James Relly: The Great Salvation Contemplated, epistle IV

“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.”

In his fourth letter of The Great Salvation Contemplated, James Relly concentrates on a selection of bible passages that he believes to most clearly suggest a universal salvation when taken at face value. Relly mentions Gen. 23:18 (“In thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed”),  Psalm 65:2 (Unto thee shall all flesh come), Luke 3:6 (“all flesh shall see the salvation of God“), Rom. 5:18 (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) and 1 Cor. 15:22 (“as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive”).

Read epistles I+II and III

Letter IV.

Dear Brethren,

WHEN we read the sacred book, let our hearts feel none other bias, than the glory of Christ alone; to testify of whom, the unerring Spirit dictated what the prophets and apostles wrote.

If thus qualified, we investigate truth; we shall quickly perceive, that the love of God, and the salvation of Jesus, are, in their freeness and extent, infinitely beyond what the ancient Jews, or even the generality of modern Christians, have apprehended.

In the book we read, that “God is love:” that he hath so loved the world as to give his only beloved Son for the life of it; and that his Son has died for the sins of the whole world: From whence we may infer, that no man is excluded from the love of God, or from the salvation of Christ.

With what propriety can it be conceived, that God should create beings under an unavoidable destiny to sin, and endless misery? Does it consist with the righteousness and equity of the divine nature? does it consist with the warnings, calls, invitations, and reproofs, wherewith he has admonished men from the beginning? Is it compatible with his promises? or even with the threatenings, where the sinner and the ungodly are threatened? Nay, God our Father has taught us the reverse; where he has sworn by his life, that he desireth not the death of a sinner, but that he should turn from his wickedness, and live. Who are decreed and created to destruction, cannot be laid to be condemned for their own demerits, but for the sole pleasure of God; but, than this, there is nothing more untrue.

Will divine Justice censure men for not believing a lie? for not believing what they never had a right to believe; yea, what was never true to them? Will God the Judge of all men, destroy his creatures for not doing what he never gave them abilities for; yea, for not doing, what he decreed they should not do? Is our Father, Redeemer, and Savior, such an austere master, as to expect to gather, where he has not strewed, and to reap where he has not sowed?

He, who hath seen and declared the Father, and who only hath seen and declared him, has taught us, that God loved the world, yea so loved it, as to give the Son of his bosom; than whom, as given for the life of the world, heaven had not, in all its treasures, a richer gift, a higher and more incontestable evidence, of his love and good-will towards man. “And, if God hath not spared his own Son, but hath delivered him up for us all, how shall he not, with him, freely give us all things.

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?

When I behold the glory of the Son of man, the dignity of his person, the intention of his obedience and sufferings, the immensity of his blood, and the power and purity of his resurrection, I am ecstasied! I cannot with-hold, but am constrained to cry out, O! amazing grace! “where sin hath abounded, grace hath much more abounded.” What are the iniquities of a thousand worlds! O Zion, what are all thy transgressions, though numberless; when thy God deigns to purchase thee with his own blood! What are the complicated sins of a guilty world, to this great and glorious salvation! The demerit of the one, to the merit of the other, bears no more proportion than a pearly drop of morning dew to the deep and wide extended ocean, or than a dust of the balance, to the terrestrial globe: yea, the requisites to man’s deliverance from sin, and from all its consequences, bear not more proportion to that glorious deliverance, as wrought in and by Jesus Christ our Lord; than a moment of time to the ages of eternity. Such are the aboundings of God’s everlasting grace! such the divinity of our Savior’s blood and righteousness!

Who can see this, and yet start at the expression — “All flesh shall see his salvation?” Who can behold this, and yet be anxious to find out, among the individuals of Adam’s race, such whom they may exclude from salvation, so free and extensive as is that of our Lord Jesus Christ?

But, to avoid the imputation of an attempt to impose on the judgment, by an address to the passions, I shall proceed to collect a few of the most remarkable passages in the book, speaking of the general love and good-will of God to mankind: showing, by the way, the relation they stand in to the hypothesis of universal salvation. My intention is, next, to examine with candor, and ingenuously to reply, to what wears the face of the most material objections to this doctrine.

In thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed” (Gen. 23:18). which seed is Christ, saith the apostle. The sum of which is, that all the nations of the earth shall be blessed in Christ. Nor does the text, to a simple and unprejudiced mind, need a comment. Nor shall I spend my time here, to shew the impropriety of such comments, as pretend, that “all the nations of the earth,” intend only various nations; or a few individuals out of all these various nations; or that the blessing, promised to all nations in Christ, intends the good example only, which they have in him; or the good instructions he has given them; or, the possibility of salvation for them, on such, or such terms or the temporal blessings which all possess through him; with many more such like human inventions, calculated to evade the force of the promise, and to limit its grace; since, but to mention these, is to expose their absurdity.

But, as I believe, that God our Savior meant not to trifle with his creatures, but to fulfill his promises to them; so am I persuaded that he meant to speak to their understanding and common sense, in all his promises: and not to propose theses for trials of skill, at logic, rhetoric, and sophistry. Hence, when I hear him say, all the nations of the earth, I readily conclude that he intended, not only all the nations inheriting the earth at some particular period; but all that the earth hath contained from the beginning, or shall contain, to the end of time.

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.

In thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed. This is not only descriptive of God’s method of blessing mankind, i. e. in Christ; but it also denotes the continuance of the blessing. It is not in man, who is given to change, but it is in him, who is the same, yesterday, to-day, and for ever. Though all the nations be dead, yet the blessing, their eternal life, is hid with Christ in God; where it is so well secured, that they may not, by any means, be deprived of it. Nor is their present ignorance a proof that they shall not, in some future period, possess and rejoice in the blessing, which, by the grace of God, they are entitled to.

Unto thee shall all flesh come (Psalm 65:2). By all flesh, I would understand all mankind: for to this purpose is the term, all flesh, made life of, in the scriptures: as in Genesis, “For all flesh had corrupted his way, upon the earth and in Numbers, “He is the God of the spirits of all flesh,” &c. So in the text, “Unto thee shall all flesh come.” This promise is already fulfilled, in the person of Christ; in whom all the promises are Yea and Amen. 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.

The glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together (Isaiah 40:5). This was revealed in Jesus Christ, who was the brightness of the glory, and the express image of the person of God: who was God manifested in the the flesh, so that angels were capable of seeing the Invisible.

Moses, and Others in their day, were desirous of seeing his glory; but saw it not. The glory which Moses was desirous of seeing, is called the face of God; and may intend the nature and properties of Deity, with his purposes and designs. But though this sight was denied to Moses, yet God promised that his glory should be revealed, and that all flesh should see it together.

This promise is fulfilled in Jesus, in him is the glory of God revealed; and in him all flesh, i. e. all mankind were so collected, and situated, that they saw it together. As Adam, so Christ occupied all flesh, in his knowledge of the Father: he being in his office-capacity, and mystery, all flesh gathered together: his views, his enjoyments, his knowledge, are theirs; and thus all flesh have together seen the glory of God.

Nor does this deny, but supposes; yea, secures to all flesh, a personal sight and enjoyment of the glory of God in some future age, when his glory shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together.

And all flesh shall see the salvation of God (Luke 3:6). According to the sense of the sacred book, the promise of seeing, is the promise of possessing and enjoying: does it not follow, then, that all flesh shall enjoy the salvation of God? As the terms, all flesh, in asserting the corruption of our species, manifestly include Adam and all his offspring, there can be no just reason offered, why the same terms, when used in promise, should not have the same latitude. Hence all mankind shall see, and enjoy the salvation of God.

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). To the unprejudiced mind this text needs no comment: here the plaister is manifestly as wide as the fore — and the remedy, both in its application and benefit, as extensive and powerful as the disease.

This text, like the pregnant comb, drops honey at the touch, and needs no pressure. Here the grace which distinguishes the ever adorable name, and inexplicable salvation of Jesus, shines in its meridian lustre. Here, the amazing freeness, and extent of love and grace, so sparkles and speaks, that the mole and the bat only can be blind, and the adder deaf! Meat is here brought out of the eater, and sweetness out of the strong.

This text shows us the method and freeness of God’s eternal grace, in the salvation of mankind by Jesus Christ our Lord. “As by the offense of one, so by the righteousness of one.” By the former, without their aid, concurrence, assent, or even knowledge, judgment came upon all unto condemnation: in like manner, by the latter, the free gift came upon all men to justification of life. This is free grace indeed! here the chambers of darkness and death, teem with the rays and evidences of light, life, and immortality: and even the wandering steps of man, fabled with guilt, and leading to judgment and condemnation, illustrate and perpetuate the method and freeness of the great salvation.

The free gift came upon all men, unto justification of life. — Upon all on whom judgment came unto condemnation. Hence, it is true beyond all controversy, that, as all Adam’s offspring, by means of his offense, were brought under judgment to condemnation; so it is equally true, that, by means of Christ’s righteousness, Adam and all his offspring were brought under the free gift of justification unto eternal life. We have most assuredly the same revelation of God for the one, as we have for the other.

What, if men do not believe, shall their unbelief make the faith of God of none effect? Is their unbelief a reasonable objection to a free gift? or, is their unrighteousness an argument, that this free gift cannot come upon them by the righteousness of Jesus Christ? Have those words — a gift, a free gift, a free gift of justification unto life, coming upon all men — no meaning in them? Nay, let priest-craft, bigotry, and prejudice, sift and winnow them, their substance will yet remain: It will be for ever true, that God hath concluded all in unbelief, that he might have mercy on all.

All the children of Adam do not at present know, that judgment came upon them to condemnation by his offense; 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 him to justification of life. It is rather a proof of the free gift.

Justification of life, according to the words of the book, implies a perfect exemption from the charge of sin, and consequently from condemnation. This is justification: and justification of life, intends a justification of that life and impunity which they obtain as a free gift by the righteousness of Christ: Thus is God just, in justifying the ungodly.

If this grace be true to all, according to that great plainness of speech used by the apostle, wherefore should not all, sooner or later, possess it? Sin, or any impediment arising from thence, cannot prevent their final happiness in this grace: because the gift which came upon them, is that of justification: which acquits from sin, and all its consequences: nor can their poverty and helplessness prevent it; because it is a free gift, a good and perfect gift, which came from the Father of lights, with whom there is neither variableness nor shadow of turning: whose gifts and callings are without repentance. From all which, I see no reason wherefore all men should not in some future period, be blessed with the enjoyment of eternal life.

For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive (1 Cor. 15:22). This is a text perfectly similar in its language to the former, and therefore would need none other remarks than what I have made on the above.— But, that expositors (in my judgment) give it a sense very different from the intention of the Holy Ghost by the apostle. Commentators tell us, that as by means of Adam’s offense, all men became mortal, and must necessarily see death; so by means of Christ’s resurrection and power, they shall all be made alive, or raised from the dead. Unto which I answer, If they meant that the all thus made alive in Christ, or raised from the dead in him, were raised to eternal life and glory, the comment would be good: but, as they intend nothing less than this; theirs is not the genuine sense of the text, as will appear from what follows.

The text manifestly opposes Christ, and his life, to Adam, and his death; and shows the former to be as extensive as the latter. As an infallible medicine to a sore disease, as a dispensation of comfort to a scene of misery; so is the text adapted to the helpless state of man. Those blessed words contain a declaration and promise of man’s deliverance in Christ: yea, of all men’s deliverance from the misery or death wherein they are involved in Adam.

But, wherein is the propriety of such a declaration, of promise, if the greater part of those who are made alive in Christ, are only made alive for destruction, and rendered thereby more capable of torment? Can they receive any possible advantage, in conjunction with eternal misery? Is not an annihilation preferable to eternal damnation? What profit will such receive by being made alive in Christ, who are made alive to greater and endless misery? Can this be the voice of love? Can it be the sense of the text? If so, the natural comment is this. For as in Adam all die, and according to the body mingle with the dull, and become senseless as the clay; so in Christ they shall all be made alive: some to the sense of happiness, but (by much) the greater part to the sense of everlasting torment. Except to a very few, where is the grace, where is the salvation, proposed in the text, agreeable to such a comment?

According to this method of explaining that scripture, Adam has laid the foundation of human misery, and Christ raises the superstructure. Adam has drank the deadly thing so soporiferous to all his offspring and Christ makes them alive, awakes and quickens them to inexplicable and never-ending torment. This is a notorious inversion of the gospel, and, according to my idea, a blasphemy against Christ: who says, that he “came not into the world to destroy the world, but that the world through him might have life.”

There are others, who, though they allow that all men without distinction die in Adam, yet will have the all who are made alive in Christ, to be all the elect only; who, according to them, are a very small number, in comparison of those who die in Adam. Hence the phrase often used, as in Adam all his seed die, even so in Christ all his feed shall be made alive, as though the seed of Christ was not so extensive as the seed of Adam. Others say, all who believe and obey the gospel shall be made alive in Christ Jesus: as if, when dead, they were to believe and obey, in order to their being made alive. Merely to mention these comments, and others of like nature, is sufficient to prove them a manifest perversion of the sacred text. And yet it is amazing to see, how greedily men swallow, how eagerly they adopt, the most strained unnatural comment; rather than acknowledge such a freeness and extent of grace as the true gospel preaches!

Who but reads the text with a heart unprejudiced, and open to the impressions of truth, must necessarily perceive the reality of salvation, the method and extent of it? The reality of it — They shall be made alive in Christ. The method of it — As they die in Adam, so shall they be made alive in Christ. The extent of it — All — “As in Adam all die, so in Christ shall All be made alive.” Thus the aboundings of grace are as extensive as those of fin: and Christ is declared to be as universal in his salvation, as Adam was in the ruin of mankind.

And, lest the old question should recur, i. e, “Who will show us any good?” If God has promised to make all alive in Christ, how comes it that his promise is not fulfilled, since the whole world yet lieth in the wicked one? I answer — In Christ the first fruits, the promise is already fulfilled, as it shall be in all that are his at his coming. All mankind are legally and mystically made alive in Christ, “who died for their sins, and rose again for their justification.” Thus, whether we wake or deep, we live together with him. The present ignorance and unbelief of mankind does not hinder their being made accepted in the beloved, nor will it prevent their knowledge and enjoyment in some age to come.

But here I recollect that I am writing a letter, and looking back on what I have written, am convinced that it is already too long, shall therefore conclude with subscribing myself,

Your Brother and Servant,

(for Christ’s Sake)

J. R.