By D. M. PANTON.
UNIVERSALISM, or the ultimate salvation of all men after a more or less prolonged sojourn in hell, or with no hell at all, is a theory that was originated in the third century by Origen; of whom the ecclesiastical historian Mosheim says that “the divine simplicity of the Truth is scarcely discernible through the cobweb vail of his allegories.” Since one passage, and perhaps one alone in the Bible, looks in the direction of Universalism, it is obvious that if that link snaps, the whole chain drops, so far as the system is supposed to be based on the Holy Scriptures. Now it is certain that this Scripture states that all creation, all persons whatsoever in the illimitable universe, will one day, personally and openly, confess Christ. “God highly exalted Him, and gave unto Him the name which is above every name ; that” - in order that, as the purpose and result of the exaltation – “in the name of Jesus EVERY KNEE should bow” - the bent knee, in dumb acknowledgment of a worshipping will; “of things in heaven” - all unseen principalities and powers whatsoever, fallen and unfallen – “and things on earth” - the totality of mankind – “and things under the earth” - the abyss, the home of both the dead (Rom. 10: 7) and demons (Luke 8: 31); “and that EVERY TONGUE” - therefore every personality, human or angelic, “shall confess” - confess, as the Greek word means, openly and plainly; the tongue confessing that before which the knee bows – “that Jesus Christ is LORD, to the glory of God the Father” (Phil. 2:11). A name above every name, every knee bowed, every tongue confessing; not one knee unbent; not one tongue silent : no universality could be more complete.
Now the Universalist says that, since a forced worship would not be to the glory of God, and as this worship is said to be “to the glory of God the Father,” therefore it must be the unforced worship of redeemed creatures; that is, of a universe entirely saved. But an awkward fact at once confronts us. This homage is exactly what has already been offered to Christ by unredeemed creatures. The unclean spirits, when confronted by our LORD, again and again cried in open confession, - “I know Thee Who Thou art, the HOLY ONE of GOD”; a whole legion of demons besought Him to suffer them “to enter into the swine,” a prayer of absolute subjection to His authority, a knee utterly bent; and such was their acknowledgment of the Lordship of Christ that they said,- “Art Thou come to torment us before the time?” for not only did they see no salvation for themselves in the future, but they acclaimed Christ as their final and supreme judge, without a moment’s hesitation or doubt. If this happened when Jesus was about to perish on the Cross, will it not happen when He is Lord upon the Throne? The fallen and malignant beings hated Christ, yet knew, and had to confess, Who He was and what He was: it was a homage exacted by iron fact, not the regenerate worship of a loving heart. Now, since this subjection of hell to our Lord when on earth was one of His most extraordinary glories, so will it be again, and so also will it be to the glory of God the Father. The confession has already been offered by evil beings who were never saved.*
[* When our LORD speaks of soul and body being plunged in Gehenna (Matt. 10: 28), if the soul ceases, or if the fire ceases, and our Lord did not say so though He knew it, is it possible or credible that He should have shrouded so stupendous a fact in silence, or have left us such a misleading half-truth alone? Nothing but the fact can ever justify the statement of an eternal hell. Again, if a soul is in hell for a million years, and is then delivered, what is the object of saying that the fire is everlasting? Will GOD keep fires burning for eternity after the object for which they were kindled has ceased? for it is a fire “that is not quenched” (Mark 9: 48) as a matter of fact, and is “unquenchable” (Matt. 3: 12) by any process in heaven or earth. The fury of God’s wrath unmixed (Rev. 14: 10) - that is, at its fullest conceivable - cannot be less than eternal, or it is a dilution. Hell is mercy to the universe; for it is mercy which keeps in perpetual internment all incurable criminals and moral maniacs.]
fact about this passage - the date of its fulfilment - is final against the
Universalist. For the Restorationist
says that hell is real, and may last millions of years, but that this passage
reveals every soul delivered at length from hell. The answer is simple. This Passage deals with an event before the
creation of hell at all. “Things in heaven, and things on earth, and
things under the earth” -
that is, in the deep underworld, Hades: this is a description of the earth as it
is. Now Hades
will be cast into the Lake of Fire, and indeed the whole earth itself is burnt
up and vanishes utterly from before the Great White Throne, before the wicked are cast into hell (Rev. 20: 11): therefore this universal homage
takes place before hell has begun at all: therefore, if the Universalist’s view
of it were correct, all men must be saved before the final judgment at the Great White
Throne. But if so, then there are no lost that
appear before that Throne; but what do we read?
“They were judged every man according to their
works; and if any was not found
written in the Book of Life, he was cast into the
For an extraordinary finality is stamped upon the last judgment scene. “And books were opened; and the dead were judged out of the things which were written in the books, according to their works” (Rev. 20: 12). That is, the life-work of each is perfectly finished; it cannot be added to, or taken from, or altered - it can only be judged; after this, no works are recorded, only sufferings. All other dispensations, whatever judgments mingled in them, always sought to deliver men from their works, not to judge them by their works; to free the guilty, to wash the foul: so that immediately before the judgment epoch, the word was,- “Now is the day of salvation”: but that “now” has vanished, the mercy-limit is passed, all probation is over; that is, the law now takes its course. All who refused mercy now are confronted then, not with vindictiveness or harshness, but with strict equity; everything done will commend itself to the criminal’s conscience as the perfection of justice; but that involves the complete disappearance of mercy (Deut. 13: 8). It is also exceedingly striking that whereas the degree of guilt, and therefore of punishment, is decided by the biographies, the Books of Works, the sentence to hell is adjudged solely on the catalogue, the Book of Names: what then can ever save such afterwards? However shall they become the subjects of pardon whose names are not, and never have been, in the book of pardon? “If any was not found written in the book of life, he was cast into the lake of fire.” Nor does the sentence carry with it the least hint of cessation. No terminable sentence is ever passed in a law court, and its duration not stated: if there is an end to hell, God does not seem to know it, or else, in the very act of pronouncing sentence, He conceals it with extraordinary care; the demons know of no cessation (Matt. 8: 29); the Church for nineteen centuries has discovered none; and no fresh revelation from heaven has brought news of an amnesty in hell.* And the finality of the scene is heightened by the extreme reluctance of God to begin it at all. He postpones this fearful decision to the last possible moment: we ourselves are in the “last days”; the millennial age is the “last day”; and this judgment takes place in the last moments of the last day. Before an earlier judgment throne, (Rev. 4: 1), when terror was seeking to save where mercy had failed, there were trumpets and hosannas and chorusing angels, as out of the very vials of wrath bands of delivered martyrs rose into heaven. Before this throne there is absolute stillness; even the angels are hushed in silence; for it is the crisis of godless destiny, without a single note of gladness or a ray of hope. The mercy-rainbow (Rev. 4: 3) is gone from a throne now naked and lonely in its awful whiteness: no seven torches - the Holy Spirit of God - now stand between the sinner and the throne: no Mediator, no Saviour appears, only a Judge. It is said that a great composer wrote, for a musical festival, an anthem on the final judgment. At one point he introduced the cries of the lost; but no singer could be found to take the part: so, when that point in the score was reached, the leader of the orchestra simply beat time while all stood in dead silence; until, when the awful chasm was passed, the entire chorus broke into “the shout of them that triumph, the song of them that feast.” The whole universe holds its breath to watch the beginnings of hell.
[* There is an enormous historical obstacle to his theory of which the Universalist rarely seems to feel the overpowering force. All generations of all sections of the Church - thc holiest and the worldliest, the giant intellect and the illiterate believer, the closest to God and the furthest from God - have believed unwaveringly (with trifling exceptions) that the Bible states an eternal hell. Now this does not prove that the doctrine is true, but it establishes an enormous presumption that it is in the Bible; for is it conceivable that, on a doctrine so repellent to the natural mind that it could never have been received except on overwhelming authority, the whole Church has made a blunder so colossal as to mistake the Bible’s teaching of universal salvation for eternal damnation? No truth we hold with the Church of all ages could in that case be safe. Nor can we appeal to the general decay of belief in eternal punishment during the last fifty years; for that decay has advanced pari passu with unbelief in every direction; and that logic can only land us in the total abandonment of the Christian Faith.]
For “how can ye escape the damnation of hell?” (Matt. 23: 33). This is the terrific question which our LORD launches like a thunderbolt at the breast of the Pharisees : “How shall ye escape the judgment [which consists] of Gehenna?” that is, if still sinning, how avoid hell, and, once in it, how escape out of it? It is a question which the Universalist is bound to answer. For (1) Pain, by itself, never saves or sanctifies. Pain, while it can convince of the folly of sin, and while it can so subdue the proud will of man as to make him ready to receive God’s offers of mercy, by itself is utterly powerless to produce goodness. Punishment on earth, backed by God’s grace, and supplemented by His Gospel, constantly leads men to salvation; but it is not the punishment that changes the man, but the entrance of God’s Spirit acting upon a surrendered will. So far from the fire being remedial or purgatorial, or anything but punitive and preservative, Satan himself, after incarceration in the fires of Dives for a thousand years, emerges never more alive or more agile or more malignant (Rev. 20: 8); and the two supremely wicked men of the last are visibly existing in the Lake (Rev. 20: 10) after a millennium of hell-fire. This last fact strikes Annihilation dead, and paralyzes Universalism. Man himself exercises justice that has no aim to amend or purge: the death-penalty in the army is not intended to produce a better soldier, nor the scaffold for treason a better citizen. Dr. Tholuck, in youth, imagined that the Scriptures could be harmonized with universal salvation but one passage changed his view for life: “Whosoever shall blaspheme against the Holy Spirit hath never forgiveness” (Mark 3: 29); “it shall not be forgiven him, neither in this age, nor in that which is to come” (Matt. 12: 32).* If there is no pardon, there can be no Christ; and if no Christ, no Holy Spirit to apply the salvation of Christ; and if in hell there is no.pardon, no Christ, no Spirit of God, how can pain, mere pain, save? “As it is impossible, without a new creation, to return to the mother’s womb and live the old life over again, the second trial would have to commence where the first left off - that is, with a dismal outfit of neglected opportunities, broken vows, sad reminiscences, abused faculties, and in the corruption of moral bankrupts, with every prospect of a worse failure and a more certain ruin” (Schapp).
[* Pardon is possible for a believer at the Judgment Seat (2 Tim. 1: 18), and for millennial nations among whom sin will still exist (Isa. 65: 20); but of one who “is guilty of an eternal sin,” our LORD says that he will be forgiven “neither in this age, nor in that which is to come,” which Mark defines as having “never forgiveness” (Mark 3: 29): THEREFORE FOR A SOUL THUS GUILTY THERE IS NO PARDON IN THE ETERNAL, AGES BEYOND. But one exception destroys Universalism.]
Again self-restoration on the part of a sinner is impossible. A
body, once set falling, has no power
whatever to stop itself, and much less to reverse and begin travelling upward;
so a soul, having once begun to fall, if left to itself, has no power whatever
to reverse its path upward to holiness and to God. For the unclean to make himself clean is simply impossible. Even on earth sin is not covered except by
the atonement of
(3) Again it is morally impossible for God to compel salvation. It is constantly forgotten that God imposed a self-limitation upon Himself, consciously and deliberately, the moment He created man or angel with free will - that awful power which can defy God Himself. God has not made men automata; therefore He will not. Intellectually, we can conceive God restoring all souls by sheer compulsion and power; but what would this mean? For God to make sin to be followed by eternal joy would, morally, be the same as making, by sheer force of omnipotence, goodness to be followed by eternal misery. How can God do either? To do it, God would have to destroy the foundations of His own being, outrage His own law, and overturn the bases of all righteousness. To empty the Bottomless Pit solely by Divine fiat would be as immoral as putting holy angels to unmerited pain; and since God acts with unsullied justice, He can do neither. This is the answer to the contention that an eternal hell defeats the purpose of God. It does not; because God never purposed to save any man against his will: His purpose was (and it has been perfectly accomplished) to effect salvation for all, and to confer it on “whosoever will.” No way of overthrowing the moral foundations of the universe more effectual could be conceived than for God to issue a decree saving all men regardless of their moral character. The “restitution of all things” is only “the restitution of all things whereof God spake by the mouth of His holy prophets” (Acts 3: 21).
Again the terms in which the sentence to the
“Of the ninety-five instances in which the word aion [translated ‘eternal’] occurs, in sixteen it is used in ascriptions of praise to God and Christ; in five it is applied to the existence of God; in four it is predicated of the kingdom or dominion of Christ; in one of the Word of God; in eighteen it is used in the sense of ever, with a negative never, and in a great majority of these cases it is applied to something which Christ is or does; in seven it expresses an indefinite period in ages past; in nine it is applied to the future happiness of the righteous; and in five to the punishment of the wicked. In the remaining passages it is used in the sense of age or world - properly world-time. Of the sixty-six undisputed passages in which aionios is employed in the Greek Testament, fifty-one are used in relation to the life and happiness of the righteous.”
The eternity of God and the holy and heaven equally disappears with the eternity of hell.
Finally, the destiny of the evil angels must ever remain a hopeless stumbling-block to the Universalist. For if devils are unsaved, all or any, the arguments that rest on the alleged “defeated purposes” of God if hell remains unemptied all collapse, and sin becomes (if all men are saved) unjustly obliterated in one race, and not in another; while if all created beings whatsoever are saved, angels are delivered for whom Christ never died, whose sin has never been expiated, to whom the Gospel has never been offered, and not one of whom has been regenerated or reformed throughout all the centuries of salvation.* The system which saves wicked spirits without the Gospel can hardly expect to be believed when it saves the finally impenitent of mankind against their will.** There is something far from beautiful in the moral disposition which can use the Christian Faith to cloak principles deeply antagonistic to it, so as to gain the prestige of Christ without charging oneself with His solemn renunciations. And could anything be more awful than to tell men in the name of Christ that they will all be saved, and to find it is not true when it is too late to warn them? The life of Jehovah is for ever and ever (Rev. 10: 6); the glory of God is for ever and ever (Gal. 1: 5); the throne of God’s Son is for ever and ever (Heb. 2: 8): the reign of the righteous is for ever and ever (Rev. 22: 5); “AND THE SMOKE OF THEIR TORMENT ASCENDETH UP FOR EVER AND EVER” (Rev. 14: 11).
[* Of lost spirits it is revealed that they are “branded in their own conscience as with a hot iron” (1 Tim. 4: 2): their conscience, through sin, is cauterized, burnt out, dead: therefore the undying worm and the unquenched fire (into which the Devil and his angels are cast after their consciences have been thus destroyed) are not conscience. Even on earth there are men “past feeling” (Eph. 4: 19) - that is, past moral feeling ; so that if conscience is the undying worm, the most hardened in hell would be the least sufferers.
** Extraordinarily clear is the