Our opponents are apt to reproach us on account of the diversity of forms in which our doctrine has been held by different classes of universalists; but if this circumstance makes against its truth, what shall we say of christianity itself, which has existed under a thousand variant modifications? True it is, that in nearly all ages of the church, men of eminent learning and piety have discovered, that the bible most clearly teaches the final salvation of all mankind, and having found this, they have employed their ingenuity in devising modes, by which they could harmonize it with their peculiar notions of the atonement. It is thus that hypothetical theories have been formed, in order to account for obvious bible facts.
Origen, so distinguished a luminary of the church in the third century, and many after him, whose minds were bewildered with the Platonic mysticism of a triplicated deity, and who supposed that as sin is directed against an infinite Being, it is therefore infinite, and being infinite, it must demerit an infinitude of punishment -- these, I say, sought out a method by which the damned may be restored, consonantly with these (as they supposed them) fundamental principles; but this is not to take place until long ages of suffering have been endured, and that of the most terrible kind. This scheme, in our country, is usually termed Winchesterian, from an eminently amiable and gifted divine, (formerly of the Calvinistic baptist communion,) who was indefatigable in its promulgation, both in England and America.
The learned and venerable Tillotson, a prelate of the English church, took a different view from the preceding; he supposed endless suffering to be actually threatened in the Bible, but as universal salvation is also most clearly taught therein, he accounted for the paradox by supposing, that the former is not designed to be inflicted, but only to act as a means of terrifying and reforming wicked men: he cites the case of Jonah's denunciation against Ninevah as an illustration of his hypothesis. "Yet forty days, and Ninevah shall be overthrown." (iii. 4.) But the menaced calamity was averted by the repentance of the inhabitants, and as <page 330> this result could not but have been foreseen, the learned prelate supposes that Jehovah merely employed the threatening for that especial end.
Mr. Huntington, a very celebrated congregational clergyman, of Connecticut, advocated universal salvation on Calvinistic principles: he supposed that Christ, as the federal head of all mankind, offered himself, and was accepted by divine justice, as their substitute; and, therefore, that all the denunciations of the divine law against sin were executed upon Christ in the sinner's stead. Divine justice being thus fully satisfied, has no further claim upon men, and grace can accomplish its benevolent purpose in rescuing them from the dominion of sin and death, and exalting them to a glory and felicity far surpassing that from which they fell. In this way as sin hath abounded, grace shall much more abound.
Mr. Huntington's views, which were drawn up and vindicated by himself with much copiousness and ability, were published after his death (agreeably to an injunction in his will) under the title of "CALVINISM IMPROVED." In the preface to the work, he states, that he had entertained these sentiments for fourteen years; but as a congregational minister (although he had advanced nothing expressly contrary thereto in all that time) he had deemed lt prudent to abstain from an open avowal of them. Such were the bigotry and intolerance of the times!
Somewhat similar to this scheme is that of Mr. Relly, of London: he supposed an indissoluble union to subsist between Christ and the human family, in consequence of which, they are esteemed righteous for his sake, and he guilty for their's; they are adorned and beautified with his grace and purity, and he is abased and degraded for their sins, until infinite justice is satisfied, and both shall then be perfected and blessed forevermore. Mr. Relly's doctrine was the form of universalism advocated by John Murray, the earliest universalist preacher in America -- a man of undoubted genius and lively turn of mind, whose biography is singularly eventful and instructive.
With the peculiar views of the universalists of Germany, I am not acquainted; they exist in such number that an American orthodox divine (President Dwight of Yale Colledge [sic] ) who visited the country, reports that he fell in with but one learned man who professed a belief in the eternity of hell torments, and even he was <page 331> not quite clear that the bible taught the doctrine! But as to the particular form (or, for aught I know, forms,) in which the ultimate restitution of all men is held in Germany, I cannot assert with any confidence; the divine before referred to affirms, that they maintain it on philosophical rather than scriptural grounds. Nevertheless, his testimony concerning the general rectitude of their character, and the extent and depth of their erudition, is in a very high degree honorable to them. He concedes also, that their attainments in biblical literature very considerably exceed those of the theologians in all other parts of christendom; and the same, I believe, is conceded by every body entitled to a judgment about it.
I know of but two classes of believers in universal salvation at the present day -- one of which, for distinction sake, are termed restorationists; their belief is, that impenitent persons shall be punished in the future state, and that their punishment shall be proportioned, in duration and intensity, to the degrees of turpitude in the parties. They mostly agree that this suffering will be moral in its nature, not physical -- and they consequently reject the notion of a local hell. They hold punishment to be corrective and disciplinary, and that it will infallibly eventuate in the good of the subjects; yet, they do not maintain (as their opposers are apt to report) that the damned are to be saved by virtue of these penal inflictions, but, on the contrary, they hold salvation to be of grace, a free gift, and therefore, exclusive of both works and sufferings.
The other class (usually termed modern, and by some, reproachfully ultra Universalists) maintain that all the punishment for sin is experienced in this life; for an infinitely benevolent Being (they affirm) can have no motive for punishing, aside from amending the subject, or deterring others from sinning, and for neither of these objects can it be necessary to prolong the punishment beyond the term of our present existence: for the history of some of the deepest offenders proves (as they think) that long periods of penal suffering cannot be required for subduing the sinner, (as their brethren of the Winchesterian or restorationist order seem to suppose.) Mary Magdalene, out of whom seven evil spirits were cast, and whose sins are emphatically said to have been many was nevertheless subdued within the term of her mortal life, and <page 332> brought to wash the Savior's feet with her penitential tears. But a look from Jesus was sufficient to cause Peter, whilst in the act of denying him with cursing, to go our and weep bitterly. -- There is ground for believing that even the traitor Judas broke his heart with poignant sorrow for the betrayal of his master. "I am Jesus whom thou persecutest," was all that the persecuting zealot, Saul, needed to soften him down into a disposition to inquire, "Lord, what would'st thou have me to do?" Ages of suffering were not required for the subdual of the expiring thief, etc. These, and numerous kindred cases, sufficiently establish the fact, that the manifestations of divine goodness to the minds of sinners are all-powerful in conquering their enmity, and engaging their affections; and that for this object but a little time is necessary.
Amongst modern universalists there are those, who think that although there will be no positive suffering for sin endured in eternity, yet that the sinner will, on account of his wickedness in time, sustain an eternal loss; for we are progressive beings, (say they,) and it is not reasonable that those who, in this life, have neglected the improvement of their moral nature, should, in eternity, be admitted to equal happiness, or advanced to equal excellence with those who have: to expect this (they affirm) is to expect in contrariety to present experience, for all moral attainment among men is the result of effort -- of guarding and striving against our evil propensities, and sedulously cultivating those habits and principles which form the basis of virtuous character. In the spiritual state, therefore, (they contend) although we are fully warranted in the belief that all will be brought to a knowledge and enjoyment of God, yet this no more implies that all shall be exalted and felicitated in an equal degree, than the fact that some are here brought to know and enjoy God proves that they are equal in purity and felicity to the angels of heaven. The following comparison will afford some illustration of their view a on this head.
James and William were brothers; their father, being on the eve of a long absence from home, divided his estate equally between them, telling them that on their faithful improvement of their respective shares during his absence, their well-being should entirely depend; but that on his return he would bestow upon each a sum of money that should be an ample competency for <page 333> them during the residue of their lives: this Was to be a free donation, and irrespective of their merits or demerits. Well, James went to work upon his portion of the estate, determined to advance it to the highest degree of improvement. William, on the contrary, was indolent, neglectful of his affairs, and his portion of the property got into disorder and dilapidation. On the father's return, at the end of ten years, he found James to be already in wealthy circumstances in consequence of his industry and sobriety; whilst William, poor fellow! was in rags, and in debt, presenting a picture of squalid poverty. This posture of things, however, did not prevent the fulfilling of his original intentions, and he accordingly presented each of his sons the sum of twenty thousand dollars. James remonstrated, urging that as he was the more deserving by his good conduct, he was entitled to a larger sum than William, who, indeed, was not deserving of any, having been so improvident for himself, and so prodigal of what he had already received. "But remember, my son," replied the father, "that the money I am now bestowing is not given on the ground of reward, but of grace exclusively. Shall I prove evil to William, poor fellow ! because he has been evil to himself? Have not his indolence and prodigality already sufficiently punished him during the past ten years? He has suffered from want -- from the embarrassments of debt -- from innumerable mortifications and humiliations -- whilst, on the other hand, have you not enjoyed plenty, and ease, and honor, and self-approval? And even now, although I give to him an equal sum as to yourself, yet see you not that you are fully as much in advance of him in your circumstances as before? for you have your portion of the estate I gave you on leaving, highly improved, and capable of itself of yielding you a handsome maintenance; whereas, William's portion is not in a condition to yield him anything!"
In this comparison, the soul, or moral nature of man, is considered as an estate left to his cultivation and care by his heavenly Father, who is supposed to be absent. On man's management of this estate entirely depends his present moral enjoyment; if neglected, it will soon be overrun with the weeds of error and sin, and instead of bearing the fruits of peace, joy, hope, love, etc., it will produce the thorns and briars of remorse, misery, and despair. But in his infinite goodness, God has promised immortal life, and <page 334> a subduing and reconciling view of his glory, to the whole human race, so that all shall bow to him -- be blessed in Christ -- and become the willing subjects of his government. These blessings are not promised as an equivalent for works performed on our part, nor for qualities attained, but as a free gift. Still, this does not imply that all are to be blessed in an equal degree, or (to carry out the figure) that their several estates are to be brought to a like degree of advancement; but on the contrary, it is supposed, that those in which the christian graces have been longer and more assiduously cultivated, will be in a condition to yield them in greater abundance and perfection.
Those who take this view, hold it not as a mere speculation, but (as they suppose) on scriptural warrant; for Paul (say they) clearly recognizes a diversity of orders among the subjects of the resurrection. I believe that this view obtains very generally amongst the unitarians of this country, and the author will confess, it is that to which his own judgment the most strongly inclines. The only objection (so far as I know) to which it is liable, is, that it represents Jehovah as partial in making some of his creatures to be eternally superior to others. But, then, it is admitted that some are actually made superior to others in time -- superior in person, intellect, fortune, and moral qualities. It is also admitted that there are angelic beings who were made superior to man. Why do not these facts as well form a ground of impeachment against the impartiality of God, as the other? Truth is, that grades in the order of being is one of the most beautiful arrangements in the economy of creation, and especially when we consider that these several orders are not doomed to remain eternally stationary, but are destined to progress toward the infinite center of perfection forever.
This view, it seems to me, if it is not directly asserted, is at least countenanced by the sacred writers: what else means Paul when he speaks of some who were tortured for the truth's sake, "not accepting deliverance, that they might obtain a better resurrection?" (Heb. xi. 35.) And what means he also in the following passage? "There are also celestial bodies, and bodies terrestrial: but the glory of the celestial is one, and the glory of the terrestrial is another. There is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars: for one <page 335> star differeth from another star in glory. So also is the resurrection of the dead." (1 Cor. xv. 40, 41.) The christian course, moreover, is compared to a race, a wrestle, and other exercises usual in the Olympic games, in which a prize was held out to stimulate exertion. And Paul speaks of himself is pressing toward the mark of his high calling in Christ Jesus. At the close of his treatise on the resurrection, moreover, he exhorts his Corinthian brethren, in view of that event, to be "steadfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord;" and this, too, from a knowledge on their part (grounded on the consoling facts he had adduced in his letter) that their labor was "not in vain in the Lord."
The above are all the modifications of the universalist faith with which I am acquainted, they display a diversity as to the mode merely, not as to the main principle of that doctrine: there are few, universalists who care greatly as to the particular form in which others hold their doctrine -- their chief concern is about the essential fact, the ultimate bringing in of all the human race, and this in God's own way, they care not how -- and in God's own time, they care not when; their entire confidence in the unbounded wisdom and goodness of the Creator, inspires them with a disposition most cheerfully to acquiesce beforehand in his disposition of the matter, without doubting that he will do all things for the best end, and in the best manner.
But supposing the diversity of forms in which the universalist faith is held, to be much greater than it is -- what then? Is the fundamental fact the less to be believed, because there are differences of opinion as to the mode of it? And would the advocates of endless misery have us believe that there is less diversity concerning that tenet? It would seem so, certainly, from the way in which they are wont to taunt us on this ground. But let us see how the fact stands. Some believe in endless damnation on the ground of the divine decrees -- some on the ground of an abuse of our free powers -- some say that our sins here are of infinite turpitude, and justify God in damning us to eternity -- some say that we are not to be eternally damned for the sins of this life, but that sin has a self-perpetuating power, and our punishment will be endless because our sin will be so. Some say that our damnation will consist of a literal burning in hell -- some, that it will be <page 336> constituted of remorse, and an absence of the divine goodness -- some affirm that we shall be damned if found out of faith and communion of the true church -- some, that in whatever faith or church we are found, or whether in none at all, if we improve aright such opportunities as have been afforded us, it will go well with us, but if otherwise we shall be damned for the nonimprovement -- some maintain that the neglecting to secure the new birth will be the ground of our damnation; and some, that we must be baptized or be damned, whatever else we may do or leave undone, etc., etc.
Universalists, however, do not contend against each other on account of their diversity of views; and this is much more than can be said of the believers in endless torments: the former, indeed, have no motives for contention -- the latter have very weighty ones; for if the interests of the immortal state are in any degree dependant upon a correct faith in this world, we should doubtless strive with all our might to save men from their heresies, at whatever expense to their earthly peace or interests; hence this doctrine fully justifies persecution for opinion's sake, but universalism does not; for it does not represent God in the character of a holy inquisitor, tormenting his short sighted creatures in everlasting flames, because of their misfortune in failing to find and believe the truth. True it is, that universalists deem the acquisition of truth to be of great importance to men for their present benefit, and hence they endeavor to gain them over to embrace and enjoy it; but as this motive for zeal in the propagation of their faith is based upon a desire to extend the bounds of human happiness, it would ill comport with that motive to quarrel with men because they were not of their opinion in religion.