Theology of Universalism
By Thomas B. Thayer, 1862

Section III.
The Power of God -- Omnipotence,
Moral and Spiritual, As Well as Physical.

I. GOD ALMIGHTY IN HIS POWER OVER MIND AS WELL AS MATTER. -- The Bible abounds in declarations of the illimitable and infinite power of God, passages setting forth his ability to create and to destroy, to govern and control the destinies of nations and individuals, to accomplish all his purposes, and to do his will throughout the physical and spiritual universe. It is important to observe the language of this statement -- that God is omnipotent, not only in the natural world, but also in the moral and spiritual world. It is as easy for him to create and govern a soul, as to create and govern a sun or a planet. And it requires no more effort on his part to discipline and save a moral being, according to the laws of his moral nature, than it requires to control the solar systems, according to the material laws impressed upon them at the time of their creation.

<page 42> This fact is part and parcel of the very idea of God, and essential to the successful government of the world, and the realization of the divine plan and purpose in creating man. And this fact is everywhere recognized in the Scripture testimonies to the almighty power of God.

It is not only the sunshine and the rains, the winds and the lightnings, the sea and the rivers, the earth, and its vitalizing forces, that he employs to work out his purposes and wishes; but the thoughts and the affections, the impulses and the actions, the god and the evil, of intelligent and moral beings.

If any one should say that God had created a material world -- the "lost pleiad," for example -- and that, having created it, he could not control it, could not keep it in its orbit, nor compel it int obedience to the laws of gravitation; but that, by growth of the forces he had incorporated in it, it had broken from his hold, rushed from its heavenly path, and plunged into the infinite abysses of space, carrying confusion, and wreck, and ruin, into all the surrounding systems and constellations; and that the Creator had exerted all his might and power to restore it again to its ancient orbit, and remedy the evils of its rebellion and desertion, but had utterly failed, and was obliged to abandon the effort, and leave its place among the starry orbs forever vacant --

If any one should make such a statement as this, or teach such a doctrine, would not all Christian people say that it was virtually atheism? a rejection of the perfections of the Divine character; a direct denial of the omnipotence and supreme government of God; an accusation against him of weakness and incapacity?

<page 43> But suppose this person should affirm precisely the same thing of God's creation and government of the spiritual universe; suppose he should teach that he had created a world of intelligent beings, and established over them a moral government, but that contrary to his plan and expectation, the powers and agencies, the intellectual and spiritual forces, which he had bestowed upon them, had developed into an opposition to his authority and rule, which he could not overcome; and that, after exhausting all his moral resources, he was utterly unable to restore man to obedience, and would therefore be obliged to abandon him to endless rebellion and sin, and acknowledge his creation and government, as originally constituted, a complete failure.

Suppose he should affirm this; would there be the slightest difference between it and the former statement regarding the "lost pleiad?" Would it not be substantially the same thing as it respects the atheism, and the denial of the divine omnipotence and perfection? What is the difference, at bottom, whether you deny the power of God over spirit; or deny his power over matter? Whether you say he cannot save a planet, or cannot save a soul, from ruin?

Of course, we do not ignore the essential difference between matter and mind; between the laws which govern a planet, and those which govern a soul. It is not contended that God undertakes to rule and save a free spirit, in the same way in which he holds the sun in its place, or sends a planet through its orbit. But the thing we do contend for, the thing which the complete omnipotence of God logically <page 44> necessitates, is, that he is just as ample in his spiritual resources for educating, training, and saving the souls of men, as he is in his physical resources for shaping, guiding, and governing the worlds and constellations in their courses. And we contend, farther, that he can do the first without the violation of any moral agency, or of any spiritual law, just as easy as he can do the last, without the violation of any natural or physical law

An this, as already said, is clearly and positively the teaching of the Scriptures. "Behold thou hast made the heaven and the earth by thy great power and stretched out arm, and there is nothing too hard for thee." -- Jer. 32:17, 27. "O Lord God of our fathers, art not thou God in heaven? and rulest not thou over all the kingdoms of the heathen? and in thine hand is there not power and might, so that none is able to withstand thee." -- 2 Chron. 20:6. "He ruleth by his power forever, his eyes behold the nations. The Lord reigneth; he is clothed with majesty; the Lord is clothed with strength, wherewith he hath girded himself: the world also is established that it cannot be moved." -- Ps. 66, 93. "Whatsoever the Lord pleased, that did he in heaven, and in the earth, and in the seas, and in all deep places." -- Ps. 135.

These passages, out of a multitude, set forth the physical omnipotence of the Deity, or his infinite power over the material universe.

But side by side with these are such testimonies as the following, relating to the moral world: -- "The king's heart is in the hand of the Lord, as the rivers of water: HE TURNETH IT WHITHERSOEVER HE WILL. -- Prov. 21:1. "A man's heart deviseth his way; but THE LORD DIRECTETH HIS STEPS," Prov. 16:9. "For it is God which WORKETH IN YOU BOTH TO WILL AND TO DO of his good pleasure." -- Phil. 2:13. "For whom he did foreknow HE ALSO DID PREDESTINATE TO BE CONFORMED TO THE IMAGE of his Son, . . . . moreover who he did predestinate, them he also CALLED." -- Rom. 8. "Now there are diversities of gifts, but the same spirit; and there are diversities of operations, but it is the same GOD WHICH WORKETH ALL IN ALL. -- 1 Cor. 12. "Therefore said I unto you that NO MAN CAN COME UNTO ME, EXCEPT IT WERE GIVEN HIM OF MY FATHER. -- John 6:65. "Even for this same purpose have I raised thee up, that I might show my power in thee, and that my name may be declared throughout all the earth." -- Rom. 9:17. "A NEW HEART WILL I ALSO GIVE YOU, and a new spirit will I put within you; and I WILL TAKE AWAY THE STONY HEART OUT OF YOUR FLESH, and I will give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my spirit withing you, and CAUSE YOU TO WALK IN MY STATUTES." -- Ezek. 36:26. "He doeth ACCORDING TO HIS WILL in the army of heaven, and among the inhabitants of the earth; and none can stay his hand, or say unto him, What doest thou?" -- Dan. 4:35. "It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God. And they were astonished out of measure, saying among themselves, Who then can be saved? And Jesus looking upon them, saith, With men it is impossible, but not with God; FOR WITH GOD ALL THINGS ARE POSSIBLE. -- Mark 10:23-27.

Similar passages might be multiplied to any extent; <page 46> but these are sufficient to establish the statement, that the Bible teaches the omnipotence of God in the moral and spiritual world, as well as in the material world: that he governs the affections and purposes of men as easily, and as truly, as he governs the motions of the planets. In his own time, he TAKES AWAY the stony heart of Israel, and GIVES them a new heart and a new spirit, and CAUSES them to walk in his statutes. He PREDESTINATES and CALLS those chosen to the work of the Gospel, and conforms them to the image of his Son. He WORKS IN MEN both to WILL and to DO according to his pleasure. He doeth his will equally among the spirits of heaven, and among the inhabitants of earth; and in the work of salvation, there is no degree of selfishness, no love of the world, no darkness of mind, no depravity of heart, to great to be overcome by the infinite power of his truth and love; for the Saviour directly and positively affirms, in regard to this very point, that nothing is impossible with God!

This position established, the nest question is, SINCE HE HAS THE POWER, WILL HE USE IT? Is there any Scriptural evidence that he will put away all sin and evil, renew all hearts, and by the infinite energies of his Spirit, bring all souls into harmony with truth and holiness? The passages which follow, will answer this question:

"I will greatly rejoice in the Lord, my soul shall be joyful in my God; for he hath clothed me with the robe of righteousness. . . . . For AS the earth bringeth forth the bud, and AS the garden causeth the things that are SOWN in it to spring forth, SO <page 47> the Lord God WILL CAUSE righteousness and praise to spring forth before ALL THE NATIONS." -- Isa. 56:10-11. The comparison here is equally intelligible and positive. As surely as the earth puts forth its bud, and the garden causes the seed sown in it to spring up, so surely will the truth and grace of God put forth their bud also, and in due time cause righteousness to spring up in the hearts of all the nations of the earth. The productive relations of seed and soil are not more fixed in the order of nature, than the results of the regenerating power of divine truth in the soul of man.

And how can it be otherwise? Look at it. If the atmosphere, the sunshine, the rain, electricity, fire, the ocean, the tree, the grain of wheat, every element of nature, answers the purpose in the material world for which it was created; why should the Holy Spirit, why should the Infinite Love of God, be eternally defeated of their ends in the spiritual world?

But this thought is repeated in other words, and the point of the comparison made more significant, if possible. "For AS the rain cometh down, and the snow from heaven, and returneth not thither, but watereth the earth, and maketh it bring forth and bud, that it may give seed to the sower and bread to the eater; so SHALL MY WORD BE that goeth forth out of my mouth, it shall not return unto me void, but IT SHALL ACCOMPLISH that which I please, and IT SHALL PROSPER in the thing whereto I sent it." -- Isa. 55:10-11.

Can anything be more direct and conclusive than this proclamation of the efficiency of the divine will <page 48> and spirit in the salvation of mankind? Was it ever known that the rain came down from heaven and went back again without watering the earth? Was it ever known that God failed to restore the earth in spring time, and make it bud and bring forth? Never! Just as surely, then, as the rain does NOT return to the heavens without doing the work for which it was sent, so surely the word of God shall NOT return to him void. As certainly as the forces of nature in spring renew and freshen the earth into life and beauty, and abundance, so certainly shall his truth, the gospel of his grace, renovate and restore the moral world to its primeval beauty and purity. And this is the argument and witness of God himself, to show that, having infinite spiritual power he WILL use it for the salvation of mankind, as efficiently as he uses his infinite physical power in the creation and renewal of the earth.

But there are other texts going DIRECTLY, without comparison, to the same result. "For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, saith the Lord; I WILL PUT MY LAWS INTO THEIR MINDS, AND WRITE THEM IN THEIR HEARTS and I will be to them a God, and they SHALL BE unto me a people: and they shall not teach every man his neighbor, and every man his brother, saying, Know the Lord -- for all SHALL KNOW ME, from the least to the greatest. For I will be merciful to their unrighteousness, and their sins and their iniquities will I remember no more." -- Heb 8:10-12. Observe, here, not only the universality of the phraseology, but the absoluteness of it. God says, I WILL put my law in their hearts -- they SHALL be my people, and they SHALL <page 49> know, and their sins and iniquities SHALL be put away. He not only has the moral power to change and save them, but he declares he will employ it to this end.

"There is no God beside me; a just God and a Saviour. Look unto me, and BE YE SAVED, all the ends of the earth; for I am God, and there is none else. I have sworn by myself, the word is gone out of my mouth in righteousness, and shall not return. That unto me EVERY KNEE shall bow, and EVERY TONGUE shall swear, surely shall say, IN THE LORD have I righteousness and strength -- to him shall men come; and all that are incensed against him shall be ashamed." -- Isa. 45:21-25. Here we have the same direct and unqualified language from the Lord himself, affirming the truth, that the infinite energies of his spirit WILL BE USED in renewing the soul of man unto righteousness. There are no conditions nor contingencies here -- "BE ye saved" -- "every knee SHALL bow" -- absolute and certain, wrought out by the will of God, whose omnipotence cannot fail of its end.

II. THE FREEDOM OF THE HUMAN WILL, OR "FREE AGENCY." -- It may be said in reply to the preceding reasoning, that this is simply compelling men to be saved, without regard to their voluntary action. We answer, No; for all this is done in harmony with spiritual laws and man's freedom. There is no compulsion, no force. The comparision of the garden and the rain is still in place. The earth is not compelled mechanically to bud and bring forth, and there is no violation of atmospheric laws when the rain falls. The seed do not lose their freedom or individuality <page 50> as seed, because the air, and rain, and sunshine, operating through the soil, develope the germ within, and push it out into leaf, and bud, and blossom, and fruit. So with the soul of man; there is no violation of law, no loss of freedom, no conflict of forces, when the Spirit of God, acting with the truth, sends in the light upon the darkened mind, quickens the affections, and lifts the whole being into the eternal life of faith and love. Paul was as free when he preached the Gospel, as when he persecuted the disciples; and he followed the impulses of his heart as truly, when he asked, submissively, "Lord, what wilt thou have me to do?" as when he left the Damascus gate, "breathing out threatenings and slaughter!" The only difference was that, in the meantime, God had changed his heart; or, in other words, the truth and light of heaven had streamed in upon his soul, and he willingly and rejoicingly followed their lead.

And this is the case with every converted soul. As Dr. Woods, of Andover Seminary, says: "The true convert wills or chooses as really as before. The difference is, he now chooses RIGHT. He now has a will TRULY FREE. Before his will was free from compulsion -- free in every sense necessary to his being a moral, accountable agent. But after all he was a slave to sin, and under the bondage of corruption. Now he is free, and his will is free in the best sense, free from the slavery of depraved passions and desires. The work of God in conversion EMANCIPATES the sinner from this degrading bondage, and brings him into subjection to the will of God. This is true liberty, "The glorious liberty of the sons of God." [note 1]

<page 51> And the philosophy of this method of conversion and salvation which Paul had experimentally known in his own soul, he afterwards asserted and illustrated in his letter to the Hebrew believers: "Now the God of peace, that brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus Christ, that great Shepherd of the sheep, through the blood of the everlasting covenant MAKE YOU PERFECT IN EVERY GOOD WORK TO DO HIS WILL, WORKING IN YOU THAT WHICH IS WELL PLEASING IN HIS SIGHT, THROUGH JESUS CHRIST." -- Heb.13:20-21.

In our anxiety to assert the freedom of man's will, we must not forget that God is free as well as man; free to choose, free to work. It is said that, if God influences man so as to make the result certain, then he is not free, he cannot do as he pleases. But if man can so abuse his freedom as to defeat the purpose of God, then God is not free; HE cannot do as he pleases!

Suppose Paul had possessed a "free agency" which would not yield to the enlightening influences of the Holy Spirit -- suppose in the exercise of his freedom, he had chosen to remain Saul, the persecutor, instead of becoming Paul, the apostle, according to the purpose of God; whose freedom would have been greatest in this case? Whose will the strongest? Whose plans overturned? But is not the principle involved in this case the same operating in the case of every soul finally wrecked and ruined? If God created man for endless destruction -- if God is NOT free to bring him to heaven, and man IS free to go to hell; whose freedom is mightiest in <page 52> this case? Whose will prevails? and whose plans are overthrown? [note 2]

We should be careful, as observed, in defending human freedom, not to destroy Divine freedom. And we must remember that if man is a "free agent," and can do as HE chooses; God is also a "free agent," and can do as HE chooses -- and that if the will and purpose of man come into conflict with the will and the purpose of God, there can be but one issue to such a conflict. God will prevail: and, as remarked he will prevail so as in no way to violate any law of our spiritual constitution, or infringe in the slightest degree the moral liberty with which he has endowed us.

Look at the following record: "And Jesus walking <page 53> by the sea of Galilee, saw two brethren, Simon called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea; for they were fishers. And he said unto them, FOLLOW ME, and I will make you fishers of men. AND THEY STRAIGHTWAY LEFT THEIR NETS, AND FOLLOWED HIM. And going on from thence, he saw two brethren, James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother, in a ship with Zebedee their father, mending their nets; and HE CALLED THEM. And they IMMEDIATELY LEFT THE SHIP AND THEIR FATHER, AND FOLLOWED HIM." Matt. 4:18-22. "And after these things he went forth, and saw a publican, named Levi, sitting at the Receipt of Custom, and he said unto him, FOLLOW ME. And he LEFT ALL, ROSE UP AND FOLLOWED HIM." -- Luke 5:27-28. Now were these men COMPELLED to leave all and follow Jesus, in any sense that implied unwillingness on their part? Was their "free agency"violated, or did they follow their own wishes and preferences? Of course the last. They were just as free, acted just as entirely out of their own hearts, when they became the disciples of Jesus, as when they followed their former occupations. God had a new and higher work for them; and when the time came, and the work was ready for them, they were ready for the work. And Peter and Andrew and James and John went into the ministry of the Gospel, as cheerfully as they ever went out upon the Lake of Galilee to fish. And Matthew, the tax-gatherer, even celebrates his abandonment of the custom-house, and his conversion and obedience to the call of Christ, by a joyful gathering of his former business associates and friends. -- Luke 5:29.

<page 54>There is no form which opposition to the great truth of universal reconciliation takes, indicative of such entire ignorance of the nature of man, of the philosophy of the human affections, as that which so persistently sets up against it, the doctrine of "free agency," and argues from it that "God will not COMPEL men to be saved, will not FORCE them into heaven."

Do we COMPEL the drunkard into temperance, when by showing him the evil of his course, and the benefits and blessings of a temperate life, and helping him to conquer his raging appetite, we restore him to himself and his family a reformed and happy man? And when the abandoned outcast, the depraved and hardened criminal, is subdued into tears and penitence by the earnest prayers and exhortations, by the persevering labor of love in his behalf; and finally shakes off the palsy of his sin, and enters gladly upon a new life of virtue and holiness -- when thus he faces about towards heaven, is he FORCED to it in any sense that does not make the force a joy and a triumph to him? in any sense that does not leave him, heart and soul, free as the air he breathes? Did ever a reformed sinner complain that he was driven into reformation against his will?

And when through their much patience and gentleness, and long-suffering affection, a disobedient and wilful child is brought to the feet of his parents in shame and repentance, is any violence done to his freedom as a moral being? Is it not rather that, instructed by their teachings, and overcome by their love, he chooses what they choose for him, and so his will and theirs come into concurrence and unity.

<page 55>Was the Prodigal Son any less free in wish or feeling, in purpose or will, when, taught by his folly, and influenced by his circumstances, and COMPELLED, if you will, by his sufferings, he said "I will arise, and go to my Father," than when he "gathered all together, and took his journey into a far country, and there wasted his substance in riotous living?" Not one iota less free; but infinitely wiser by his sorrowful experience, and willing henceforth to be guided by his father, and to find rest, and peace in the dear old home which gave him such living welcome back.

And I am happy to add here a testimony and an illustration on the point involved, from John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, from "Sermon on Isaiah, xi. 9."

"There seems to be a plain and simple way of removing this difficulty, without entangling ourselves in any subtle, metaphysical disquisition. As God is one, so the work of God is uniform in all ages. May we not then conceive how he will work on the souls of men in time to come, by considering how he does work now? and how he has wrought in times past? Take one instance of this in which you cannot be deceived. You know how God wrought in your own soul. He did not take away your understanding, but enlightened and strengthened it. He did not destroy any of your affections; rather they were more vigorous than before. Least of all did he take away your liberty, your power of choosing good and evil; he did not FORCE you; but being assisted by his grace, you, like Mary, CHOSE the better part. Just as he has assisted thousands, without depriving any of them of that liberty which is essential to a moral agent. Now in the same manner as God HAS converted so many to himself, <page 56> without destroying their liberty, he can undoubtedly, convert whole nations, OR THE WHOLE WORLD! It is as easy for him to convert a world, as one individual soul."
And it is curious to see how the Arminian and the Calvinist both unite on this point to sustain the preceding reasoning. The following is from Prof. Stuart, late of the Andover Institution:
"Men who doubt and reason thus do in their own hearts, make the work of conversion a mere business of moral suasian by force of reasoning and argument. They overlook the OMNIPOTENCE OF THAT SPIRIT, WHOSE OFFICE IT IS TO BOW THE STUBBORN WILL, AND SOFTEN THE HEARTS OF THE UNBELIEVING. What! Are not all things possible with God? Can he not 'make the people willing in the day of his power?' Cannot he, who works in men 'according to the working of his mighty power which he wrought in Christ when he raised him from the dead,' can he not make the deaf to hear, and the blind to see? Can he not raise the dead to life? Has he not PROMISED to do all this? Has he not often repeated the assurance that he will do it? Has he not done it in mumberless instances? Is any thing too hard for God? Are not 'all hearts in his hand;' and so in it, that he can turn them whithersoever he will, even as the rivers of water are turned? CAN ANY RESIST GOD'S WILL? Cannot he whose mighty power bowed the hearts of our pagan ancestors -- cannot he bow the hearts of the children of Abraham? With the apostle I answer, 'The Jews also, if they abide not still in unbelief, shall be <page 57> grafted in; for God is able to graft them in.' Rom. 11:23. AND HOW CAN THEY ABIDE IN UNBELIEF, when, according to the promise of God, of which he will never repent, the seed of Abraham shall have a new heart, and a right spirit given to them? The supposition calls in question the veracity of God! To doubt on this subject, is to question his power and his truth, the reality of the Christian religion, and the OMNIPOTENCE OF THE HOLY SPIRIT! Believers in the Scriptures are not permitted to doubt. The thing is CERTAIN. The decree has gone forth, stamped with Heaven's seal upon it. Jehovah hath sworn by himself, that EVERY KNEE SHALL YET BOW TO JESUS, AND EVERY TONGUE CONFESS THAT HE IS LORD."

"The day and the hour, when all which has been promised may be fulfilled, we may not know. It is not essential that we should know them. But the PROMISES OF GOD, the FACTS which he has declared shall take place, ARE CERTAIN." [note 3]

<page 58> The result, then, of our Scriptural investigations respecting the omnipotence of God is substantially this: That his power over spirit is as absolute as is his power over matter -- tht he CAN do his will as easily, and that he WILL do it as certainly, in the moral world as in the material world -- that he not only has the power to lead his children from darkness into light, from unbelief and sin into faith and righteousness, to take away their evil heart and give them a new heart and a new spirit, and finally to reconcile and restore all things to himself; but that "in the dispensation of the fulness of times," he WILL do it, teaching through Christ, sanctifying through his Holy Spirit, and so establishing the reign of Love and Holiness throughout the universe forever more!

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  1. Wood's Works. vol. v., p. 549. See also his "Letters to Unitarians", Letter x., and "Reply to Ware," Works, vol. iv. 81-90, 250. [return to text]

  2. Dr. Woods has a good thing on this point, which deserves a place here: "No one can have any power except what God gives, and there can be no greater absurdity than to suppose that God will give to any of his creatures a power which he cannot control, and which shall in any possible circumstances, so come in the way of his administration as actually to prevent him from doing what he wills to do. If he is really omnipotent, and if all power in creation depends on him, it must be tht he will do all his pleasure; that whatever he sees on the whole to be the best he will certainly accomplish."

    "As the supreme government of God relates to all his works, it relates particularly to the MORAL world. This is the most of all important that this hsould be managed right; and to be managed right, is to be managed according to the will of God: or in other words according to the dictates of infinite perfection. If God is prevented from doing his own righteous and holy will, he is prevented by something WITHIN himself, then there are contradictory attributes in his own spiritual nature: an imperfection in a mind which is absolutely perfect; a principle opposed to wisdom and goodness in one who is infinitely wise and good. And to suppose that he is in any case hindered from doing his own pleasure by any thing WITHOUT himself, that is, by something in created beings, is to suppose that he has designedly invested them with power to frustrate his designs. And this is the same as to suppose that he purposely acts against himself" -- Biblical Repository, Jan., 1844. [return to text]

  3. Sermon at Ordination of W. G. Schauffler. The following, from Dr. Pond, of the Bangor Theological Seminary, is conclusive on the point:
    "The question therefore comes to this, IS IT IMPOSSIBLE FOR GOD TO CINVERT AND SAVE ALL MEN?

    But in what sense can this be considered as impossible? Is it inconsistent with the nature of the human mind, and with the freedom and accountability of man? Such a supposition is a priori incredible; because God made the minds of men, as well as their bodies -- made them free, accountable agents -- and it is not likely that he would give existence to a being with it was impossible for him to control. Besides, is it not a fact tht God DOES CONTROL the minds of men, of all men, in perfect consistency with their freedom and accountabliity? I speak not now of the manner in which this is done, whether by a direct efficiency in view of motives, or, by the mere influence of motives; -- the fact that it IS DONE will not be denied, except by those who deny that God executes his purposes and governs the world. The SCRIPTURES too -- by necessary implication, by direct assertion, and in almost every form of representation and expression -- exhibit the free minds of men as subject to the control of Him who ruleth all.

    God's control over free, responsible mind is also exhibited in every instance of conversion. Every conversion which takes place is the work of God's Spirit, accomplished in perfect consistency with the nature of the mind, and without any infringement of human freedom or accountability. But are not all minds constituted essentially alike? And if it is possible for God to convert one sinner in the manner above described, why not two? Why not as many as he pleases? Why not ALL?" [return to text]