Theology of Universalism
By Thomas B. Thayer, 1862

Section IV.
The Goodness of God -- Infinite and Unchangeable

It would be a work of supererogation to enter upon an elaborate argument to prove that God is infinitely good. Goodness is his nature and essence -- "God is Love," 1 John 4:8. And the very word "good" is but another way of saying "God;" for in the old Saxon, God and Good are one word, and not two, as with us. The word meant "goodness" or "the good," and hence, because of the infinitely benevolent character and disposition of the Divine Being, it was used to designate him, both as a name and a title. [see note]

[NOTE: It is worthy of note that, while God is so frequently called Love, he is never said to be Wisdom, or Power, or Justice. These are only attributes, or manifestations of the Deity; but Love is his essence, the very nature and substance of God.]

The evidences and manifestations of God's goodness, are co-extensive with his creation; and its universality and eternity are affirmed everywhere in the Sacred Scriptures. The heavens, the earth, and the sea, are his witnesses; and prophets and apostles, Moses and Jesus, bear the same testimony to the truth, that "the Lord is good unto all, and his tender mercies over all his works."

If, then, the very essence of the Deity if Love, if he is infinitely, and, of course, unchangeably good, all his actions must be good, everything he does, or ever will do, must proceed from his eternal love. The creation of man, the government of the world, his providence, his laws, his penalties and punishments, the mingled joys and sorrows, the good and the evil of our lot, all originate in beneficent wisdom, and must have a beneficent end.

Of course, we cannot judge safely of the means, but we are sure of the end. God says, truly: -- "My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are my ways your ways. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts." -- Isa. 55:8-9. Often he accomplishes his designs in ways far above ours, and which we cannot understand; but, whatever the ways and means employed, when the end is reached, it will be found to be full of blessing. This is the necessary consequence of the fact of infinite goodness. No other conclusion is possible.

By the help of this plain and indisputable truth, let the reader interpret the language already cited in part, in a previous section: -- "By the decree of God, for the manifestation of his glory, some men are predestinated unto everlasting life, and others foreordained unto everlasting death. Those of mankind, that are predestinated unto life, God, before the foundation of the world was laid, according to his eternal and immutable purpose, and the secret counsel and good pleasure of his will, out of his mere free grace and love, without any foresight of faith or good works, or any other thing in the creature as conditions and causes moving him thereunto." [see note]

[NOTE: And that I may not seem to make the present responsible for the past, I give the following, copied verbatim, from the Presbyterian Confession of Faith, as ratified by the General Assembly, in May, 1821, and amended in 1833, and published under the sanction of the Assembly in 1834. The Presbyterians in the United States, number more than 4500 Ministers.

"God, from all eternity did, by the most wise and holy counsel of his own will, feely and unchangeably ordain whatsoever comes to pass . . . . . . . .

By the decree of God, for the manifestation of his glory, some men and angels are predestinated unto everlasting life, and others foreordained to everlasting death.

These angels and men thus predestinated and foreordained, are particularly and unchangeably designed, and their number is so certain and definite, that it cannot be either increased or diminished.

Those of mankind that are predestinated unto life, God, before the foundation of the world was laid, according to his eternal and immutable purpose, and the secret counsel and good pleasure of his will, hath chosen in Christ, unto everlasting glory, out of his mere free grace and love, without any foresight of faith or good works, or perseverance in either of them, or any other thing in the creature, as conditions or causes moving him thereunto, and all to the praise of his glorious grace.

As God hath appointed the elect unto glory, so hath he, by the eternal and most free purpose of his will, foreordained all the means thereunto/ Wherefore, they who are elected, being fallen in Adam, are redeemed by Christ, are effectually called unto faith in Christ, by his Spirit working in due season, are justified, adopted, sanctified, and kept by his power, through faith unto salvation. Neither are any other redeemed by Christ effectually called, justified, adopted, sanctified and saved, but the elect only.

The rest of mankind, God was pleased, according to the unsearchable counsel of his own will, whereby he extendeth or withholdeth mercy as he pleaseth, for the glory of his sovereign power over his creatures, to pass by and to ordain them to dishonor and wrath for their sin, to the praise of his glorious justice.

The doctrine of this high mystery of predestination is to be handled with special prudence and care, that men attending the will of God revealed in his word, and yielding obedience thereunto, may, from the certainty of their effectual vocation, be assured of their eternal election. So shall this doctrine afford matter of praise, reverence and admiration of God, and of humility, diligence, and abundant consolation, to all that truly obey the gospel." Compare with the Andover Confession.]

Now, it is a matter of little consequence, so far as it concerns the character of God, whether this awful result was foreordained by immutable decree, or simply foreseen by an all-comprehending knowledge, (and this is a point which those who reject the decrees with horror, and yet hold to endless punishment, do not seem to understand,) for the principle, the moral element involved, is the same in both cases. There can be no foreordination without a foreknowledge and choice of what is to be foreordained; and, on the other hand, there can be no certain foreknowledge of what is to come to pass, without a prior foreordination of what shall come to pass. So far, therefore, as it affects the quality of goodness, it is the same whether God, in creating, foreordained everlasting death as the result; or foreknew tht, if he created, this would certainly be the result.

Now, is it possible to believe, in the goodness or justice of a Being who, in the act of creation, without regard to moral character or conduct, says to himself: -- "These I create and foreordain to a life of endless torment! And no good taht these can do will save them from the curse; and no evil that those can do will hinder their joy. It is not from any foresight of faith or unbelief, of good works or evil works, or any other thing in them moving me thereunto, that I foreordain these different conditions or destinies, but solely out of the secret counsel and good pleasure of my will, and as a manifestation of my glory and free grace!"

To say nothing of the justice of such a monstrous proceeding, it is not in the power of any sane mind, or sound heart, to pronounce such a Being infinitely good. To say that God has acted in this way, and at the same time to say that he is good, is to confound all distinctions between good and evil, and to make the proof of benevolence and mercy to rest on the same acts which are the strongest proof of cruelty and fiendishness.

No more thorough refutation of such a theology can be devised, than the simple statement that God is infinitely good. That is a sufficient reply, not only to the asserted foreordination, but to the possibility of everlasting death.

The only end which an infinitely good Being could propose to himself, as the motive for creating, would be simply the multiplication of intelligent creatures, in his own likeness, to become partakers of the happiness which finds its fulness in him. He would enter on the work of creation only that he might have more immortal beings on whom to pour out his infinite love, and with whom, finally made equal unto the angels, he might people the heavenly mansions -- the realms of light and joy.

It is easy to see how the God of the New Testament, the God whom the blessed Savior addresses as "Our Father, who art in Heaven," should entertain such a purpose as this; and, therefore, create for himself immortal spirits, children of his own, on whom to lavish the wealth of his infinite love; finally gathering them around the throne of his glory that he might rejoice in them, and they in him, world without end. Such purpose and action as this, is precisely what we should look for in such a divinely beneficent being. It would be consistent with the character of a God who, by way of emphasis, is repeatedly described and named in the Gospel Scriptures by the single word "Love."

And it is pleasing to turn back to the Universalists of sixteen and seventeen hundred years ago, and find their reasoning on this point in perfect accord with our own. Clement, of Alexandria, nearly contemporary with the apostle John, (A.D. 190,) says: -- "The Lord is good unto all, and delights in all. Man is, indeed, necessarily dear to God, because he is his own workmanship. Other things he made only by his order, but man he formed by his own hand and breathed into him his distinguishing properties. Now, whatever was created by him, especially in his own image, must have been created because it was, in itself, desirable to God, or else desirable from some other consideration. There could be no other reason why God should create him, than that God could not otherwise be a benevolent Maker, no his glory be displayed to the human race. There is nothing that the Lord hates, for he cannot hate any thing, and yet will that it should exist; no can he will that any thing should not exist, and at the same time cause it to exist. And if he hates none of his works, then it is evident that he loves them all, especially man above the rest, who is the most excellent of his creatures; a being desirable to God, since he who cannot err, made him just such as he desired him to be. Now, whoever loves another, wishes to benefit him, and, therefore, God does good unto all; not blessing them in some particulars, and neglecting them in others, but carefully solicitous for all their interests." [see note]

[NOTE: Paedagog. Lib. I. cap. 3 & 8. Ancient History of Universalism, chap. iii. As I shall frequently quote form the ancient fathers of our faith, I may as well say here, that the quotations are always from Dr. Ballou's History, except when other authority is given.]

But, turning from this a moment, let us approach the subject from another side. There are only three positions conceivable, as the purpose and end of creating mankind, whatever the character or disposition of the Creator.

  1. The final misery of all.
  2. The final misery of a part, and the final happiness of the rest.
  3. The final happiness of all.

One of these must have been the motive for creating, the end which God proposed to himself in entering upon the work. The first would make him infinitely malignant; the second would make him a compound of good and evil, capricious, partial, unjust, and cruel; and the third only makes him infinitely benevolent, and, as the Bible declares, "good unto all," and his wisdom "full of mercy and good fruits, and without partiality."

It is idle to argue that God is infinitely good, and at the same time affirm that he would crate an immortal being, knowing at the moment of doing it, that the existence he was forcing upon him, would prove an endless curse to him. To call him good, in such case, is to use words without sense. Goodness is not a name, a mere title, but character, principle, conduct. As Dr. Channing truly says: "It is very possible to speak of God magnificently, and to think of him meanly; to apply to his person high sounding epithets, and to his government principles which make him odious." If God deliberately went to the work of creating millions of intelligent beings, with the certain knowledge -- we will not sy intention, or purpose -- but with the certain knowledge that they would in any way, through any agency or sin of their own, fall into a condition of endless wickedness and torment; then he is not infinitely good, not good to them at all, in any just sense of the word.

And it is of no avail here to put in the argument of present sin and evil, and say, "If infinite goodness will not permit endless evil and suffering, so by the same rule we should argue that it would not permit present sin and evil. It does permit temporary evil; therefore it may permit endless evil." There is an infinite difference in the two cases. Sin and suffering for a time, as a means, admit of explanation; but sin and suffering as final and endless, for their own sake, admit of not explanation.[see note]

[NOTE: "We hold that though God permits evil, the evil is not regnant, but a surely defeated enemy. We hold that the actual working powers of God for good, are regnant to overcome all evil in every soul, and presently and surely tending toward the destruction of all evil. We hold that the very sty of sin and husks of lowest misery are overruled to send the prodigal back to God. The ideal personation of evil, Satan or Devil, is forced to speak effectively for God, and so God reigns to redeem every soul." Christian Examiner, March, 1861]

It would be just as reasonable to contend that, because it is consistent with the architect's plan to have a scaffolding around the building while in process of erection, it will be equally so to keep it there when the building is finished -- or that if it be necessary to permit the rubbish to lie around while the work is going on, it will be necessary to leave it there when the work is completed. Many things may be permitted as a means, which could not be sanctioned as an end. Many books and charts may be necessary while pursuing an education, which may be thrown aside when our education is complete.

Besides, this argument proves too much, and involves consequences which those who use it cannot accept. The argument is thus: God's goodness permits suffering in this world, therefore he may permit it in the next -- it does not save sinners from present temporary misery, therefore it will not save them from future endless misery. The same Love which would forbid one, would forbid the other.

Suppose we take up this argument and extend it as follows: God permits the righteous to be afflicted and to suffer in this world; therefore he will permit them to be afflicted and to suffer in the next world. The same Love, the same Justice, which would forbid the one, would forbid the other. If his benevolence would lead him to deliver them hereafter, the same benevolence would lead him to deliver them here -- he does not deliver them hre; therefore he will not deliver them hereafter; and their misery must be endless.

But again: All who are not saved now, never will be saved; for if infinite goodness can consistently leave them unsaved today, it can with equal consistency leave them unsaved tomorrow, and the next day, and forever. You cannot argue from the Love of God for the conversion and salvation of a single soul now unconverted, because the same Love would necessitate its conversion and salvation now, this very moment!

The absurdity of such reasoning is apparent without an elaborate exposure of its illogical and unphilosophical character. God of course has established the world, created man, and determined his present and future condition, according to a fixed plan, embracing not only a clearly defined end, but all the means necessary to that end. He does not do everything at once. He does not design to save all at once by a miracle; but gradually by appointed agencies, and according to the laws of their spiritual nature. Each day has its specific work, each event its special meaning; and these stand related not only to the present, but to the future; links in the great chain of being, whose end is fastened at the throne of God. We can only judge of the unfinished parts, when we come to see the finished whole. And that the finished whole embraces the good of all created intelligences, is, as we have shown, a necessary and unavoidable deduction from the acknowledged fact, that he who created is himself INFINITE GOODNESS!

Neither can any argument against this grand consummation of universal beatitude, be set up on the ground of man's unbelief and sin; "For God hath concluded them all in unbelief, taht he might have mercy upon all." -- Rom. 11:32. In his impartial goodness he counts all in unbelief, only taht he may have mercy on all. Hence also it is written, that "where sin abounded, grace did much more abound; that as sin hath reigned unto death, even so might grace reign through righteousness unto eternal life by Jesus Christ our Lord." -- Rom. 5:20-21. However far, therefore, sin and its consequences may abound, Divine Grace and Goodness are to abound over and beyond all, through "the Lamb of God which taketh away the sin of the world." -- John 1:29. The sin of man is not too great for the goodness of God to overcome. Its nature is to endure, and forgive, and weary out the heart of sin and wickedness by its patient, longsuffering, infinite tenderness. And so it becomes example, precept, and exhortation to us, that we may be "followers of God as dear children." -- Eph. 5:1.

And this brings us to another important point in the discussion, worthy of profound though and study. If the goodness of God be not of the nature and power here set forth, if it does not embrace the conversion, purification, and final welfare of his sinful and rebellious children, how are we to interpret such teachings as the following: "I say unto you, love your enemies, do good to them which hate you, bless them that curse you, and pray for them which despitefully use you. . . . For if ye love them which love you, what thank have ye? For sinners also love those that love them. And if ye do good to them which do good to you, what thank have ye? For sinners also do even the same.. . . . But love your enemies, and do good, and your reward shall be great, and ye shall be the children of the Highest; for he is kind to the unthankful and to the evil. Be ye there fore merciful, as your Father also is merciful." -- Luke 6.

Is it possible to believe that God expects greater goodness and mercy in us than he himself possesses? Would he command us, poor, frail, tempted mortals, to love our enemies, when he has not the moral courage to do it himself? Can any Christian suppose for a moment that God would command us to bless and do good to those who hate us, when he means eternally to curse and do evil to those who hate him? Why should he expect us to be so much more generous, and merciful and sublime, than he is himself? And if we say that he loves only those who love him -- if we say he will hate his enemies, and curse those who curse him, do we not put him on a level with sinners, "who also do even the same?"

But why ask these questions? God is, and does, all and infinitely more than he asks us to be or t do. The very language of the passage cited shows this. By loving our enemies and doing good to those who hate us, we are said to become children of the Highest, to be like God; we are said to be merciful as our Father in heaven is merciful. He furnishes us the example of his goodness and forgiveness towards us, and calls upon us to follow it in our feeling and conduct towards each other. So, therefore, if in loving our enemies, and blessing those who curse us, we are like God, he will do the same; and his infinite and everlasting goodness will reveal its power in subduing all enmity, in purifying all hearts from sin, and restoring the whole family of man to holiness and happiness.

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