of sentimental pop-music, with an apparent liberty, that is, however, always contradicted by an authoritarian, legalistic morality.

In the schizophrenic gospel, God is both darkness and light. In the Christian gospel, there is no darkness in God (1 John 1:5), but God’s light reveals, contradicts and convicts our darkness. But by this conviction we die to our darkness, and are brought into the light of God’s love. When God out of love through his judgment and salvation in the death and resurrectionf Christ dissolves and reestablishes our personality (Barth), we are made whole and free persons.

Georg Klein-Nicolai (1671-1734)

“If all punishments determined by God for the creatures, be they never so dreadful, are (when considered according to their inmost center and principle) works of divine love, it necessarily follows from hence, that even the most dreadful punishments which God, in the age or ages to come, will inflict on bad angels and men, as far as they proceed from him, are grounded on no other principle than that of love;” (The Everlasting Gospel, Ch. I)

siegdvolckcover_webGeorg Klein-Nicolai (1671-1734) (sometimes spelled Klein-Nikolai) was Pastor at Friessdorf, Germany. In 1705 he published a book with the German title Das von Jesu Christo dem Richter der Lebendigen und der Todten, aller Creatur zu predigen befohlene ewige Evangelium, etc. In 1753 the book was published in English with the title The Everlasting Gospel.

Georg Klein-Nicolai seems to have been in no doubt that it is the will of God to restore all fallen creatures. God is love, and all that he does he does out of love. God will attain this purpose, even if the creatures resist him. The belief that creatures are in all eternity capable of resisting God makes creatures stronger than God and thus opens the way to all kinds of “iniquity and atheistic mockery”, says Klein-Nicolai.

“If all punishments determined by God for the creatures, be they never so dreadful, are (when considered according to their inmost center and principle) works of divine love, it necessarily follows from hence, that even the most dreadful punishments which God, in the age or ages to come, will inflict on bad angels and men, as far as they proceed from him, are grounded on no other principle than that of love;” (The Everlasting Gospel, Ch. I)

It is only with God’s permission that creatures are allowed to resist God. The purpose is, says Klein-Nicolai, that the creatures, who will not voluntarily choose the salvation and well-being offered to them, may taste of the bitter fruits of their disobedience. As a result, the rebellious creatures will finally be conquered and thus give themselves up to their Creator, who is able to subdue all. All punishments are, in the end, redemptive.

Find the book here: The Everlasting Gospel

Gerrard Winstanley (1609–1676)

“Christ Jesus will deliver all mankind out of bondage. This I see to be a truth by testimony of Scripture, as God is pleased to teach me. But this mystery of God is not to be done all at once, but in several dispensations, some whereof are past, some are in being, and some are yet to come” – Gerrard Winstanley (1649)

winstanley2
Gerrard Winstanley (1609 – 1676) was an English Protestant religious reformer and political activist during The Protectorate of Oliver Cromwell.

Gerrard Winstanley was an English Protestant religious reformer, philosopher, and political activist during The Protectorate of Oliver Cromwell. Winstanley was one of the founders of the English group known as the True Levellers or Diggers.

“Christ Jesus will deliver all mankind out of bondage. This I see to be a truth by testimony of Scripture, as God is pleased to teach me. But this mystery of God is not to be done all at once, but in several dispensations, some whereof are past, some are in being, and some are yet to come. The whole creation of mankind, which is God’s work, shall be delivered from corruption, bondage, death, and pain. Mankind shall be by Christ reconciled to his Maker and be made one in spirit with Him; i.e. the curse shall be removed, and the power of it killed and consumed.

Truly this is according to the current of the whole Scriptures, that everyone shall be made of one heart and one spirit, i.e. that all shall be brought to obey the Father, walk humbly before Him, and live in peace and love in Him. This is the doctrine of Christ and the gospel. This is glad tidings to hear of. When you are made to enjoy this doctrine as yours, then you shall know what it is to know the Son, and what it is to be set free by the Son.” (from Winstanley’s The mysterie of God, concerning the whole creation, mankinde To be made known to every man and vvoman, after seaven dispensations and seasons of time are passed over. According to the councell of God, revealed to his servants.)

Tom Greggs: Barth, Origen, and Universal Salvation

“Salvation is not achieved through a general principle or rule; it is achieved through the very particularity of the Son in whom all humanity is saved.” – Tom Greggs (Lecturer in Christian Theology, University of Chester). From the book description: This book explores the dynamics of the Spirit and Son in the economy of salvation. … Continue reading Tom Greggs: Barth, Origen, and Universal Salvation

“Salvation is not achieved through a general principle or rule; it is achieved through the very particularity of the Son in whom all humanity is saved.” – Tom Greggs (Lecturer in Christian Theology, University of Chester).

From the book description:

9780199560486
Tom Greggs: Barth, Origen, and Universal Salvation: Restoring Particularity (Oxford 2009)

This book explores the dynamics of the Spirit and Son in the economy of salvation. It offers an interpretation of Barth and Origen around this theme, bringing them into a formative dialogue for a constructive theology of universal salvation. Examining Barth’s doctrine of election and Origen’s understanding of apokatastasis, the book proposes that a proper understanding of the eternal salvific plan of God in the person of Jesus Christ points towards universal salvation. However, salvation is not achieved through a general principle or rule; it is achieved through the very particularity of the Son in whom all humanity is saved. Further place for human particularity is established through the economy of the Spirit. Origen and Barth’s economic pneumatologies indicate the reverse dynamic to that of their interpretation of the Son’s economy: while the particularity of the Son has universal effects for all particulars, the universality of the Spirit particularizes that universal in individuals and communities in the present. However, this is in a manner which avoids a binary separation of Christians (as the saved) from all other humans (as the damned); instead, Christians are led into the ever greater depths of God, in a manner which allows God’s Spirit to be present in diverse ways with humans and human communities in their temporal particularities. This dynamic of Spirit and Son in salvation allows for the place of faith, ongoing history, and community within a soteriological schema which offers a universal hope of salvation in Christ.

Read more here.

Gregory of Nyssa (335-395 AD)

“God will be both all and in all. God’s nature will become all to us and will take the place of all, distributing itself in a way that will be suitable to the needs of that life.” – Gregory of Nyssa (335-395 AD)

Gregory_of_Nyssa-220x300Gregory of Nyssa, also known as Gregory Nyssen (Greek: Γρηγόριος Νύσσης; c. 335 – c. 395), was bishop of Nyssa from 372 to 376 and from 378 until his death. He is venerated as a saint in Roman Catholicism, Eastern Orthodoxy, Oriental Orthodoxy, Lutheranism, and Anglicanism. Gregory, his brother Basil of Caesarea, and Gregory of Nazianzus are collectively known as the Cappadocian Fathers (Wikipedia).

Gregory affirmed that in the end “No being created by God will fall outside the Kingdom of God” and that “No being will remain outside the number of the saved” (In Illud 14,21), and that “all, thanks to the union with one another, will be joined in communion with the Good, in Jesus Christ Our Lord” (On the Song of Songs XV).


“When all that is evil has disappeared, “they will know”, says Scripture, “that God is the Lord of Jacob and of the ends of the earth.” Indeed, since there will be no evil left anywhere, the Lord will be the absolute sovereign of all the earth, after evil, which now reigns over most people, will have been wiped out.” (On Psalm 59, quoted from Ramelli 2013, p. 399)

“I do not doubt that there will be one and the same race, made up by all, when all of us will constitute the one body of Christ, formed with one and the same stamp, when the image of God will shine forth in all to the same degree.” (De mort. 20)

“But the only-begotten Son of God himself resurrects the human being that is united to himself, by separating the soul from the body and then uniting them again. In this way, the common salvation of human nature is achieved. This is why he is also called the Initiator of Life. Indeed, the Only-Begotten God, by dying for us and rising again, has reconciled the universe to himself, ransoming by all means of his flesh and blood, as war prisoners, all of us who participate in him through a bond of blood.” (Contr. c. Apoll 154)

“Again, [Paul] speaks of the subjection of all men to God, when we all, being united to one another by the faith, become one body of the Lord who is in all, as the subjection of the Son to the Father, when the adoration paid to the Son by all things with one accord, by things in heaven, and things on earth, and things under the earth, redounds to the glory of the Father; as Paul says elsewhere, “To Him every knee shall bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth, and every tongue shall confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” For when this takes places, the mighty wisdom of Paul affirms that the Son, who is in all, is subject to the Father by virtue of the subjection of those in whom He is.” (Against Eunomius, Book II)

“For the subjection of men to God is salvation for those who are so made subject, according to the voice of the prophet, who says that his soul is subject to God, since of Him cometh salvation by subjection, so that subjection is the means of averting perdition. As therefore the help of the healing art is sought eagerly by the sick, so is subjection by those who are in need of salvation. (Against Eunomius, Book II)

“[…]after the evil of the [human] nature which is now mingled and united with it has been removed through long periods of time, when the restoration of those now lying dead in evil to the original state has come to pass, there will be a harmonious thanksgiving from all creation, even from those who needed no purification in the first place. The great mystery of the divine incarnation grants these and other such things. For through those things which were mingled with human nature – birth, rearing, growth, even to the extent of going through the experience of death – he accomplished all the aforementioned things, both freeing humanity from evil and healing even the originator of evil himself. For the purification of moral disease is the healing of illness, even if it is painful.” (Cat. or. 26)

“[God’s] end is one, and one only; it is this: when the complete whole of our race shall have been perfected from the first man to the last—some having at once in this life been cleansed from evil, others having afterwards in the necessary periods been healed by the Fire, others having in their life here been unconscious equally of good and of evil—to offer to every one of us participation in the blessings which are in Him, which, the Scripture tells us, ‘eye hath not seen, nor ear heard,’ nor thought ever reached.” (On the Soul and the Resurrection)

 

Clement of Alexandria (150-215 AD)

”God’s punishments are saving and disciplinary, leading to conversion, and choosing rather the repentance than the death of a sinner”–Clement of Alexandria

Titus Flavius Clemens (Greek: Κλήμης ὁ Ἀλεξανδρεύς; c. 150 – c. 215), known as Clement of Alexandria to distinguish him from the earlier Clement of Rome, was a Christian theologian who taught at the Catechetical School of Alexandria.

Saint-clement-of-alexandria“For all things are ordered both universally and in particular by the Lord of the universe, with a view to the salvation of the universe. But needful corrections, by the goodness of the great, overseeing judge, through the attendant angels, through various prior judgments, through the final judgment, compel even those who have become more callous to repent.”

“So he saves all; but some he converts by penalties, others who follow him of their own will, and in accordance with the worthiness of his honor, that every knee may be bent to him of celestial, terrestrial and infernal things (Phil. 2:10), that is angels, men, and souls who before his advent migrated from this mortal life.”

“For there are partial corrections (padeiai) which are called chastisements (kolasis), which many of us who have been in transgression incur by falling away from the Lord’s people. But as children are chastised by their teacher, or their father, so are we by Providence. But God does not punish (timoria) for punishment (timoria) is retaliation for evil. He chastises, however, for good to those who are chastised collectively and individually.” (Strom, VII, ii; Pedag. I, 8; on I John ii, 2)

J.W. Hanson wrote on Clement in his Universalism The Prevailing Doctrine Of The Christian Church During Its First Five Hundred Years (1899):

“This important passage is very instructive in the light it sheds on the usage of Greek words. The word from which “corrections” is rendered is the same as that in Hebrews 12:9, “correction” “chastening” (paideia); “chastisement” is from kolasis, translated “punishment” in Matt. 25:46, and “punishment” is timoria, with which Josephus defined punishment, but a word our Lord never employs, and which Clement declares that God never inflicts.

“The divine nature is not angry but is at the farthest from it, for it is an excellent ruse to frighten in order that we may not sin. Nothing is hated by God.”(2) So that even if aionios (Matt. 25:46) meant endless duration, Clement would argue that it was used as instruction–to restrain the sinner. It should be said, however, that Clement rarely uses aionion in connection with suffering.

Clement insists that punishment in Hades is remedial and restorative, and that punished souls are cleansed by fire. The fire is spiritual, purifying the soul. “God’s punishments are saving and disciplinary (in Hades) leading to conversion, and choosing rather the repentance than the death of the sinner, (Ezek. 18:23, 32; 33:11, etc.,) and especially since souls, although darkened by passions, when released from their bodies, are able to perceive more clearly because of their being no longer obstructed by the paltry flesh.”

He again defines the important word kolasis our Lord uses in Matt. 25:46, and shows how it differs from the wholly different word timoria used by Josephus and the Greek writers who believed in irremediable suffering. He says: “He (God) chastises the disobedient, for chastisement (kolasis) is for the good and advantage of him who is punished, for it is the amendment of one who resists; I will not grant that he wishes to take vengeance. Vengeance (timoria) is a requital of evil sent for the interest of the avenger. He (God) would not desire to avenge himself on us who teaches us to pray for those who despitefully use us (Matt. 5:44).(5) Therefore the good God punishes for these three causes: First, that he who is punished (paidenomenos) may become better than his former self; then that those who are capable of being saved by examples may be drawn back, being admonished; and thirdly, that he who is injured may not readily be despised, and be apt to receive injury. And there are two methods of correction, the instructive and the punitive,(6) which we have called the disciplinary.”

The English reader of the translations of the Greek fathers is misled by the indiscriminate rendering of different Greek words into “punish.” Timoria should always be translated “vengeance,” or “torment;” kolasis, “punishment,” and paideia “chastisement,” or “correction.”

More quotations from the Stromata:

”He is in no respect whatever the ’cause of evil. For all things are arranged with a view to the salvation of the universe by the Lord of the universe, both generally and particularly. It is then the function of the righteousness of salvation to improve everything as far as practicable. For even minor matters are arranged with a view to the salvation of that which is better, and for an abode suitable for people’s character. Now everything that is virtuous changes for the better; having as the proper cause of change the free choice of knowledge, which the soul has in its own power. But necessary corrections, through the goodness of the great overseeing Judge, both by the attendant angels, and by various acts of anticipative judgment, and by the perfect judgment, compel egregious sinners to repent.” (Str. VII 12.2-5)

“To Him is placed in subjection all the host of angels and gods; He, the paternal Word, exhibiting a the holy administration for Him who put [all] in subjection to Him. Wherefore also all men are His; some through knowledge, and others not yet so; and some as friends, some as faithful servants, some as servants merely.” (Str. VII)

“either the Lord does not care for all men; and this is the case either because He is unable (which is not to be thought, for it would be a proof of weakness), or because He is unwilling, which is not the attribute of a good being. And He who for our sakes assumed flesh capable of suffering, is far from being luxuriously indolent. Or He does care for all, which is befitting for Him who has become Lord of all. For He is Saviour; not [the Saviour] of some, and of others not. But in proportion to the adaptation possessed by each, He has dispensed His beneficence both to Greeks and Barbarians, even to those of them that were predestinated, and in due time called, the faithful and elect. Nor can He who called all equally, and assigned special honours to those who have believed in a specially excellent way, ever envy any. Nor can He who is the Lord of all, and serves above all the will of the good and almighty Father, ever be hindered by another. But neither does envy touch the Lord, who without beginning was impassible; nor are the things of men such as to be envied by the Lord. But it is another, he whom passion hath touched, who envies. And it cannot be said that it is from ignorance that the Lord is not willing to save humanity, because He knows not how each one is to be cared for. For ignorance applies not to the God who, before the foundation of the world, was the counsellor of the Father. For He was the Wisdom “in which” the Sovereign God “delighted.” For the Son is the power of God, as being the Father’s most ancient Word before the production of all things, and His Wisdom. He is then properly called the Teacher of the beings formed by Him. Nor does He ever abandon care for men, by being drawn aside from pleasure, who, having assumed flesh, which by nature is susceptible of suffering, trained it to the condition of impassibility. And how is He Saviour and Lord, if not the Saviour and Lord of all?” (Str. VII)

”God’s punishments are saving and disciplinary, leading to conversion, and choosing rather the repentance than the death of a sinner” (Str. VI)

“But punishment does not avail to him who has sinned, to undo his sin, but that he may sin no more, and that no one else fall into the like. Therefore the good God corrects for these three causes: First, that he who is corrected may become better than his former self; then that those who are capable of being saved by examples may be driven back, being admonished; and thirdly, that he who is injured may not be readily despised, and be apt to receive injury. And there are two methods of correction—the instructive and the punitive, which we have called the disciplinary. It ought to be known, then, that those who fall into sin after baptism are those who are subjected to discipline; for the deeds done before are remitted, and those done after are purged.” (Str. IV)

Anthology: “All Shall Be Well”

“All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.” – Julian of Norwich. In this anthology edited by Gregory MacDonald, a variety of scholars present historical examples of the Christian belief in universal salvation.

In this anthology edited by Gregory MacDonald, a variety of scholars present historical examples of the Christian belief in universal salvation. From the description of the book at amazon.com:

Print“Universalism runs like a slender thread through the history of Christian theology. It has always been a minority report and has often been regarded as heresy, but it has proven to be a surprisingly resilient “idea.” Over the centuries Christian universalism, in one form or another, has been reinvented time and time again.

In this book an international team of scholars explore the diverse universalisms of Christian thinkers from the Origen to Moltmann. In the introduction Gregory MacDonald argues that theologies of universal salvation occupy a space between heresy and dogma. Therefore disagreements about whether all will be saved should not be thought of as debates between “the orthodox” and “heretics” but rather as “in-house” debates between Christians.

The studies that follow aim, in the first instance, to hear, understand, and explain the eschatological claims of a range of Christians from the third to the twenty-first centuries. They also offer some constructive, critical engagement with those claims.

Origen (Tom Greggs)
Gregory of Nyssa (Steve Harmon)
Julian of Norwich (Robert Sweetman)
The Cambridge Platonists (Louise Hickman)
James Relly (Wayne K. Clymer)
Elhanan Winchester (Robin Parry)
Friedrich Schleiermacher (Murray Rae)
Thomas Erskine (Don Horrocks)
George MacDonald (Thomas Talbott)
P. T. Forsyth (Jason Goroncy)
Sergius Bulgakov (Paul Gavrilyuk)
Karl Barth (Oliver Crisp)
Jaques Ellul (Andrew Goddard)
J. A. T. Robinson (Trevor Hart)
Hans Urs von Balthasar (Edward T. Oakes, SJ)
John Hick (Lindsay Hall)
Jürgen Moltmann (Nik Ansell)”

Get it at wipfandstock.com or at amazon.com

Church Fathers on salvation

“The mass of men (Christians) say there is to be an end to punishment and to those who are punished.” — St. Basil the Great “There are very many in our day, who though not denying the Holy Scriptures, do not believe in endless torments.” — Augustine (354-430 A.D.) “For the wicked there are punishments, … Continue reading Church Fathers on salvation

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“The mass of men (Christians) say there is to be an end to punishment and to those who are punished.” — St. Basil the Great

“There are very many in our day, who though not denying the Holy Scriptures, do not believe in endless torments.” — Augustine (354-430 A.D.)

“For the wicked there are punishments, not perpetural, however, lest the immortality prepared for them should be a disadvantage, but they are to be purified for a brief period according to the amount of malice in their works. They shall therefore suffer punishment for a short space, but immortal blessedness having no end awaits them…the penalties to be inflicted for their many and grave sins are very far surpassed by the magnitude of the mercy to be showed to them.” — Diodore of Tarsus, 320-394 A.D.

“And God showed great kindness to man, in this, that He did not suffer him to continue being in sin forever; but as it were, by a kind of banishement, cast him out of paradise in order that, having punishment expiated within an appointed time, and having been disciplined, he should afterwards be recalled…just as a vessel, when one being fashioned it has some flaw, is remoulded or remade that it may become new and entire; so also it happens to man by death. For he is broken up by force, that in the resurrection he may be found whole; I mean spotless, righteous and immortal.” — Theophilus of Antioch (168 A.D.)

“Wherefore also he drove him out of paradise and removed him far from the tree of life, not because He envied him the tree of life, as some dare assert, but because He pitied him and desired that he should not be immortal and the evil interminable and irremediable.” — Iraneaus of Lyons (182 A.D.)

“These, if they will, may go Christ’s way, but if not let them go their way. In another place perhaps they shall be baptized with fire, that last baptism, which is not only painful, but enduring also; which eats up, as if it were hay, all defiled matter, and consumes all vanity and vice.” — Gregory of Nazianzeu, Bishop of Constantinople. (330 to 390 A.D.) Oracles 39:19

“The Word seems to me to lay down the doctrine of the perfect obliteration of wickedness, for if God shall be in all things that are, obviously wickedness shall not be in them. For it is necessary that at some time evil should be removed utterly and entirely from the realm of being.” — St. Macrina the Blessed

“In the end and consummation of the Universe all are to be restored into their original harmonious state, and we all shall be made one body and be united once more into a perfect man and the prayer of our Savior shall be fulfilled that all may be one.” — St. Jerome, 331-420

“For it is evident that God will in truth be all in all when there shall be no evil in existence, when every created being is at harmony with iteself and every tongue shall confess that Jesus Christ is Lord; when every creature shall have been made one body.” — Gregory of Nyssa, 335-390

“The wicked who have committed evil the whole period of their lives shall be punished till they learn that, by continuing in sin, they only continue in misery. And when, by this means, they shall have been brought to fear God, and to regard Him with good will, they shall obtain the enjoyment of His grace.” — Theodore of Mopsuestia, 350-428

“We can set no limits to the agency of the Redeemer to redeem, to rescue, to discipline in his work, and so will he continue to operate after this life.” –Clement of Alexandria

“Do not suppose that the soul is punished for endless eons (apeirou aionas) in Tartarus. Very properly, the soul is not punished to gratify the revenge of the divinity, but for the sake of healing. But we say that the soul is punished for an aionion period (aionios) calling its life and its allotted period of punishment, its aeon.” — Olympiodorus (AD 550)

“Wherefore, that at the same time liberty of free-will should be left to nature and yet the evil be purged away, the wisdom of God discovered this plan; to suffer man to do what he would, that having tasted the evil which he desired, and learning by experience for what wretchedness he had bartered away the blessings he had, he might of his own will hasten back with desire to the first blessedness …either being purged in this life through prayer and discipline, or after his departure hence through the furnace of cleansing fire.” — Gregory of Nyssa (332-398 A.D.)

“That in the world to come, those who have done evil all their life long, will be made worthy of the sweetness of the Divine bounty. For never would Christ have said, “You will never get out until you hqave paid the last penny” unless it were possible for us to get cleansed when we paid the debt.” — Peter Chrysologus, 435

“I know that most persons understand by the story of Nineveh and its king, the ultimate forgiveness of the devil and all rational creatures.” — St. Jerome

“”In the end or consummation of things, all shall be restored to their original state, and be again united in one body. We cannot be ignorant that Christ’s blood benefited the angels and those who are in hell; though we know not the manner in which it produced such effects. The apostate angels shall become such as they were created; and man, who has been cast out of paradise, shall be restored thither again. And this shall be accomplished in such a way, that all shall be united together by mutual charity, so that the members will delight in each other, and rejoice in each other’s promotion. The apostate angels, and the prince of this world, though now ungovernable, plunging themselves into the depths of sin, shall, in the end, embrace the happy dominion of Christ and His saints.” – COMMENTARY ON THE NEW TESTAMENT – Jerome (347-420 A.D.)

“Our Lord is the One who delivers man [all men], and who heals the inventor of evil himself.” — Gregory of Nyssa (332-398 A.D.), leading theologian of the Eastern Church

“While the devil thought to kill One [Christ], he is deprived of all those cast out of hades, and he [the devil] sitting by the gates, sees all fettered beings led forth by the courage of the Saviour.” — Athanasius, the Great Father of Orthodoxy

“Our Lord descends, and was shut up in the eternal bars, in order that He might set free all who had been shut up… The Lord descended to the place of punishment and torment, in which was the rich man, in order to liberate the prisoners.” — Jerome

“In the liberation of all no one remains a captive! At the time of the Lord’s passion the devil alone was injured by losing all the of the captives he was keeping.” — Didymus, 370 AD

“While the devil imagined that he got a hold of Christ, he really lost all of those he was keeping.” — St. Chrysostom, 398 AD

“Stronger than all the evils in the soul is the Word, and the healing power that dwells in him, and this healing He applies, according to the will of God, to everyman. The consummation of all things is the destruction of evil…to quote Zephaniah: “My determination to gather the nations, that I am assemble the kings, to pour upon them mine indignation, even say all my fierce anger, for all the earth shall be devoured with the fire of my jealousy. For then will I turn to the people a pure language that they may all call upon the name of the Lord, to serve Him with one consent”…Consider carefully the promise, that all shall call upon the Name of the Lord, and serve him with one consent.” — Origen (185 to 254 A.D.)

“The nations are gathered to the Judgment, that on them may be poured out the wrath of the fury of the Lord, and this in pity and with a design to heal. in order that every one may return to the confession of the Lord, that in Jesus’ Name every knee may bow, and every tongue may confess that He is Lord. All God’s enemies shall perish, not that they cease to exist, but cease to be enemies.” — Jerome (340 to 420 A.D), commenting on Zephaniah 3:8-10

“Mankind, being reclaimed from their sins, are to be subjected to Christ in he fullness of the dispensation instituted for the salvation of all.” –Didymus the Blind

“So then, when the end has been restored to the beginning, and the termination of things compared with their commencement, that condition of things will be re-established in which rational nature was placed, when it had no need to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil; so that when all feeling of wickedness has been removed, and the individual has been purified and cleansed, He who alone is the one good God becomes to him “all,” and that not in the case of a few individuals, or of a considerable number, but He Himself is “all in all.” And when death shall no longer anywhere exist, nor the sting of death, nor any evil at all, then verily God will be “all in all” ” — Origen, De Prinicipiis, 3.6.3.

“The Son “breaking in pieces” His enemies is for the sake of remolding them, as a potter his own work; as Jeremiah 18;6 says: i.e., to restore them once again to their former state.” — Eusebius of Caesarea (65 to 340 A.D). Bishop of Caesarea

“Our Savior has appointed two kinds of resurrection in the Apocalypse. ‘Blessed is he that hath part in the first resurrection,’ for such come to grace without the judgment. As for those who do not come to the first, but are reserved unto the second resurrection, these shall be disciplined until their appointed times, between the first and the second resurrection.” — Ambrose, Bishop of Milan (340-397 A.D.)

“We think, indeed, that the goodness of God, through His Christ, may recall all His creatures to one end, even His enemies being conquered and subdued…. for Christ must reign until He has put all enemies under His feet.” — Origen (185 to 254 A.D.)

“For it is needful that evil should some day be wholly and absolutely removed out of the circle of being.” — Gregory of Nyssa (332-398 A.D.), leading theologian of the Eastern Church

“In the present life God is in all, for His nature is without limits, but he is not all in all. But in the coming life, when mortality is at an end and immortality granted, and sin has no longer any place, God will be all in all. For the Lord, who loves man, punishes medicinally, that He may check the course of impeity.” — Theodoret the Blessed, 387-458

“When death shall no longer exist, or the sting of death, nor any evil at all, then truly God will be all in all.” — Origen

“All men are Christ’s, some by knowing Him, the rest not yet. He is the Savior, not of some and the rest not. For how is He Savior and Lord, if not the Savior and Lord of all?” — Clement of Alexandria

 

From tentmaker.org

Morwenna Ludlow: Universal Salvation

Eschatology in the Thought of Gregory of Nyssa and Karl Rahner From the book description: “For nearly two thousand years Paul’s suggestion at the end of 1 Corinthians 15 that God will be ‘all in all’ has appealed to those who hold a ‘wider hope’ that eventually no person will be lost from God’s love. … Continue reading Morwenna Ludlow: Universal Salvation

Eschatology in the Thought of Gregory of Nyssa and Karl Rahner

From the book description:

9780198270225_450“For nearly two thousand years Paul’s suggestion at the end of 1 Corinthians 15 that God will be ‘all in all’ has appealed to those who hold a ‘wider hope’ that eventually no person will be lost from God’s love. Clearly, such hope for universal salvation is at variance with most Christian tradition, which has emphasized the possibility, or certainty, of eternal hell. However, a minority of Christian thinkers have advocated the idea and it has provoked much debate in the course of the twentieth century. Responding to this interest, Morwenna Ludlow compares and assesses the arguments for universal salvation by Gregory of Nyssa and Karl Rahner – two influential theologians from very different eras who are less well known for their eschatological views. In this book Dr Ludlow gives an assessment of early Christian eschatology and its effect on modern theology by examining some fundamental questions. Does universal salvation constitute a ‘second tradition’ of eschatology and how has that tradition developed? What can we learn from Patristic writers such as Gregory of Nyssa? How does one approach Christian eschatology in a modern context?”

Read more on http://ukcatalogue.oup.com/product/9780198270225.do#

Origen (184-253 AD): "God will be “all in all”"

““Stronger than all the evils in the soul is the Word, and the healing power that dwells in him, and this healing He applies, according to the will of God, to everyman. The consummation of all things is the destruction of evil…”

Origen (184-253) was a scholar and early Christian theologian who was born and spent the first half of his career in Alexandria. He was a prolific writer in multiple branches of theology, including textual criticism, biblical exegesis and hermeneutics, philosophical theology, preaching, and spirituality.

origen“when the Son is said to be subjected to the Father the perfect restoration of the entire creation is announced, so when his enemies are said to be subjected to the Son of God we are to understand this to involve the salvation of those subjected and the restoration of those that have been lost.” (De Princ. III 5.7)

“So then, when the end has been restored to the beginning, and the termination of things compared with their commencement, that condition of things will be re-established in which rational nature was placed, when it had no need to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil; so that when all feeling of wickedness has been removed, and the individual has been purified and cleansed, He who alone is the one good God becomes to him “all,” and that not in the case of a few individuals, or of a considerable number, but He Himself is “all in all.” And when death shall no longer anywhere exist, nor the sting of death, nor any evil at all, then verily God will be “all in all” ” (De Prinicipiis, 3.6.3).

“Stronger than all the evils in the soul is the Word, and the healing power that dwells in him, and this healing He applies, according to the will of God, to everyman. The consummation of all things is the destruction of evil…to quote Zephaniah: “My determination to gather the nations, that I am assemble the kings, to pour upon them mine indignation, even say all my fierce anger, for all the earth shall be devoured with the fire of my jealousy. For then will I turn to the people a pure language that they may all call upon the name of the Lord, to serve Him with one consent”…Consider carefully the promise, that all shall call upon the Name of the Lord, and serve him with one consent.”

“This is why the Word of God necessarily presents, first, the eradication, complete destruction, and elimination, and only after this the edification and new planting. In Scripture we always find cited first the somber aspects, so to say, and then, cited afterwards, those which appear joyful. “I shall kill and then give life.” God does not say, “I shall give life” and then “I shall kill,” because it is impossible that what God has made live be eliminated by God himself or anyone else. Who is the one whom “I shall kill”? It is Paul the informer, Paul the persecutor, and then “I shall make him live,” that he may become Paul the apostle of Jesus Christ […] Thus, God necessarily begins with bitter words such as “I shall kill,” and then, after killing, he says: “I shall give life”; “I shall strike and then heal.” The Lord chastises to instruct those whom he loves […] First he has a person suffer, then he restores her again.” (Hom. in Ier. 1,15-16)

“Jesus is the propitiator not only of believers and the faithful but also of the whole world. For although the entire creation is awaiting the grace of the redeemer, nevertheless each one shall come to salvation in its own order.” (In Rom. III,8,13)

Stephen Campana: The Calvinist Universalist

“Of course God, who imprisoned all in unbelief, will have mercy on all. Of course God, who killed all in Adam, will make all alive in Christ. Of course God, who condemned all in Adam, will justify all in Christ. Of course God, who subjected all to vanity, will set all free.” (Stephen Campana, The Calvinist Universalist ch. 1).

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Stephen Campana: The Calvinist Universalist (Wipf & Stock 2014)

From the book description:

“- From eternity past God intended that the most vivid and profound demonstration of his glory would come in the form of His work of salvation on the cross of Christ.
– God then made man to punish him.
– He made him perfect and thus unlikely to ever need punishing, or, for that matter, a Savior.
– By a happy coincidence, and against all the odds, this perfect man sinned, thus allowing God to fulfill His purposes for both the man and Christ.
– When he sinned, God, who is suddenly confronted with the prospect of being able to fulfill all of His original plans, becomes furious.

What you have just read is not a joke. I wish that it were. Rather, I have simply enumerated the points that comprise the Calvinist theological system, or, as I call it: the Happy Coincidence model of sin and salvation. It reflects what can only be described as an Alice-in-Wonderland reality, in which the only sense is nonsense, and logic is the enemy. This book will seek to explore some of its many logical inconsistencies and, in the process, propose a perfectly viable–and biblical–alternative.”

From the preface:

“Notice the flow of my argument.  I am only asking the Calvinist to be consistent with his own theological assertions.  I am not trying to convince him that a good God doesn’t torture people forever because its wrong or that God’s total sovereignty over the human will argues against eternal torment because such a thing is absurd and cruel.  No, I concede from the start that they accept that God, as far as the depraved human mind can see, operates in a way that is absurd and cruel.  I will, of course, try to prove that they are wrong, but only by showing that their own scriptures and their own ideas demand it as a matter of logical consistency.”

Visit the website for the book here or find it at Wipf & Stock publishers here.

Libertinism vs. Christianity?

What if the truth is, that if God is dead, then there is no freedom, no liberty, and then nothing is allowed? What if God’s apparent death means, that we are at the mercy of the forces of nature, sociology, capitalism, the state, technology, violence, you name it?

A short essay first published on jesusradicals.com in 2013.

“libertinism (plural libertinisms) A lifestyle or pattern of behavior characterized by self-indulgence and lack of restraint, especially one involving sexual promiscuity and rejection of religious or other moral authority.” (Wiktionary)

For many, Christianity and Libertinism are indissoluble contradictions. At least for the American mind, so shaped by pietism and ideals of holiness as it is. That was my experience staying in parts of Chicago lately, where I also visited some students at Wheaton College. At Wheaton you agree not to drink or smoke while signed in. Not being a student there I enjoyed my liberty to do just that. From Denmark I’m used to what you might call Christian libertinism. Being ‘pious’ or ‘holy’ is equated with being pharasaical and self-righteous (public policies focus extensively on individual health here). Having a beer and a cig shows that at least you’re not that (which is of course also silly, if taken to the extreme, a kind of vulgar Lutheranism).

What characterizes the American ideology is the confusion of puritanism and Christianity. Puritanism (or strict Puritan morality, which at least is the sense associated with the adjective ‘Puritan’ in a Danish context) is a subcategory of Christianity (or Christendom), all right, but the two are not identical. Puritanism and Puritan morality is incompatible with libertinism, of course, but Christianity as such belongs to a wholly different set of categories, making the dilemma “libertine or Christian?” non-sensical (this does not make the two ‘compatible’ either, just as ‘football’ and ‘Russia’ are neither incompatible or compatible, even if russians might not be very good at football).

Yes, the New Testament contains warnings about libertinism. Especially some passages from the apostle Paul are well-known for that (e.g. 1 Cor 6:9). Paul wrote to specific people at a specific time and place, but his admonitions quickly became a general rule. Christians should be holy, meaning sober, clean, virtuous, ascetic. This idea has indeed formed our conception of Christianity since its beginnings. And it has given birth to not a few moralisms. It was these moralisms the libertines, Nietzsche and the ‘nihilists’ of the modern centuries rebelled against. If God is dead, then everything is allowed. So says one of Dostojevky’s characters famously in The Brothers Karamazov. What seems to imply, that if God is alive, then not everything is allowed.

But is that really true? Is it not rather the other way round? What if the truth is, that if God is dead, then there is no freedom, no liberty, and then nothing is allowed? What if God’s apparent death means, that we are at the mercy of the forces of nature, sociology, capitalism, the state, technology, violence, you name it? This seems to be more in line with reality: In our present condition we are the slaves of necessity (our own fault to be sure: this is what we call sin). Just ask the biologists, economists, psychologists, and so on. Only a miracle can break the forces of necessity.

Only when God speaks into our situation, at once judging and forgiving us, are we set free. This is resurrection. God sets us free. That’s why Paul also wrote that: “All things are lawful for me, but not all things are profitable. All things are lawful for me, but I will not be mastered by anything.” (1 Cor 6:12). Also, “whoever loves others has fulfilled the law” (Rom 13:8). Simple as that, isn’t it? When Paul at times talks about not doing this and that, he’s talking about not losing your freedom. And he’s talking about not spending too much time on things beside love. Loving is a full-time job, not something we do once in a while. Paul’s talking about the old Adam that’s passing away, the Adam that was a slave to sin and death. No reason to identify with him, since that is not who we are. From the perspective of the resurrection, that is. No reason to give up our freedom and identify with the dead flesh (body as well as soul!), a mechanism fully determined and conditioned by natural and sociological forces. Rather choose freedom.

Libertinism means slavery to the passions, and the natural and social forces that create them. No wonder, then, that the early Christian philosophers took over the Stoic ideal of apatheia. Apatheia roughly means ‘apathy’, but is best understood as freedom from uncontrollable desires. At face value that’s a noble ideal of freedom compatible with the Gospel. But Stoicism was pagan and thoroughly Greek, and stays so, even if attempted ‘baptized’. Moral philosophy deals in ideas and rules. Don’t do this, don’t do that. The Gospel deals in freedom and Spirit. Not the same thing! When the Church fathers took over Stoicism and other philosophies, they eventually ended up in new moralisms, similar to those left behind by the first Christians. The rest is history.

Today, too often Christian morality is nothing more than a product and legitimation of whatever social norms makes society work (or made the world of yesterday work). But self-proclaimed libertines and Christian moralists (puritans) are both wrong in seeing libertinism as a ‘threat’ to the values of society. The main motor in modern consumerism is exactly libertinism. And often it’s backed by conservative ‘Christian’ moralism. Consume all you can, eat and be happy, just keep a few rules. Moralism is libertinism put into system. And when religion indulges in pious sentimentality, and vulgar aesthetics, it is itself a highly advanced form of libertinism. This is also true for that odd philosophical fiction called ‘Christian hedonism’.

Christianity is opposed to both libertinism and religion. Neither is compatible with the freedom brought by the resurrection. By God’s grace we are set free from the chains of libertinism, as well as religion, to act in the world out of love for God and others. The question today is how genuine Christian (non-moralistic) opposition to libertinism should look like. Real Christian opposition should not be about confirming so-called bourgois morality and aesthetics, but exactly the opposite, about freeing us from the bonds of consumerism, self-indulgence, as well as religious moralism and so on. Not easy, to be sure. But it seems that American Christianity at least has the potential for such opposition, whereas European Christianities are often too tied up with soft cultural values and tradition. Trends in American Christian radicalism are starting to inspire Europeans. Some of these in a positive way (e.g. Christian Anarchism, Anabaptist theology, Evangelical Universalism, etc.). Keep up the good work. But do remember what Europeans have known for long, that there is no necessary relation between Puritanism and Christianity.

Heath Bradley: Flames of Love – Hell and Universal Salvation

“I believe hell is very real, yet I also believe that a God who is love is also real, and that this God gets the last word.” – Heath Bradley in Flames of Love (2012) From the book description: “Christian universalists believe that ultimately God will reconcile all people through Jesus Christ. While a minority … Continue reading Heath Bradley: Flames of Love – Hell and Universal Salvation

“I believe hell is very real, yet I also believe that a God who is love is also real, and that this God gets the last word.” – Heath Bradley in Flames of Love (2012)

From the book description:

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Heath Bradley: Flames of Love (Wipf & Stock 2012)

“Christian universalists believe that ultimately God will reconcile all people through Jesus Christ. While a minority perspective, this view has been held by some of the most venerable and respected theologians throughout the Christian tradition, and has resurfaced in recent years in popular theological discussions. This wide-ranging work, written in a conversational style, draws deeply from biblical studies, early church history, and contemporary philosophy of religion to make the case that Christian universalism is a coherent, compelling, biblical, orthodox option for envisioning the life of the world to come. After offering an introductory exploration and critique of the dominant Christian view of hell, the reader is then guided through chapter-length responses to the major misunderstandings and objections to this position[…]”

Find it here.

David Burnfield: Patristic Universalism – An Alternative to the Traditional View of Divine Judgment

By David Burnfield (Universal Publishers 2013) From the book description at amazon.com: “From the earliest days of the church, there have been three views on what happens to those who die without knowing Christ: damnation, annihilation, and restoration. Patristic Universalism presents scriptural, philosophical, and historical support for the restoration view and demonstrates why it was … Continue reading David Burnfield: Patristic Universalism – An Alternative to the Traditional View of Divine Judgment

By David Burnfield (Universal Publishers 2013)

From the book description at amazon.com:

51n3sAFcwTL“From the earliest days of the church, there have been three views on what happens to those who die without knowing Christ: damnation, annihilation, and restoration. Patristic Universalism presents scriptural, philosophical, and historical support for the restoration view and demonstrates why it was the model advocated by some of the earliest and greatest church fathers. Anyone disillusioned with the traditional view that one must get it right in this life or spend eternity in hell will find Patristic Universalism an appealing alternative that remains true to Scripture. One does not need to abandon the Bible as the inerrant and infallible word of God to discover that there might be more to the salvation equation then we’ve been led to believe.”

From the introduction:

“For more than 20 years I was a “devout Baptist” believing that only those who made a profession for Jesus Christ in this life would be saved. But even though my theological thought was firmly planted in the idea of an eternal hell, I still had trouble accepting that a loving God could send so many people to such an awful fate. But I could quickly move those troubling thoughts to the black burner of my mind by reasoning that everyone will be given an opportunity in this life to accept or reject Christ and therefore, everyone who ends up in hell is there of their own free choice. And for most of my adult Christian life, the matter was settled.

But as I began to think more deeply about what I believed, I could not shake the feeling that something wasn’t right. Could the God I serve really send someone to hell for all eternity simply because they didn’t accept Christ in this life? […]

So I began thinking about the two major theological viewpoints regarding salvation – Calvinism and Arminianism – and it seemed that both viewpoints had offered up glimpses of truth while at the same time suffering from the problem of gravitating to the extreme.

Arminianists were correct that Christ’s atonement was for everyone; that Christ’s death on the cross was a price paid for all mankind (John 3:16) and that it is God’s desire for everyone to be saved (1 Tim 2:4). They understood that Jesus was “pierced through for our transgressions” (Isa 53:5) and that “All of us like sheep have gone astray” (Isa 53:6) and that this Servant, Jesus Christ, “will justify the many … and intercede for the transgressors” (Isa 53:11-12). Where they missed the mark was believing that God’s desire to save all of mankind could be thwarted by the freewill of man. If this were true, it would render Adam more powerful than God since Adam – a mere mortal – was able to destroy the perfect plan of God for all mankind while Christ’s atoning work on the cross was successful only for a lucky few. But didn’t Paul tell us that God’s decisions are not based on what we do but solely on His will (Rom 9:11)?”

Find it here: http://www.amazon.com/Patristic-Universalism-Alternative-Traditional-Judgment/dp/1612331831

Brad Jersak: Her Gates Will Never Be Shut – Hope, Hell, and the New Jerusalem

“Salvation is not a question of “turn or burn.” We’re burning already, but we don’t have to be! Redemption! The life and death of Christ showed us how far God would go to extend forgiveness and invitation. His resurrection marked the death of death and the evacuation of Hades. My hope is in Christ, who rightfully earned his judgment seat and whose verdict is restorative justice, that is to say, mercy.” – Brad Jersak

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Brad Jersak: Her Gates Will Never Be Shut: Hope, Hell, and the New Jerusalem (Wipf & Stock 2010)

“Salvation is not a question of “turn or burn.” We’re burning already, but we don’t have to be! Redemption! The life and death of Christ showed us how far God would go to extend forgiveness and invitation. His resurrection marked the death of death and the evacuation of Hades. My hope is in Christ, who rightfully earned his judgment seat and whose verdict is restorative justice, that is to say, mercy.” – Brad Jersak

“Everlasting hell and divine judgment, a lake of fire and brimstone–these mainstays of evangelical tradition have come under fire once again in recent decades. Would the God of love revealed by Jesus really consign the vast majority of humankind to a destiny of eternal, conscious torment? Is divine mercy bound by the demands of justice? How can anyone presume to know who is saved from the flames and who is not? Reacting to presumptions in like manner, others write off the fiery images of final judgment altogether. If there is a God who loves us, then surely all are welcome into the heavenly kingdom, regardless of their beliefs or behaviors in this life. Yet, given the sheer volume of threat rhetoric in the Scriptures and the wickedness manifest in human history, the pop-universalism of our day sounds more like denial than hope. Mercy triumphs over judgment; it does not skirt it. Her Gates Will Never Be Shut endeavors to reconsider what the Bible and the Church have actually said about hell and hope, noting a breadth of real possibilities that undermines every presumption. The polyphony of perspectives on hell and hope offered by the prophets, apostles, and Jesus humble our obsessive need to harmonize every text into a neat theological system. But they open the door to the eternal hope found in Revelation 21-22: the City whose gates will never be shut; where the Spirit and Bride perpetually invite the thirsty who are outside the city to “Come, drink of the waters of life.””

Find it here: http://wipfandstock.com/her-gates-will-never-be-shut.html

Gregory Macdonald: The Evangelical Universalist

“Can an orthodox Christian, committed to the historic faith of the church and the authority of the Bible, be a universalist?” This is just one of many questions dealt with in Gregory MacDonald’s book. Gregory MacDonald enters into discussion with a wide range of topics and theologians from contemporary American Evangelicalism. From the introduction to … Continue reading Gregory Macdonald: The Evangelical Universalist

“Can an orthodox Christian, committed to the historic faith of the church and the authority of the Bible, be a universalist?” This is just one of many questions dealt with in Gregory MacDonald’s book.

Gregory MacDonald enters into discussion with a wide range of topics and theologians from contemporary American Evangelicalism.

From the introduction to the book:

Gregory MacDonald: The Evangelical Universalist (Cascade Books 2006)

” Is it possible to believe that salvation is found only by grace, through faith in Christ, and yet to maintain that in the end all people will be saved? Can one believe passionately in mission if one does not think that anyone will be lost forever? Could universalism be consistent with the teachings of the Bible? Gregory MacDonald argues that the answer is yes to all of these questions. Weaving together philosophical, theological, and biblical considerations, MacDonald seeks to show that being a committed universalist is consistent with the central teachings of the biblical texts and of historic Christian theology.”

Find it at amazon.com.

More thoughts behind the website: Doing theology in the light of the gospel of infinite grace

The purpose of this website is not to teach soteriological universalism as a ‘theological doctrine’, but to help deconstruct and reconstruct  traditional concepts such as salvation, damnation, election, predestination, divine judgment and so on. God is free to have or not to have mercy on whom he wills (Rom. 9:18), and so we cannot make … Continue reading More thoughts behind the website: Doing theology in the light of the gospel of infinite grace

The purpose of this website is not to teach soteriological universalism as a ‘theological doctrine’, but to help deconstruct and reconstruct  traditional concepts such as salvation, damnation, election, predestination, divine judgment and so on. God is free to have or not to have mercy on whom he wills (Rom. 9:18), and so we cannot make a sure ‘theory’ about grace. But this is also exactly why we are free to hope that God will in fact have mercy upon all (Rom. 11:32).

The belief in “the restoration of all things” (Acts 3:21) is as old as Christianity itself, and was held by many early Church Fathers prior to the Middle Ages. Since the introduction of religious freedoms in the 17th century it has been defended by an increasing number of believers from all denominations. The hope that there will in fact be no limits to the scope or efficiency of grace is not religious pluralism or liberalism. There is no salvation outside of Christ. But eventually all things will be gathered up in Christ (Eph. 1:10), who will finally subject everything to His Father so that God can be All in All (1 Cor. 15:28).

Any theology takes a particular understanding of the gospel to be the central or foundational one when reading and interpreting the Bible. If we take the gospel to be good news about God’s infinite grace, everything else must be seen in this light.

The Bible teaches that nothing is impossible with God (Job 42:2; Luke 1:37). God works all things according to the counsel of his will (Eph. 1:11). No one can resist his will (Rom. 9:19). Salvation does not depend on human willing or effort but on God who shows mercy (Rom 9:16). Salvation is by grace, not works (Rom 11:6). The Bible also teaches that God wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth (1 Tim 2:4). Every single person has been judged to death because of sin (Rom. 2:10), but by his death and resurrection Jesus Christ will make all righteous (Rom. 5:18).

Christ is the atoning sacrifice for the sins of the whole world (1 Jn 2:2). All have died with Christ, and in Christ God has reconciled the world to himself (2 Cor 15-19). Through Christ all things have been reconciled to God (Col 1:20). In Jesus Christ, the grace of God has been revealed, bringing salvation to all people (Tit 2:11). Christ gave himself as a ransom for all (1 Tim. 2:6), which is why he is said to be the savior of all men, though especially those who believe (1 Tim. 4:10).

If this is our basis for understanding the gospel, then the purpose of our theological reflection must be to explain how anything that seems to go against the gospel of infinite grace can nevertheless be seen to be compatible with this message. Such traditional issues like predestination, damnation and judgment must all be seen in the light of the cross and God’s ultimate purposes. If God’s purpose is to save all sinners, then these things must be seen in a broader perspective. As 16th century Anabaptist leader Hans Denck explained, damnation and even what is perceived as eternal damnation is in the light of the gospel only a step on the road to salvation. Sin, death, hell, damnation, reprobation, etc. are real, yes, but overcome by the cross and the resurrection of Christ. Double predestination does not mean that some are elected at the expense of others, but that, in the light of the cross, Jesus takes upon himself our rejection in order that we may share in his election (Relly).

Much more can be said, of course, which is why having a blog makes good sense.

Thomas Talbott: The Inescapable Love of God

“The real mystery is why so many have failed to appreciate the universalism of the New Testament and why so many have tried to explain it away. Paul, for example, speaks eloquently of the triumph of God’s sovereign love; again and again, we find in his letters explicit statements to the effect that God will … Continue reading Thomas Talbott: The Inescapable Love of God

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Thomas Talbott: The Inescapable Love of God (Universal Pub. 1999)

“The real mystery is why so many have failed to appreciate the universalism of the New Testament and why so many have tried to explain it away. Paul, for example, speaks eloquently of the triumph of God’s sovereign love; again and again, we find in his letters explicit statements to the effect that God will eventually bring all things into subjection to Christ and reconcile all things in Christ and bring life to all persons through Christ. As we shall see, these statements are neither obscure nor incidental; indeed, the lengths to which some have gone to explain them away is itself a testimony to their clarity and power.”

Thomas Talbott.

Talbott is Professor Emeritus of Philosophy at Willamette University. Read more on Thomas Talbott’s book here or find it at amazon.com.

Three chapters from the first edition are available as PDF: