First published in the 1860's by the Universalist Sunday School Union of Philadelphia.
WHAT IS UNIVERSALISM ?
As many candid and truth-seeking minds are often proposing this question at the present day, it has been deemed proper to answer it as briefly as may consist with perspicuity, and in a form that shall combine the advantages of being cheap and convenient for distribution.
In order to understand the subject, it should be observed, that the Word Universalism is used in two senses; first, as the name of a single distinctive doctrine; and secondly, as the common appellation of a whole system of faith. These different uses of the word must be kept in mind, in order to avoid misapprehensions, into which the learned sometimes carelessly fall. I will endeavor to make it clear.
First, UNIVERSALISM, in its simple and proper theological sense, is the doctrine of universal salvation; or in other words, of the final holiness and happiness of all mankind, to be effected by the grace of God, through the ministry of his Son, Jesus Christ.
This is well known to be no novel doctrine in the world. It is as old as Christianity itself, and has been believed and taught by some of the best and most learned men in the Christian Church, and in almost every period of her history. It is remarked by Doederlein, that the more distinguished for learning any one was, in Christian antiquity, the more he cherished and defended the hope, that punishment would ultimately come to an end. And Olshausen, another learned German, says, that Universalism is, without doubt, deeply rooted in noble minds; it is an expression of the longing for perfected harmony in the universe.
Believed as Universalism has been, and still is by men so widely separated by space and time, men of' almost every variety of creed in the Church, and of school in philosophy, we cannot expect to find an agreement among them, except on this and a few connected doctrines. Such a thing would in the nature of the case be impossible. In ancient times, there were orthodox and heretics alike, who believed in the final salvation of all men; and in modern times, we find members of almost every Christian communion, Greek, Romish, Lutheran, Church of England, Presbyterian, Methodist, Baptist, Unitarian, Friends, etc., etc., differing widely in many respects, but all agreeing in this one Divine truth, that God loves all men, and will have them to be saved; that Christ gave himself a ransom for all, and that all will ultimately be brought to holiness and heaven. When, therefore, it is said that any individual, of either ancient or modern times, and especially beyond the limits of the United States was a Universalist, it is by no means to be inferred, that he adopted the system of faith now generally maintained by the Universalist denomination in this country. Origen, while he lived, was a most honored member of the orthodox church, but was voted a heretic two or three centuries after his death; Tillotson was an archbishop, and Newton a bishop of the English church; Reinhard and Jung Stilling were evangelical Lutherans; Oberlin, the world-known pastor of Waldbach, was a French Protestant; William Law, the author of the Serious Call, was a mystic; Theophilus Lindsey was a Unitarian; James Relly. a Calvinistic Trinitarian; Dr. Priestly, a believer in Philosophical necessity; and the Germans, Beyer and Bochshammer, advocates of freedom of the will; but all were believers in universal salvation, or the final holiness and happiness of all mankind.
Though Universalism, in this simple and proper sense, has existed in almost all ages of the Church, it is only within the last century, I think, that a denomination has been formed, holding this as its distinctive doctrine, and taking its name from this peculiar feature of its faith. At the present time, the denomination of Universalists is confined chiefly to the United States, although it by no means embraces all here who believe in the doctrine of Universalism, and of course does not include the great numbers who entertain this faith in England, Scotland, France, Germany and the other more enlightened parts of Europe, and who, for the most part, stand connected with the Protestant churches in those countries. The denomination took its rise in the United States, something more than eighty years ago, the first Universalist Society having been organized in 1779, and the first meeting-house built in 1780. At the close of 1860, the denomination consisted of one thousand two hundred and seventy-six societies; owned, wholly or in part, nine hundred and sixty-nine meeting-houses; had six hundred and ninety-two preachers, principally young and middle-aged men; embraced a population of not less than nine hundred and fifty thousand souls; and is constantly increasing.
The moment a distinct denomination was established, and Universalists came into a separate communion, and maintained a separate worship, it naturally happened that a gradual assimilation should take place among their hitherto in many respects discordant opinions, and a general system of faith grew up, which should be adopted by the great mass of the denomination, and be in some of its features peculiar to itself. And as this work went on, both the Universalists and their neighbors would feel the want of some common name, by which to designate the system thus formed; and what word more convenient or natural for this purpose, than Universalism? The analogies of the language suggested, if they did not require, such an application of the word. This, then, is the second and wider meaning of the term we are considering. In this sense it comprehends the whole system of faith maintained by the Universalists as a denomination. If it be asked, then, what Universalism in this large sense is -- that is, what Universalists, as a denomination, believe, I reply:
1. That Universalists believe and teach the authenticity, genuineness, and inspiration, of the Holy Scriptures, in the same manner as they are held by Christians generally. They believe that the Old and New Testaments contain the revealed will of God; and, with all Protestants, they maintain that the Bible is the only and sufficient rule of faith and practice.
2. Universalists believe and teach the existence of the one living and true God, the Creator, Preserver, and Governor of all worlds, beings and things. They believe that God is self-existent, independent and eternal; omniscient and omnipresent; infinite in wisdom, goodness and power; in justice, mercy and truth. With Saint Paul they say, "To us there is but one God, even the Father," 1 Cor. 8: 6. They believe God to be the universal Father of mankind; the Father of spirits, Heb. 12: 9; our Father in heaven, Matt. 6: 9; who loves the whole human family, without exception, even while they are yet sinners, Rom. 5: 8 ; who is kind to the unthankful and to the evil, Luke 6: 35; and who will have all men to be saved, and to come to the knowledge of the truth. In one word, they believe that God is love, I John 4: 8.
3. Universalists believe and teach, that to manifest his love for the human race, God sent his Son Jesus Christ into the world, to reveal more perfectly the divine character and purposes, and finally, through death and the resurrection, to bring life and immortality to light. They believe that Christ is the brightness of the Father's glory and the express image of his person, Heb. 1:8; they believe that he is appointed by the Father, heir of all things, Heb. 1:2; and is Lord of all, Acts 10: 36; and that he must reign, till be has subdued all things to himself, when he himself will deliver up the kingdom to the Father that God may be all in all, 1 Cor. 15:25, 28. Thus he will save his people from their sins, Matt. 1:21; and be what inspiration proclaims him to be, the Saviour of the world, I John 4:14. To this end they believe he gave himself a ransom for all, 1 Tim. 9:6; and tasted death for every man. Heb. 2:9; for God was in Christ reconciling the world into himself, 2 Cor. 5:19.
4. Universalists believe in the Holy Spirit, the spirit of God, the spirit of truth, the Comforter, whose fruits in the believing soul are love, joy, peace, long-suffering, etc., Gal. 5:22.
5. Universalists believe in the importance and indispensable necessity of repentance, that is, a godly sorrow for sin, and a true reformation of heart and life.
6. Universalists believe in a new birth, or a change of heart, effected in the soul by a cordial belief of gospel truth, accompanied by the sanctifying influences of the Holy Spirit.
7. Universalists believe in the importance of good works, not to purchase salvation, or gain the love of God -- for salvation is of grace alone, and God loves even his enemies -- but as the natural fruits of the gospel cordially received, the evidences of indwelling grace, and because they are good and profitable to men, 1 John 4:19, 5:1,2; Rom. 13:16.
8. Universalists believe in a just and equitable, and at the same time a parental, administration of the divine government; in which God renders to every man according to his works, Ps. 62:12; so that he that doeth wrong shall receive for the wrong which he hath done, and there is no respect of persons, Col. 3:25. Beyond this state of rewards and punishments, they believe a state of immortal felicity will be conferred upon the whole human family, as a free gift, Rom. 5:12-21, by the infinite grace of the Father, through Christ Jesus, Eph. 2:4-9.
9. Universalists believe in the universal resurrection of the dead; for as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive, 1 Cor. 15:22.
10. Universalists believe in a life and immortality for the human race beyond the grave, where the mortal shall put on immortality, and where man can die no more, but shall be as the angels, and be children of God, 2 Tim. 1:16; Luke 20:27.
11. Universalists believe that, in the fullness of time, God will bring together all things in Christ, Eph. 1:9, 10, when, in the name of Jesus, every knee shall bow of things in heaven and in earth, and under the earth, and every tongue shall confess that Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father, Phil. 2:10, 11; when, as by one man's disobedience, many are made sinners, so, by the obedience of one, shall the same many be made righteous, Rom. 5:19; in one word, when Christ shall have taken away the sin of the world, accomplished the great mission on which he came, done the will of God, seen the fruits of the travail of his soul, and shall be satisfied, Isa. 53:11; and GOD BE ALL IN ALL.
It cannot be said, perhaps, that Universalists are fully agreed, on all points of doctrine, though I believe few or no exceptions could be taken to the above statements. I doubt not there exists as good a degree of harmony, both of faith and feeling, among them as is to be found in any sect of equal numbers in the United States. They differ in their views of the freedom of the will, some adopting the doctrine of Edwards, and others that of his opposers; and also upon the place and duration of punishment, some believing in limited punishment in the future state, and others not.
Such, in few words, is Universalism. May the reader impartially read, candidly consider, and, like the Bereans of old, search the Scriptures daily, whether these things be so.