Part One: Universalism Asserted on the Authority of Reason

Editor Robin Parry notes in his splendid introduction that "the very structure of [Christ Triumphant] is shaped by [Allin's] Anglican instinct that theological reflection needs to take seriously...the "three-legged stool" of Scripture, tradition, and reason." Today's post begins to look at Part One, the argument for Universalism from reason.

"The following pages," says Allin, "are written under the pressure of a deep conviction that the views generally held as to the future punishment of the ungodly wholly fail to satisfy the plain statements of Scripture. All forms of partial salvation are but so many different ways of saying that evil is in the long run too strong for God. The popular creed has maintained itself on a scriptural basis solely, I believe, by hardening into dogma mere figures of oriental imagery; by mistranslations and misconceptions of the sense of the original...and finally, by completely ignoring a vast body of evidence in favour of the salvation of all men, furnished, as will be shown, by very numerous passages of the New Testament, no less than by the great principles that pervade the teaching of all revelation." 

"[Y]ou establish future punishment, and with it that sense of the reality of sin (to which conscience testifies), on a firm basis only when you teach a plan of retribution that is itself reasonable and credible. A penalty that to our reason and moral sense seems shocking and monstrous loses all force as a threat." 

Allin responds to those who hold up conditional immortality--annihilation--as an alternative fate of the damned:

"'I believe in one God the Father Almighty, who wills not the death of a sinner.' If, then, even one sinner dies finally, God's will is not done, i.e., God is so far defeated and evil victorious. Annihilation is the triumph of death over life; it is the very antithesis to the gospel, which asserts the triumph of Christ over ever form of death....all schemes of partial salvation involve a compromise with evil on God's part."

Nor does Allin let any of us take refuge in what he calls "pious agnosticism"  (to which charge I plead nolo contendre), meaning those mewling equivocators who say, "'We are not able definitely to accept any theory of the future of man, because we do not see that anthing has been clearly revealed. Enough has been disclosed to how to us that God is love, and we are content to believe that, happen what will, all will ultimately be shown to the the result of love divine." Allin sees at least some who take this approach as meaning that "at the last my ideas of right and wrong will undergo a complete change--that the things that I now prunounce with the fullest conviction to be cruel and vile will at that day seem to be righteous and just...' What this view really tells me is that my deepest moral convictions are wholly worthless...But if this be so, then I have lost my sole measure of right and wrong...Religion, therefore , is impossible...[for] all revelation presupposes the trustworthiness of that moral sense to which it is addressed."

This section is also a good example of the depth and helpfulness of Parry's footnotes: he looks briefly at contemporary pious agnosticism, and notes "Allin's critique would need supplementing to counter some of the more nuanced versions of agnosticism..." 

The popular creed of hell as eternal torment is untenable, says Allin. "[A] partial salvation aims a blow at both the incarnation and the atonement. For a vital part of the incarnation is the taking of the race of man, as an organic whole,  into God through Jesus Christ, the second Adam...No less vital is the blow aimed by the popular creed at the atonement. First it dishonors the cross by limiting its power to save to the brief moments of earthly life. Further, it virtually teaches that the cross is a stupendous failure...[since] the scriptural evidence is overwhelming that the object of Christ's death was to save the world.

Allin proceeds to present twelve arguments against the universalist position, refuting each in turn. MacDonald aficionados will be interested in Allin's citing of Psalm 62:12, "You, Lord, are merciful for you render to every man according to his work," which is the verse that serves as the inspiration for MacDonald's epic unspoken sermon, Justice. Comments Allin, "true universalism deters from sin, because it preaches a righteous retribution with unequaled force and certainty: on this its creed largely hinges. Restoration is taught because of retribution, a fact on which too much stress cannot be laid."

I have found that some of the most powerful counter-arguments to the universalist position focus on what Allin calls the "freewill defence of hell" (argument number twelve), which he summarizes as "Endless pain and torment is but the result of sin freely chosen and finally persisted in by the sinner." Allin takes this argument apart at length, and I will offer but a few examples of his reasoning:

"First, before discussing this, let me ask--why all this stress laid on man's will to ruin himself, rather than on God's will to save? Is man the pivot on which all hinges? To me it seems bad philosophy, and worse theology, not to recognize God as center, and his will and purpose as supreme."

"You insist that everything depends on human choice. I reply, see how on the contrary man's choice is limited at every hand. First, man is born in sin; that is certainly not wholly can exercise no choice at all as to the time and place of his birth--facts all important in deciding his religious is said that if man be not wholly free, his goodness is but a mechanical thing...[but] man is not a machine because the power of defying God finally is not granted to him. Freedom enough is granted to resist God for ages; freedom to suffer, and to struggle; to reap what has been sown, till, taught by experience, the will of the creature is bent to the will of the preserve man's dignity [the popular view insists] he must be permitted to become the slave of evil if he secure his prerogative of freedom he must be allowed to sink into hopeless servitude to sin...Nay, the only condition of true freedom for man is the divine control. The seeming paradox is true--constraint of man's will, because it is weak and evil, is his emancipation. 'If the Son make you free, then shall you be free indeed!' (John 8:36)...if man to defy God finally, then either (a) God does not in any real sense will the salvation of all men, but does will man's absolute freedom at the cost of his salvation...or (b) he does will it, but is unabl to accomplish it. And if so, then [God] is not free."

"It is impossible to quote more than a fraction of the passages in which Scripture, while recognizing in man a power of choice, so that no one is saved against his will, but by God's working in him a good will, yet points distinctly to God's will as supreme, as certain finally to prevail...[a]nd so of salvation we are plainly told that is is 'not of him who wills, but of God who shows mercy' (Rom 9:16)...'Work out your own salvation,' says the apostle [Phil 2:12]; but why? Not because here is a sphere outside the divine will, but, precisely because here too God rules, 'for it is he...who works in you, both to will and to do.'"

We'll continue this series later this week!