Universalists of Today
Who They Are and What They Believe

By Dr. John van Schaik, Jr. editor of the "Universalist Leader," 1925

I realize that it is just as dangerous to say "all Universalists are this or that" as it is to make sweeping statements about Jews or Germans or Chinese or Congregationalist

The one thing which characterizes practically all Universalists is their faith that "what ought to be will be."

One of our writers for the encyclopedias describes this as "the belief that in a sane and beneficent universe the primacy belongs to Truth, Right, Love--the supreme powers." Universalists are optimists. They not only hope, but they confidently assert, that this universe is so organized that good will be the final result, that man has the power to work out his own salvation and learn by doing it, and that he can no more fail in doing it, things being as they are, than he can separate himself from the universe.

This optimism might be attacked as "unreasoning" and "foolish" if it were not that it is based upon faith in a God who is not limited either in Power or in Goodness. In the study of Universalism past and present this is the nub of the whole matter. From the beginning Universalists took their stand on the character of God. That character they asserted to be Beneficent. Everything in their theology started here. If God is a Father, man is His child and the race is one family. If He is infinitely wise and good, He will not fail with His universe or with any individual in it. If like the old Scotchman, we "postulate God," "immortality follows," and we do not need to indulge in endless speculations on that subject.

This same largeness of view characterized Universalist ideas of Christ. The purpose of his great mission included all souls within its scope. he must reign until he has put all enemies under his feet. If he is "lifted up" he "will draw all men" unto him.

Sometimes Universalists have stated their belief in Christ according to Trinitarian, and sometimes according to Unitarian, formulas. There never was a time when a vast majority of Universalists did not give him some kind of primacy among the sons of men. Always he has been a special revelation of God. The Parable of the Prodigal Son and the Parable of the Lost Sheep have been held up in Universalist pulpits for a hundred and fifty years to teach the great Christian truth that God is not passive in the matter of the salvation of man, but is "a seeking, searching, striving God," "standing at the door of our lives and knocking," waiting to come in. But both the words Trinitarian and Unitarian are generally regarded by Universalists of to-day as inadequate to express the larger thought of God or the true Gospel of Christ. Dimly they begin to see that He must be vastly more than the most devout man ever has been able to put into either word. And they accept "the spiritual authority and leadership of Jesus" because they are convinced he saw clearly both the Infinite Resources of God and the Infinite Possibilities in Man.

Universalists of today emphatically teach and preach a doctrine of hell. They claim that it is a more stern and severe doctrine than the old fire and brimstone teaching because of its inevitableness. There is "certainty" in it. No scapegoat can carry away the sin and punishment. No Savior can bear the penalty in our place. Each soul is under the operation of invariable law. The instant violation occurs penalty begins. It all is rooted in love. It has a divine purpose. But it is inescapable. "Whatsoever a man soweth that shall he also reap" is a favorite Universalist text. Another is, "Though hand join in hand, the wicked shall not go unpunished," and still another is, "The wicked shall be turned into hell, and all the nations that forget God."

There never was a time when Universalists taught, as was charged, "that it makes no difference how a man lives here; at death all will go shouting off to glory.". . .

Universalists today probably will have to be classified among the more practical Christians. The application of Christs principles here and now, the Christianizing of institutions and men, the abolition of war, the establishment of social justice, the relief of misery, the uniting of races and nations in constructive work take the time and strength of modern Universalists much more than speculations about the hereafter.