Continuing our discussion of Christ Triumphant: Universalism Asserted on the Authority of Reason, the Fathers, and Holy Scripture, by Thomas Allin, published in 1885: Last week we began looking at Part One, where Allin focuses primarily on arguments based on Reason, and we'll conclude that section of the book with this week's post.
Allin has utter contempt for the traditional view of hell as a place of eternal torment, which, he writes (prior to the horrors of the 20th century!), "represents God as doing that which the most degraded human being would not do." Furthermore, the eternal existence of the sinful in hell means that evil is "as enduring as God himself"--and, no matter that "all evil beings are shut up in chains and torment...constitutes the triumph of the evil one." This is dualism, not Christianity. God has tried to save, but failed; the cross has been defeated. And the upshot of all this is that the traditional doctrine of hell "produces the most wide-spreading unbelief." Editor Robin Parry notes that John Stuart Mill wrote that the traditional concept of hell represents the "dreadful idealization of wickedness;" from the same paragraph in Mill's The Utility of Religion, Allin quotes Mill's words that "Compared with this, all objections to Christianity sink into insignificance."
Christ came to save the lost, Allin reminds us; "if so, the more 'lost' any are, the more Christ came to seek and to save them, and if he fails, the more marked his failure."
Nor does Allin find it plausible that the redeemed could be joyful in heaven; "they must either suffer keenly at the thoughts of the torments of their dear ones lost in hell...or they must be on a lower level, morally and spiritually, than was even Dives" [Allin is referring to the parable of Dives and Lazarus, since the rich Dives, suffering in hell, has at least the shred of decency to feel concerned that his brothers not share his fate].
As an illustration of the injustice of hell, Allin makes the point that, since even the worst sin is still a finite sin, the inflicting of infinite (eternal) misery on just one man would outweigh the sins of "all men who have ever lived and who shall ever live." God must be true to Himself; He who said "love your enemies" "must be to them the same unchanging God of love, and never more so than when he most inexorably punishes." "Endless torment...is a mere barbarity, because it is only vindictive, and in no sense remedial."
"A creation ending in misery and endless sin to infinite numbers of the created" is a tragedy, writes Allin, that were better to have never been created at all. Allin quotes James W. Barlow, who wrote, "No moral being would consent to purchase eternal happiness at the price of another's eternal woe. Hence it follows that a future life, on the popular view, is an evil to the human race, not to the wicked, but to all."
Considering the issue of postmortem repentance, Allin writes, "[T]he difficulty...of believing that our Father will deliberately crush out all the lingering tendencies to good in his own children, is increased by the following consideration, viz., that the whole lf our human life here is so manifestly incomplete, so momentary, that in very many cases it has not afforded a satisfactory time of training, and in not a few cases no training at all...Man is to live for ever and ever: we are apt to forget what this means and how altogether impossible it is to assign any proportion between the fleeting moments of earthly life, and the life that stretches away for ever and ever...Besides, if we look around, a mass of facts point to the same conclusion--that the present life is rather the initial stage of human training, than its conclusion. The vast majority of men have not so much as heard of Christ. In Christian countries very many die in infancy: some are lunatic, or half witted...or are born in a state where evil surroundings aggravate evil tendencies..."
Hell, Allin points out, is incompatible with two key revealed truths. First is the fatherhood of God. "When we pray and say, "our Father," these two words convey the spirit of the whole gospel...[yet] the view generally held is an absolute negation of all that the parental tie implies. "[I]f any one soul perishes, it is the man's own loss, says our popular creed. But...it is God's loss: it is the Father who loses his child. The straying sheep of the parable is the Great Shepherd's loss...the missing coin is the Owner's loss...In this very fact lies the pledge that he will seek on and on til he find it."
The second revealed truth is the "organic unity of our race...one body summed up in Adam, summed up anew in the second Adam...Christ's relation, as the last Adam, is not to individuals, but to the race." The very concept of original sin--that "you are suffering for something done thousands of years before you birth" is evidence of this organic unity. And thus, "as in Adam all die, son in the new and better Adam all shall be made alive" [1 Cor 15:22].
Finally, Allin looks at the nature of God as love and of divine immutability. "His love, being changeless, pursues the sinner to the outer darkness, and, being almighty, draws him thence." If God is love, then "God is not anger, though he can be angry; God is not vengeance, though he does avenge...[t]hese are attributes; love is essence. Therefore, in judgment he is love, in wrath he is love, in vengeance he is love..."
Allin summarizes his arguments at the close of Part One, and reminds the reader that "God's honor is at stake; God's truth is at stake, when, in place of the gospel, horrors are taught that especially wound that which is best within us horrors that contradict alike man's conscience, primitive Christianity, and the express teaching of Holy Scripture."
In the next post, we'll begin to look at Part Two, Universalism Asserted on the Authority of Tradition.