An Exposition and Defense of Universalism

by Rev. I. D. Williamson, 1840

Sermon XI

The Nature of Salvation

"For therefore we both labor and suffer reproach, because we trust in the living God,
who is the Savior of all men, especially those that believe"

(1 Tim. 4:10)
It is a lamentable truth, that in all ages and countries, those who have embraced opinions differing from the popular doctrines of the day, have suffered reproach in the consequence of their faith. Man has forgotten the great truth that his fellow-man has the same right to think as himself, and that every one is accountable for himself, and to God alone. For this reason he has persecuted his fellow for his opinion's sake, and pointed to the man whose faith did not exactly square with the popular standard, as a proper object of reproach, and a mark at which bigotry might hurl her arrows of wrath with impunity.

Look for a moment at the life and ministry of Christ, for an illustration of this remark. HE taught a system of faith and practice somewhat different from the prevailing notions of the day. For this reason he suffered reproach from the people to whom he came with his message of grace and truth. They even followed him with the bloody sword of the persecutor, and paused not until they heard his dying groan from an ignominious cross.

So it was with his disciples. They had learned their doctrines from Christ, and were preachers of that Gospel, which carried the joys of salvation, not merely to the Jews, but also to the Gentiles. The consequence was, that the wrath of the people waxed exceedingly hot against them, and the storm which had gathered around their Master, broke with violence upon their heads. Hence their lives were made, from the beginning to the end, one continued scene of reproach and suffering.

The text informs us, in a very explicit manner, what was the obnoxious feature in their faith, which caused all their sufferings. What think you, my hearers, it was that excited the opposition and persecution of the world? Was it their faith in an angry and cruel God, a merciless devil, or an endless hell? Did they curse the people with endless woe, and while they saved a few, damn the great mass of community? Nay, nothing like it. But they "trusted the living God who is the Saviour of all men, especially of those that believe," and for this cause they were met with all the powers of reproach and persecution. To the narrow minds, and selfish feelings of the people of that age, no sentiment was more obnoxious than this.

The Jews, as a people, had long considered themselves as a peculiar people of God, and the only objects of heaven's favorable regard. They were the children of Abraham, and Abraham was the father of the faithful, and they expected, in consequence of that relationship, to be the favorites of heaven. Nor did they imagine that the Gentiles could at all be included in the covenant of eternal mercy. So thought the MOST LIBERAL among them, but the greater part of them could not extend the mercies of God so far as to reach the case of all the Jews. The Pharisee and the Sadducee, could each claim for himself and his sect, a monopoly of the divine mercy, and deny it to the other.

With such views and feelings, it is no matter of surprise, that they should rise up in opposition to a system which laid the axe at the root of all their selfish hopes, and taught them to trust in God alone, whose goodness was as rich and free for the Gentile as the Jew, and to whom the distinctions of nations, tribes, and sects, were all alike. It was not to be expected that those who had considered themselves better than others, and who had trusted themselves that they were righteous, should come down upon a level with others, and willingly trust in a God who would save their enemies as well as themselves.

If Paul and his coadjutors had flattered the vanity of the Jews, the Pharisees and the Sadducees, and told them that they should all be saved, and all the rest of the world should be damned, they would have been well pleased with such a sentiment, and we should never have heard of the labors and sufferings of the apostles in the promulgation of such a faith. But when they told the people that God was the Father of all, and informed the proud and self-righteous Pharisees, that so far from their being favorites of God, and exclusive heirs of the kingdom, "even publicans and harlots should enter into the kingdom of heaven before them," then it was that their pride was hurt, and they rose up to reproach and condemn.

I cannot omit the remark here, that the same spirit which reproached the apostles, still lives, and lifts the few above the many, and hurls the thunders of deepest damnation at those who venture to extend salvation beyond the landmark set up by the popular faith of the day. The great mass of professors of Christianity however, have avoided the reproach of trusting in the living God who is the Savior of all men, by ceasing to trust in such a God. Where, among all the numerous sects of Christians, will you find the one that trusts in God, who is the Savior of all men? Is it the Calvinist? Who ever heard of a man being reproached for believing in the salvation of all, who adhered to the creed which saith: "God out of his own mere good pleasure, elected some to be redeemed and everlastingly saved, and the remainder he was pleased to pass by, and ordain to dishonor and wrath, to the praise of his vindicative justice?" Does the Methodist labor and suffer reproach for this cause? I have indeed heard the enemies of that sect, charge them with holding to sentiments which would lead to the salvation of all, but I have just as often heard the charge repelled as a gross slander, accompanied with a prompt denial that they believe any such thing. Again then, I ask, who are they who now both labor and suffer reproach, because they trust in the living God, who is the Savior of all men? I leave you to answer the question, and I know that you can, if you will, answer it correctly.

I may remark, in passing, that GOD is the Savior of no more than he saves or will save. If ten men are in danger of upsetting a boat, and I go out to save them, you could not call me the savior of ten, unless I saved them. If you saw me launch out for their relief, and knew perfectly well that I would save them, you could with propriety call me the savior of the ten, even before the work was actually done. But if it should turn out, in the end, that I should save but five, then it would prove, that you were mistaken in saying that I was the savior of the ten. So here, God is not the Savior of a soul more than he actually saves. True, that work is not yet accomplished. But the apostle knew that he had engaged in the work, and that he could not fail of success, and therefore he called him the Savior of all men. But should it turn out, in the end, that God should save but a part, then would it be proved that the apostle was wrong, when he called him the "Savior of all men."

I know it is said, that God OFFERS salvation to all, but it should be remembered that an OFFER of salvation is one thing, and SALVATION ITSELF is another. If I offer to save a man who is drowning, THAT does not save him, neither does it make me his savior from death. God may offer salvation to man, but that does not save him, neither does it make God his Savior. He is the Savior only of as many as he saves. Should any man dispute this, I ask him to go forward to the future world, and as he looks down into that dismal hell, in which he believes, and beholds the multitude of its hopeless inhabitants, let him tell me, if he will, in what sense God is their Savior? It matters not what may have been OFFERED them, what have they RECEIVED? is the question on which your answer must depend. I care not what MEANS may have been put in operation for their salvation. If these means were not EFFECTUAL, and they are not saved, then God is not their SAVIOR, and the apostle labored and suffered reproach for a trust, that was vain and futile in the extreme.

It is not my purpose, however, in this discourse, to argue at great length the question of the extent of salvation, but rather I propose to explain its NATURE.

The term salvation is used generally in a very vague and indefinite sense, and much of the controversy about the extent and conditions of salvation, arises from a want of precision in the idea attached to this word. The Scriptures use it in various senses, according to the circumstances and situation of the person, or persons, who are said to be saved. When Peter, sinking in the deep, cried, "LORD SAVE ME," we understand that he wished to be saved from drowning. When Paul said, "except these abide in the ship ye cannot be SAVED," we suppose he alluded to their salvation from death, which then stared them in the face. Many other instances might be noted of a similar character, but these are sufficient to show, that there is need of much caution in regard to the use of this word, and that we shall greatly err if we apply this word always to a future and eternal salvation.

There has been a great QUESTION in the world, WHETHER GOSPEL SALVATION IS CONDITIONAL or UNCONDITIONAL, limited or universal. It will appear in the course of this discussion that all this controversy originates in a want of attention to the meaning of this word. In a SENSE, BOTH parties have been right, and BOTH wrong. There are TWO kinds of salvation mentioned in the text. It will appear on examination that one is limited and conditional, and the other universal and unconditional. So that what may be affirmed of the one, cannot be affirmed of the other. To illustrate these two kinds of salvation is the work now before us. I notice

I. The SPECIAL SALVATION of the believer.
God is the Savior of all men, ESPECIALLY of those that believe.

It is often remarked by those who oppose the doctrine of universal salvation, that if God is the Savior of all men, then there is no difference between the saint and the sinner, the believer and unbeliever. Those who make this remark, seem to forget, that while God is declared to be the Savior of all men, he is also said to be ESPECIALLY the Savior of the believer. Though it is true, that God is the Savior of all, yet a little more attention would teach you, that all along, in Scripture, there is a salvation held forth as the SPECIAL PROPERTY of the believer, in which the unbeliever can have no part or lot. Though all shall be saved with an everlasting salvation, yet the believer ALONE can enjoy this special salvation.

1. The believer is saved from sin, "the direst foe of man."

The prophet spoke truly when he said, "Know therefore and understand that it is an evil and bitter thing, that thou hast forsaken the Lord thy God." No man is more to be pitied than the bold transgressor of the laws of God. "There is no peace, saith my God, to the wicked." The path in which he walks is beset with ills on every side, and if perchance he finds a flowery spot, it is but the green sod beneath which slumbers the earthquake and the storm, and if there are roses around him, he may pluck them, indeed, but his limbs will be torn and bleeding, with the thorns that hedge them round. Such is sin, and to be saved from its power, is a boon more desirable than all the riches of earth, or the honors of a fading world. This salvation is wrought upon the believer by faith. His name was "called Jesus, because he should save his people from their sins." The doctrines taught, and the examples presented in the gospel, are such, that faith works by love, and purifies the heart, and makes man holy as God is holy. "I say unto you, love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good t them that hate you, and pray for them that despitefully use you and persecute you," is the constant teaching of the doctrine, the precept, and the example of Christ. Hence it is evident, that the man who receives into his heart this faith, copies the examples, practices the precepts, and cherishes the spirit of Jesus, is saved from sin and all its woes. This is the SPECIAL SALVATION of the believer. And to this salvation, all that numerous class of passages refer, which speak of being washed and purified by the faith of Christ. By this salvation, Christ came "to purify to himself a peculiar people zealous of good works." Salvation from sin, is the first item in the special salvation of the believer, and this is a CONDITIONAL salvation, depending upon the condition of faith and repentance. So far as THIS WORLD is concerned, it is NOT universal, but limited in extent.

2. The believer is saved from ignorance of God and His character.

Men by nature know not God, and though to the mind that has been enlightened with the knowledge of Christ Jesus our Lord, "the invisible things of him from the creation of the world, are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made," yet it was never in the power of the UNAIDED wisdom of this world, to obtain that true knowledge of God which is life eternal. Man, without a revelation, could see in the works of nature around him evidences of a power more energetic than the arm of mortals, but whether that power existed in the person of a faithful friend, or an implacable enemy, was a question that he could not solve. True, the sun shone, as now, upon the evil and the good, and the rain descended upon the just and the unjust, as evidence of the divine benignity, and when man looked at these tokens of goodness, he hoped that God was good. But when the thunder uttered its voice in the mountains, or the earthquake rocked the plains, and the tempest howled in fury around, and seemed ready to mingle, "heaven, earth, and sea," THEN fear took the place of hope, and dread forebodings came over the soul, and destroyed its peace. Then it was, that "fear made her devils, and weak hope her gods," and the elements became invested with all the terrors that imagination could invent. THEN, false gods were created in every grove, and mountain, and altars were reared in every hill and dale, and beside every stream that flowed. Then, fires of Tophet were kindled, and the altars of Baal ran down with the gore of babes and sucklings, which were slain to placate the wrath, or secure the favor of some idol divinity, whose supposed existence was a bitter curse, diffusing misery, deep and dreadful misery through all the life of the worshiper.

Such was, and such IS the effect of ignorance of God, and from all this the believer in Christ is saved. It was Jesus of Nazareth, who tore away the veil which had so long obscured the face of the "excellent glory," and revealed the "king in his beauty," as the kind friend, and the everlasting Father of the human race. By faith, the believer looks upward to God as the holiest and best of all. Though storms and tempests may be around about him, he knoweth that there is one, that rideth upon the storm, and orders all things well. In him, he sees his Father, and he believes that he will never leave nor forsake him, but that his strong arm, which is never shortened that it cannot save, will be made bare in his defense, to deliver, to bless, and to save. Believing thus, the soul enters into rest, and the mind is filled with joy unspeakable and full of glory. This is that SPECIAL SALVATION, in another of its items, which it is the privilege of the believer in Christ alone to enjoy.

3. The believer is saved from the bondage of the fear of death.

Without the gospel man knows nothing of the future. Before the advent of Christ, darkness shrouded in impenetrable gloom all beyond the grave. Death was abroad in the earth, in "gorgon terrors clad," and before him all that was fair, and beautiful, and strong, in humanity, withered and died as the flower that is cut down and fadeth before the heat of the sun, and BEHIND him were the bones of nations that had died, and "behold the sinews were wasted, and the bones were exceedingly dry." "If a man die shall he live again?" was a question which no man could answer. Or if it was answered at all by man, the VERY ANSWER became a more fruitful source of misery, than even the doubt and uncertainty of the question itself. Some of the heathen philosophers invented and endeavored to support the doctrine of the soul's immortality, but they soon coupled it with doctrines of future woe, which made it worse by far than the gloom of annihilation. They indeed taught an immortal existence, but to the greater part of the human family it was an existence of torment unutterable, to be dreaded as a curse, rather than sought as a rich and valuable blessing.

Christ came to open up a pathway through the dark valley of the shadow of death, and to point the eye of faith to that better and happier land, "where the wicked cease from troubling, and the weary are at rest." He brought life and immortality to light, and demonstrated by his own resurrection from the dead, that MAN shall rise triumphant from the spoiler's power, and bloom with unfading youth in the paradise of his God.

Here the poor Pagan learns to cast his idols and his temples to the moles and the bats, and to rejoice in that truth which giveth life to the world. By faith in this, the poor mortal that trembles in view of the dark gulf, where the ashes of a universe are scattered by the winds of time, and who weeps over the valley of dry bones, is saved from all his fears, for he sees the spirit of the Lord moving upon the valley, and believes that even the dry bones shall live. By faith in this, the trembling mortal who faintly hopes for a heaven of joy, but more dreadfully fears a burning hell of endless woe, for himself or his children, is saved from his doubts and fears, and taught to look forward to the time when death and hell shall be destroyed, and all created humanity shall be redeemed from sorrow, and ransomed from the grave and shall dwell in the fulness of eternal and unsullied joy. This is the special salvation of the believer in another of its items.

And here I leave this part of my subject, with the simple remark, that the salvation of which I have been speaking, is spoken of in the Scripture all along as conditional. This is the salvation which is spoken of as dependent upon faith and repentance. This is the salvation which man is exhorted to "work out," with which he that believeth shall be saved, and which he that believeth not cannot enjoy. It is confined alone to the believer, and si set forth as a thing for which man should labor perseveringly, as for a treasure more valuable than aught that the world can afford. The great cause of error in the world is, that professors of Christianity do not bear in mind this special salvation. They apply the term salvation almost exclusively to a future world, and therefore contend that that is conditional which depends alone upon the will, purpose and power of God. Whereas the ONLY SALVATION that depends at all upon human agency, is that SPECIAL SALVATION which is wrought in the believer here on earth.

II. I come to speak of that salvation which is for all men.

And here I beg to remind you, that it is no more certain that God is especially the Savior of the believer than that he is positively the Savior of all men. Paul trusted in the living God, who is the Savior of all men, and the fact that he is especially the Savior of the believer, does not abate ONE FRACTION from the truth, that he is the Savior of all. I notice this particularly because the enemies of Universalism are frequently heard insisting upon the last clause of the text, as if it had some magic power to limit or contradict the first clause. When we say that God is the Savior of all men, the reply almost uniformly is, yes, but you should remember that the text says, that he is especially the Savior of those that believe. Very well, and what then? Because the last part of the text says, he is especially the Savior of the believer, are we to conclude that the FIRST PART is false, and that he is NOT the Savior of all men, but only of believers? This word ESPECIALLY is so much pressed into the service of a partial faith, that I must give it a passing notice, and if I borrow an illustration it will not be the less useful. The idea is, that this word limits the salvation of God to believers alone. Now Paul wrote to Timothy saying, "The cloak that I left with thee at Troas, bring with the when thou comest, and the books, but ESPECIALLY the parchment." There is precisely as much reason in saying, that Paul did not want the cloak and the books, because he said, "ESPECIALLY the parchment," as there is in saying, that God is not the Savior of any but believers, because the text says especially of them that believer. And if I tell you, that Paul wanted both the cloak and the books, you ought to object at once, and remind me that he said he ESPECIALLY wanted the parchment. I know he said so, but what then? Does that prove that he wanted nothing else? By no means. So in the text. The fact that God is said to be the Savior, "especially of those that believe," has no effect at all upon the previous and positive assertion that he is the Savior of all men.

But the question comes up, in what sense is God the Savior of all men? Or what are the evils from which he saves them? I answer, from the power of death and the darkness of the grave, through the resurrection from the dead. This salvation is for ALL, the saint and the sinner, the believer and the unbeliever. So the Savior said, "Of all the Father hath given me I will lose nothing, but will raise it up again at the last day." So also the Apostle said, "As in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive."

This salvation is unconditional, and is uniformly so represented in the Scriptures. Human agency cannot effect it, no does it, or CAN, it depend upon anything that man can do, or believe, or upon the strength of man in any sense of the word. Go to the tombs, and ask the sleeping dead if they can raise themselves from their slumbers? and there will come up a silent voice, saying that THERE man's boasted strength is turned to weakness and he can do no more. Go to the living, and ask them if they have power to give life to the dead? and they shall tell you that they have no such power.

Well, then, if man's resurrection from the dead depends upon God alone, and no human power can effect it, so must the state and condition of man depend equally upon God, and be equally beyond the reach of human agency. Suppose for instance, a man should set himself raised up from the dead with four arms instead of two. We should smile at the folly of the man, and call him a visionary enthusiast, as a man destitute of common sense. But really, is there anything absolutely more absurd in the supposition, that we can by our works procure a couple of bodily organs in the resurrection than that these same works can procure us those MENTAL QUALIFICATIONS there on which our eternal happiness shall depend? Is there in reality anything more preposterous in the supposition that God has made our corporeal organization in the resurrection, dependent upon our works, than in the idea that he has suspended our mental or moral organization upon these works? I judge not, and the only reason why one appears more absurd than the other, may be found in the fact, that one is the countenance of an old acquaintance, while the other is that of a stranger.

The truth is, that man can by his faith and works do something toward ameliorating his condition here, but he cannot procure his resurrection from the dead, and if he cannot procure the thing itself, much less can he procure any modifications of it. ALL that man is, and ALL that he CAN BE in the resurrection, he must owe to God alone. His feeble works cannot reach one line beyond the grave, nor can they make on hair black or white in the resurrection from the dead. That resurrection itself is the free gift of GOD, upon which man has no claim whatever, and all its blessings or joys, are also as perfectly free on the part of God, and equally unmerited on the part of man. "The trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed." "So when this mortal shall put on immortality, and this corruptible shall put on incorruption, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, death is swallowed up in victory. Oh! death where is thy sting? Oh! grave where is thy victory? The sting of death is sin; the strength of sin is the law. But thanks be (not to us, or our faith or works, but) into God, who giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ."

This is the salvation which God has prepared for a world, and in this sense God is the Savior of all men. Death the last enemy shall be destroyed, and man shall be saved from its power. And it is a remarkable fact, that this salvation is never spoken of as depending upon the agency of man, or anything else, but the power of God. "He shall change our vile body that it may be fashioned like unto Christ's glorious body," and this shall be done by "the working of that mighty power whereby he is able to subdue all things unto himself."

Brethren, "be ye strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might," and "think it not strange concerning the fiery trials that are to try you," for if Paul and the early disciples "labored and suffered reproach because they trusted in the living God, who is the Savior of all men, especially of them that believe," think not that you shall escape the reproach of the world, if you trust in the same God. But in the midst of all reproaches, hold fast the profession of your faith without wavering, and the Lord make you perfect in every good word and work.

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