The previous five posts summarized the first two parts of Thomas Allin's masterful 1885 apologetics for "the larger hope," or universal reconciliation, which argue on the authority of Reason and of Tradition, and began to cover Part Three, which focuses on the argument from Scripture. We continue the summary of Part Three this week. The edition displayed at the right is a 2015 edition of Christ Triumphant with a superb introduction and helpful annotations by editor Robin Parry.
All italics are in the original.
After a discussion of the Incarnation, Atonement, Sacraments, and Resurrection, Allin turns to several key themes in Scripture:
- Eschatological Death
- Divine Fire
Allin looks at both the Old and New Testaments, and supplements his own observations with those of many of the same Church Fathers, such as Jerome, discussed earlier in the book. Indeed, one of the most valuable aspects of this book is its extensive discussion of and quotes from some of the wisest minds of the early Church.
We began summarizing Paul's understanding of judgment last week. Continuing: "...a light, clear and distinct, falls on those words of St. Paul...where he declares the gospel to be 'the power of God unto salvation ...for therein is the wrath of God revealed.' Note salvation and wrath linked together; salvation because the wrath of God is revealed against all sin (Rom 1:16-18)...Note, too, the teaching of Romans 12:19-21 which surely implies that true divine vengeance is the overcoming of evil by good, by kindess: and Deuteronomy 32...refers to the healing character of God's vengeance (v 39)."
"Quite as striking, perhaps even more significant, are St. Peter's words, as he tells the story of the preaching of Christ to the spirits...described as...the disobedient dead...'For this cause,' [St. Peter] adds, 'was the gospel preached even to the dead, that the might be judged according to men in the flesh, but live according to God in the spirit,' i.e., in order that even those who had died in sin might have the benefit of judgment, and so live to God. Here we have (1) judgment bringing to the the sinner not condemnation , but life (2) salvation by judgment extended beyond this life (3)...to those...[who] died impenitent."
Quoting F.W. Farrar, Allin writes: "'Fire, in Scripture, is the element of 'life' (Isa 4:5_, of 'purification' (Matt 3;3), of 'atonement' (Lev 16:27), of 'transformation' (2 Pet 3:10), and never of 'preservation alive' for purposes of anguish.'" "Fire," says Allin, "is the sign, not of God's wrath, but of his Being. When God comes to Ezekiel there is a 'fire unfolding itself' (Ezek 1:4, 27)...Christ's eyes are a flame of 'fire' (Rev 1:14)...It is not meant to deny that the divine fire chastises and destroys. It is meant that purification, to ruin, is the final outcome of that fire from above, which consumes...in order that it may save. For if God be love...[t]hey are, in fact, the very flame of love; and so we have the key to the words: 'Your God is a consuming fire'..."
"[W]hat is the true end and meaning of God's election? The elect...are chosen, not for themselves only, but for the sale of others...to be a source of blessing...it is the 'the few' to save 'the many...'"
Allin observes that Abraham's election was so that "'all the families of the earth [would] be blessed' [Gen 12:3]", and notes St. Paul's affirmation that "on God's elect people hangs the lot and destiny of mankind (see Gal 3:8 and Acts 3:21-25); the latter passage is very interesting, for St. Peter there asserts the connection between a universal restoration, and the promise to Abraham, i.e., his election."
What the Old Testament Teaches
In the next chapter of Part III, Allin presents the highlights of Old Testament teachings supportive of universal reconciliation, though he has already presented some key concepts--such as the "gospel of creation"--earlier in the book. "We have unmistakable evidnece of a plan of mercy revealed in [the Old Testament's] pages, and destined to embrace all men." Allin argues that this is not "mere conjecture: let me call as a witness...St. Peter. The aspostle in one of the very earliest of his addresses (Acts 3:21) takes occasion to explain the real purpose of God in Jesus Christ. There is to come, finally , a time of universal restoration, 'resitution of all things.' He adds the significant words that God has promised this 'by the mouth of all his holy prophets since the world began'..."
Allin continues his apologetics by examining the evidence of the Jewish Law, then turns to the Psalms, where he finds numerous verses proclaiming that 'All nations shall do him service...all the heathen shall praise him; all the earth shall be filled with his majesty' (Psalm 72:11-19). And similarly with a brief survey of the prophets. "'I will not contend for ever, neither will I be always angry,' Allin quotes from Isaiah 57:16, adding, "This idea is a favourite one; the contrast between the short duration of God's anger, and the enduring endless character of his love."
What the New Testament Teaches
Many debates between adherents of the traditional view and apologists for universal reconciliation hinge on key words, not the least of which is "all." Fittingly, Allin sets the stage for this section by noting that when New Testament writers speak "of all men, I assume them to mean all men, and not some men. When they speak of all things, I assume them to mean all things. When they speak of life and salvation as given to the world, I assume them to mean given, and not merely offered. When they speak of the destruction of death, of the devil, and of the works of the devil, I assume them to mean that these shall be destroyed and not preserved for eve in hell. When they tell us that the whole of creation suffers, but that is shall be delivered, I assume that they mean an actual deliverance of all created things...that all the evil caused by the fall shall be swept away."
Allin goes on to quote many New Testament verses, such as "All flesh shall see the salvation of God." (Luke 3:6) and of course "And I, when I am lifted up from the earth [on the cross], will draw all men to myself." (John 12:32) He points out that the Lord's prayer itself implies universal reconcilation: "'Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.' But how is his will done in heaven? It is universally done. Shall it not then be universally done on earth too?"
Allin does not wish to ignore the arguments presented by traditionalists, and the next chapter, Eschatological Punishment, looks at the "hell texts" and again at the "true meaning" of aion and aionios, which he discussed earlier. "A fact of the deepest significance is this," writes Allin, "that although certain phrases existed, by which the idea of unendingness might have been conveyed, yet none of these is applied by our Lord amid his apostles to the future punishment of the impenitent...Thus, aidios [eternal] or ateleutetos [endless] are never used of future punishment in the New Testament. Nor is it anywhere said to be aneu telous 'without end,' nor do we read that it shall go on pantote, or eis to dienekes 'for ever.'"
Allin discusses a fairly comprehensive selection of "hell texts," dealing with each in turn. From his comments on Dives and Lazarus (Luke 16:19-26): "Dives is distinctly improved by his chastisement: he has learned to think [of] others. Can God by his fiery ddiscipline produce this amendment merely to crush it out in a future state of hopeless pain?" "St. Ambrose...commenting on Psalm 119, says thus: 'So then that Dives in the Gospel, although a sinner, is pressed with penal agonies that he may escape the sooner,' ...thus asserting clearly his belief in Dives' final salvation."
Allin brings Christ Triumphant to a close with a substantial chapter, Summary and Conclusions. I will quote just a few lines:
"The vital question is this, that the popular creed, by teaching the perpetuity of evil, points to a victorious devil and to sin as finally triumphant over God. It makes the corrupt, nay, the bestial in our fallen nature to be eternal."
"Heaven is likeness to Jesus Christ; and likeness to Jesus Christ is undying sympathy with the lost; is love unquenchable towards his worst enemies. But the heaven which the traditional creed...offers to us is a thing so hardened, so awful that merely to think of it fills the mind with horror. Deadened sympathies...pity forever withered...'it is a mystery,' they reply. It is hell, I answer, disguised as heaven."
Amen to that.
While the definitive apologetic text to date is, for my money, Robin Parry's The Evangelical Universalist (written under the pen name of Gregory MacDonald), his 2015 edition of Allin's Christ Triumphant is a superb volume, a must-read for anyone interested in universalist apologetics.