Theology of UniversalismBeing
An Exposition of Its Doctrines and Teachings,
Logical and Moral Relations;
By Thomas Baldwin Thayer
The title page and table of contents sufficiently indicate the general character and object of this work. It is only necessary to mention two or three special features.
First: It embodies in one volume the views of the denomination on all the leading doctrines of Christian Theology, and an exposition of the more important words and phrases supposed to conflict with these views. It thus furnishes a comprehensive answer, within reach of all, to the question - What is Universalism? And it is to be hoped that the answer to it is in such form as to meet the wants of all classes of readers, and to command respectful attention from the Theologian and the Scholar.
Second: It aims to show that Universalism is not a confused collection of doctrinal fragments, without continuity or relation of parts; but a system of divinity, a tree of life rooted in the character and perfections of Deity, and growing up naturally into trunk and branches, putting forth leaves, and buds, and blossoms, and finally producing the ripe fruit of a Christian life. And as the Divine character and perfections constitute the foundation of the entire argument, and the basis of all theological reasoning, a correspondingly large space has been devoted to this theme.
Third: There will be found introduced into the text and notes, liberal quotations from Fathers of the early Church; the object being to call attention to the fact, so little recognized, that the doctrines of the church immediately subsequent to the time of Christ and his apostles are largely identical with the Universalism of today, and that, therefore, it is not a new thing, but certainly as old as the Christian Church and the New Testament.
Fourth: Citations are also occasionally given from the popular authors of the day, and from teachers of all Christian communions; wherein they have expressed their rejection of the doctrine of endless punishment, or their faith in the final restoration. This is done for the purpose of showing that this faith alone feeds the great hunger of the human heart; or as Olshausen says, that "the feeling is deeply rooted in noble minds, and is the expression of a heartfelt desire for a perfect harmony of the creation." The testimonies reveal the fact that belief in this final harmony of the moral universe, or a tendency to belief, is the natural fruitage of large and liberal study, of a generous literary and scientific culture.
It is only justice to the author to add, that it is not pretended that the volume is a thorough treatise on the various subjects discussed; but an attempt only to indicate the way, and to show their natural and dogmatic relations. And though it is not all that was wished or sought, he sends it forth with a prayer for the divine approval and blessing; and with an humble hope that it may be useful in promoting among men the knowledge, and love, and practice of the truth.
Boston, Nov., 1862.
All religions are founded upon a belief in a Deity, of some kind, superior in nature, or in power, to man. The moral force and value of any religion, in its influence on the believer, is in proportion to the degree of perfection which it ascribes to the Deity. Aristotle has somewhere said, in substance, that excellency in man depends on his acquaintance with something higher and better than himself; and the whole course of religious history illustrates the truth of the observation.
Where the religion is really believed, and exercised its legitimate influence on the believer, the moral and social results correspond to the character of the theology. "If the divinities," says a judicious writer, "are represented as virtuous and noble, a corresponding excellence and greatness of soul, will be produced among the people, and this in proportion to their reverence for the objects of their adoration. But wherever the gods are imperfect or base, imperfection or baseness will belong to the worshippers."
No other result can be looked for where the faith of the people is a living force in them, and acts directly on their feelings, character, and conduct. Hence it has been justly affirmed, that "religion will not become the friend of virtue and happiness, until it teaches that the Deity is not only an inconceivably powerful, but also and inconceivably wise and good being; that for this reason, he gives way neither to anger nor revenge, and never punishes capriciously; that we owe to his favor alone, all the good that we possess or enjoy; that even our sufferings contribute to our highest good, and death is a bitter, but salutary change; in fine, that the sacrifice most acceptable to God, consists in a mind that seeks for truth, and a heart that always preserves its purity. A Religion which announces these exalted truths, offers to man, the strongest preservatives from vice, and the strongest motives to virtue, exalts and ennobles his joys, consoles and guides him in all kinds of misfortune, and inspires him with forbearance, patience, and active benevolence toward his brethren."
This is a noble utterance; and the religion thus described, is precisely the want of the world at the present time. Everywhere the soul of man is reaching out toward a Deity, in whom is embodied this perfection of wisdom and goodness, of justice and mercy. In the language of Channing, it is the deepest want of human nature, "some being to whom we may give our hearts, whom we may love more than ourselves, for whom we may live, and be ready to die; and whose character corresponds to that idea of perfection, which, however dim and undefined, is an essential element of every human soul. We cannot be happy beyond our love . . . . To secure a growing happiness and a spotless virtue, we need for the heart a being worthy of the whole treasure of its love, to whom we may consecrate our whole existence; in approaching whom, we enter an atmosphere of purity and brightness, in sympathizing with whom, we cherish only noble sentiments, in devoting ourselves to whom we espouse great and enduring interest; in whose character we find the spring of an ever enlarging philantrophy, and by attachment to whom all our other attachments are hallowed, protected, and supplied with tender and sublime consolations under bereavement and blighted hope. Such a being is God."
This is essentially the theology of Universalism the character and action which, following the sacred Scriptures, it ascribes to God as the Supreme Governor of the universe, and the Creator and Father of men. In him are united all possible perfections; and by the necessity of his nature, he is infinite in all his attributes, and unchangeable - the same yesterday, today,a and forever. He is the source of all our blessing, the inexhaustible fountain of good to man in this world, and in all worlds, in time, and in eternity.
This doctrine of the complete harmony and perfection of all the divine attributes, of the infinite benevolence of God in the creation and government of the world, inspires the true believer with reverent trust, with devout gratitude, and with an earnest desire to conform to all the requirements of his righteous laws. It imparts courage in the presence of danger, resistance in the time of temptation, patience in tribulation, resignation in suffering, and peace in the hour of death. The experience of these beneficent influences, and the happy consciousness of this spiritual renewal, justify the Universalist Christian in claiming for his faith, that it has all the characteristics of a divinely authenticated religion; that it is, in a word, identical with the Gospel as taught by the Savior and his chosen disciples.
In order to the better understanding of this doctrine, and in evidence of the justness of this claim, we shall proceed to a statement of particulars, setting forth our views on the great questions of Christian theology; and the system, or method, of Scriptural interpretation, by which these views are sustained and enforced. And as the starting point, the foundation of all argument, we shall begin with the Creator and his attributes, or the divine character and action as they relate to man and his destiny; and though we shall chiefly direct our labors to a dogmatic or doctrinal statement of the subjects in hand, yet the careful reader will readily discover how the doctrine naturally and necessarily leads on to the precept; and in what manner faith is developed into moral character, and becomes the spiritual force which regulates and blesses the life of the believer.