James Relly (1722–1778) was a Welshman, Methodist minister and Universalist theologian. Relly’s theology is among the most radical examples of Christian universalism.
“When I hear God himself promise a blessing to mankind, my mind immediately conceives of somewhat very different from a curse: but if men are not blessed with eternal life, it is easily proved, that all other blessings, so called, terminate in a curse. When I hear it promised, that this blessing should be in Christ, I readily conclude, that it is not in man: and can therefore conceive, how men may be blessed in Christ, though they may be ignorant of it in themselves.”
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.
“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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
“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.