An Interesting Question

From "Christ Triumphant"
by Thomas Allin - 1890

THE question of universalism is usually argued on a basis altogether misleading, i.e. as though the point involved was chiefly, or wholly, man's endless suffering. Odious and repulsive to every moral instance, as is that dogma, it is not the turning point of this controversy. The vital question is this, that the popular creed (belief) by teaching the perpetuity of evil, points to a victorious devil, and to sin as finally triumphant over God. . . . . [page 285]

With all earnestness, I repeat that our choice lies between accepting the victory of Christ or of evil, and between these alternatives only. Escape from this delimma there is none. It avails nothing to diminish, as many now teach, the number of the lost, or to assert that they will be finally annihilated. All such modifications leave quite untouched the central difficulty of the popular creed (belief) -- the triumph of evil. Sin for ever present with its taint, even in a single instance, is sin triumphant. Sin, which God has been unable to remove (and has hd no resource but to annihilate the sinner) is sin triumphant and death victorious. . . . . [page 287]

To resume, I believe that no doctrine has ever gained so wide a currency, with so little support in Scripture, as has Probation (and so little support in all the higher Patristic theology). In fact, it is not the product of Scripture, it comes from the Philosophers, not from the Prophets, or the Apostles. . . . .  Doubtless there is an element of probation in education, but, if God is our Father, the fact that dominates all else in our moral relationship to Him, is the education of humanity as His children. Certainly no education can go on without trial, but we are "tried that we may be educated, and not educated that we may be tried. . . . . [page 291]

Let us go to the Bible. Those who have reason to shrink from this appeal are not universalists, but are the advocates of endless sin, of a baffled Savior, of a victorious devil. It is they who shut their eyes to the teaching of the Bible. It is they who make light of its repeated promises of a restitution of all things. It is they who make Scripture of none effect by their traditions. To the Bible they come drugged by early prejudice, saturated with cruel traditions, to whose horror long familiarity has deadened the mind. And so it is, that many really cannot see the true force of Scripture, when it plainly asserts the restitution of all things. Hence the painful evasions, the halting logic that honestly (for I gladly admit this) but blindly turns the Bible upside down, i. e. teaching that all men drawn to Christ means half mankind drawn to the devil, all things reconciled through Christ means the final perdition of half the universe. The notion of the popular creed, i. e,. that God is in the Bible detailing the story of His own defeat, how sin has proved too strong for Him, this notion seems wholly unfounded. Assuredly the Bible is not the story of sin, deepening into eternal ruin, of God's Son, worsted in His utmost effort. It is from the opening to the close the story of grace stronger than sin -- of life victorious over every form of death -- of God triumphant over evil.

Once more I repeat that the larger hope EMPHATICALLY AND FULLY ACCEPTS the doctrine of retribution. Those who picture universalism as some easy-going system, which refuses to face the stern facts of sin and misery and retribution, are hopelessly wrong.  We press on all the impenitent the awful certainty of wrath to come, and this with far more chance of acceptance, because taught in a form that does not wound the conscience, because we dare not teach that finite sin shall receive an infinite penalty. Few things have so hindered the spread of the larger hope as the wholly and absolutely groundless notion that it implies an inadequate sense of sin, and pictures God as a weakly indulgent Being, careless of holiness, provided the happiness of His creatures is assured. In fact, it is those who teach the popular creed (belief), and not we, who make light of sin. To teach unending sin in hell, even in a solitary instance, and under any conceivable modification, is to teach the victory of evil. To us this seems at once a libel on God and an untruth -- a libel because it imputes to God a final acquiescence in  sin; an untruth, because it teaches that His Omnipotence breaks down at the very moment it is most needed, and that His Love and Purity can rest with absolute complacency, while pain and evil riot and rot forever.

Here we may ask, can any light, however small, be thrown on this awful mystery of sin? For all practical purposes, I reply, there are but two possible views of moral evil. It is endless as God Himself, which is in fact dualism, or it is temporary, and in God's mysterious plan, permitted only to serve a higher end. . . . . Certainly Scripture asserts that "God hath shut up all men unto disobedience, in order that He might have mercy upon all." Note here the stress boldly laid

  1. on God's agency, and not on man's will.
  2. The universality alike of sin and of salvation, both are equally absolute and universal.
  3. But sin is permitted only leading up to, as involving salvation.
And thus we see not an arrangement by which man starts innocent, free to choose sin or not, but a (virtual) provision for the hereditary transmission of evil by which innocence becomes impossible to all, by which every child of Adam is, in the divine plan, "shut up unto (sin) disobedience," an arrangement inconceivable on the part of a good and loving Father, except with a settled purpose of mercy to every one. . . . . [pages 294 - 296]

Do the evil effects of long continued willful sin ever wholly pass away?

It may be replied, perhaps never in some cases. Some men, if I may for the moment so apply our Lord's striking words, may, in some sense, enter into life halt and maimed. Obstinate persistency in sin may leave on the spirit a wound whose evil effects are permanent. There may be, for I will not attempt to decide, a permanent weakness, though the disease of sin be cured. Two results of this deserve notice.
  1. It furnishes us with a fresh answer to the plausible taunt cast at the larger hope as leading the careless to say, "if this be true I will have my fling, for all will come 'right at last.'" On any view, your fling I reply, will bring on you "the wrath to come" -- a retribution terrible in proportion to the willfulness of your sin. But, further, your fling may involve you in a penalty strictly everlasting. You may, though pardoned, forever suffer from the numbness and spiritual weakness which your sin leaves behind.

  2. May not this furnish a meeting place for reasonable men on both sides? For final and universal restoration is not opposed to perpetual penalty in a certain sense, because the willful sinner, though saved, may yet suffer a perpetual loss, a paena damni loss of the highest spiritual blessedness hereafter.