True Universalism deters from sin, because it preaches a righteous retribution with unequaled force and certainty: on this its creed largely hinges. Restoration is taught because of retribution, a fact on which too much stress cannot be laid. "Thou, Lord, art merciful for Thou renders to every man according to his work."- Ps. lxii. 12.
Probably the way in which most people satisfy their own minds, when doubts arise as to the endless nature of future torment is this: "Endless pain and torment is but the result of sin freely chosen and finally persisted in by the sinner".
First, before discussing this, let me ask - why all this stress is laid on man's will to ruin himself, rather than on God's will to save? Is man the pivot on which all hinges? To me it seems bad philosophy, and worse theology, not to recognize God as center, and His will and purpose as supreme. But to resume, I would point out one consequence of defending endless evil and misery, on the plea of man's free choice, viz., that, if this plea avail in any one case to excuse endless evil, it would avail, logically, in every case: and it would justify an universe in which every reasonable being should choose evil finally, and God should remain presiding over an universal hell.
- Again, if endless sin be repugnant to every true conception of God, if it be repugnant to morality, for God freely to create any being, for whom such a doom is reserved, then you do not alter this fact by any possible theory as to the power of the human will. That which is incapable of defense morally, remains indefensible still.
- Next, you cannot fairly oppose a mere theory to a revealed assurance of the reconciliation of all things to God finally. Your theory indeed proves a possibility of the final choice of evil: you cannot reasonably oppose a possibility, to a direct statement of Him Who made the human will.
- Next let me add, that the very term, "free will," is ambiguous; it may mean a will partly, or a will wholly, free. If it mean the former, I am most willing to admit man's freedom. But if the latter be meant, then let me remind my readers that the acts of a will wholly free, i.e., undetermined by motive, would have no moral value whatever.
- Doubtless the problems of freedom and necessity contain an insoluble element. But we can look at them practically. You insist that everything depends on human choice. I reply, see how on the contrary man's choice is limited at every hand. First, man is born in sin; that is, certainly not wholly free. Take, next, the facts of life. In the first place man can exercise no choice at all as to the time and place of his birth - facts all important in deciding his religious belief, and through that his character; no choice as to the very many and very complex hereditary influences molding his entire life, though most often he knows it not; affecting for good or for evil every thought, every word, every act of his; no choice at all as to the original weakness of his nature, and its inherent tendency to evil. More, still, man can exercise no choice at all on this vital question, whether he will or will not have laid on Him the awful perils, in which, on the popular view, the mere fact of life involves him. Further, man can exercise no choice at all as to the strength of that will be receives; no choice at all as to the circumstances that surround him in infancy and childhood, and which colors his whole life; man has no choice as to the moral atmosphere he must imbibe in those early years of training, which color almost of necessity, the whole after life. "But a creature cannot" you reply, "choose these things, from the very nature of the case." That, I answer, only proves my point, that a creature cannot be wholly free, from the very nature of the case. What the facts point to, is that God grants a limited freedom, intending to train man, His child, for the enjoyment hereafter of perfect freedom.
- The vast extent of human ignorance also confirms the view that the final destinies of the universe are not placed in man's keeping. We know nothing absolutely, we know but appearances - phenomena. We are acquainted with the outsides of things at most, with the insides never. We talk of Life, of Matter, but these and all other things, are in themselves to us unknown, and unknowable. Every thing we do, every object we see, every natural operation is to us incomprehensible. Are these the hands to which a wise Creator is likely to commit absolutely the awful issues of endless sin, the ruin of creation?
- But it is said, that if man be not wholly free, his goodness is but a mechanical thing. If so, I reply, better ten thousand fold mechanical goodness that keeps one at the side of God for ever, than a wholly unrestrained freedom which leads to the devil. But the assertion is in fact as hollow as it is plausible. Man is not a machine because the power of defying God finally is not granted to him. Freedom enough is granted to resist God for ages; freedom to suffer, and to struggle; to reap what has been sown, till, taught by experience, the will of the creature is bent to the will of the Creator. If all this does not involve a freedom that is real, though limited, then human words are vain as a vehicle for human thought.
- A reasonable theory of human free will is in perfect accord with Universalism: so true is this, that the greatest advocates of the larger hope have been the most earnest champions of free will, and often base on it their teachings; while the advocates of endless sin and hell, like Augustine and Calvin, have been enemies to free will. Indeed, man's rescue depends on his freedom.
- Further, this pleading for endless sin in hell on the ground that it is freely chosen by man, would, if true, but enhance the great difficulty of the popular creed - the victory of evil; for plainly, the more free on man's part, the more willful his choice of sin, so much the more complete is the triumph of evil, so much the more absolute is the failure of the Cross. What is this plea but in fact seeking to vindicate the Almighty by laying stress on His defeat, seeking to justify Omnipotence by emphasizing His Impotence?
- This plea contradicts itself; for to assert that because of man's freedom he can go on for ever choosing evil, is, in fact, to plead not for human freedom, but for servitude, the basest, the most degrading. Take the assertion to pieces and it comes to this. To preserve man's dignity he must be permitted to become the slave of evil if he will, the associate of devils for ever - to secure his prerogative of freedom he must be allowed to sink into hopeless servitude to sin. What would you say were an earthly father to reason thus?-I will permit my child to become a hopeless drunkard for the sake of preserving his sobriety; I will permit my daughter to sink into vice for the sake of preserving her chastity. Under these circumstances, it is mere rhetoric to talk of "forcing" the will. The will yields, because it is free, and because good is finally the strongest force in an universe ruled by God.
- Nay, the only condition of true freedom for man is the divine control. The seeming paradox is true - constraint of man's will, because it is weak and evil, is his emancipation. "If the Son make you free, then shall you be free indeed." To plead against this constraint of the divine grace, as annulling human freedom, is as unreasonable as it would be, on the part of the friends of some fever-stricken patient, to object to the restraints of the sick room and the physician. A lunatic is to be restrained; a criminal to be imprisoned; an incendiary to be arrested; but the moral criminal, the spiritual incendiary, these are not to be constrained even by grace divine! They are to gravitate slowly to perpetual bondage- in the name, I repeat, of LIBERTY? God's will is to be set at naught permanently, in order that the devil's will may be done.
- Next, is it not strange that this claim to be independent of God, to defy His control finally, is made for man, in one direction only, i.e., precisely when and where it may do to him irreparable mischief? We cannot add so much as a cubit to our stature, cannot determine so much as the length of an eyelash. We cannot of ourselves take a single step heavenwards. But we can, on this theory, take as many steps hell wards as we please. We cannot save ourselves, but we can damn ourselves.
- But again, it obviously follows that if man is in this sense free, i.e., is free to defy God finally, then either (a) God does not in any real sense will the salvation of all men, but does will man's absolute freedom, at the cost of his salvation (if the two conflict), or (b) He does will it, but is unable to accomplish it. And, if so, then He is not free. He wills but His will is useless to save; it is fettered and bound. And what is this hut a virtual denial of the true God? Whoever such a being may be, He is not the God of the Bible. To the very essence of God it pertains to be sovereign and supreme over all wills and all things whatsoever.
"I appeal to the tribunal of a sovereign judge," says Canon WESTCOTT , "Whose will is right, and Whose will must prevail." - Hist. Faith. And again , "It is enough for us to acknowledge the supreme triumph of divine love from first to last - one will of one God reconciling the world to Himself in Jesus Christ His only Son."- Ib.
- It is impossible to quote more than a fraction of the passages in which Scripture, while recognizing in man a power of choice, so that no one is saved against his will, but by God's working in Him a good will, yet points distinctly to God's will as supreme, as certain finally to prevail.
"My counsel shall stand, and I will do all my pleasure." - Is. xlvi. 10.
"Whatever the Lord pleased, that did He, in heaven and on earth." - Ps. cxxxv. 6.
"He does according to His will, in the armies of heaven and among the inhabitants of earth." - Dan. iv. 35; V. 2 I; iv. 3, 17; vii. 14. Prov. xix. 21; Xxi. I. Ps. lxix. 13; xcix. x; ciii. 19; x. ;6; xxix. 10, &c., &c.
Nay, Scripture goes farther still. It tells us plainly that the creature (creation) has been made "subject to vanity (sin and imperfection), not willingly, but by reason of Him who has subjected the same in hope." - Rom. viii. 20.
Again, "God has shut up all unto disobedience that He might have mercy upon all "-Rom. XI. 32.
And so of salvation we are plainly told that it is "NOT OF HIM WHO wills, BUT OF GOD Who shows mercy." - Rom. ix. i6.
"You are saved not of yourselves," says St. PAUL - Eph. ii. 8.
And S. JOHN assures us that the sons of God are born not of the will of man, but of God - S. John i. 13.
"You," says a greater than S. JOHN, "have not chosen Me, but I have chosen you." -lb. xv. t6.
So the Gospel is the proclamation of His kingdom. "Thy kingdom come," not Thy Salvation, but Thy Rule . We are to work (and so far are free), but behind and above and beneath our work, there rules and works the will of God.
"Work out your own Salvation," says the Apostle; but why I not because here is a sphere outside the divine will, but, precisely because here too God rules, "for it is He Who works in you both to will, and to do." It is "not according to our works" that He calls and saves, - 2 Tim. i. g., but "according to His own purpose, "according to the counsel of His own will." -.Eph. i. ix.
This divine supremacy is ever in Saint Paul 's thoughts in passages too numerous to quote. And so our Lord does not hesitate to say "compel" -literally necessitate-"them to come in." - S. Luke xiv. 23. For "the Lord God omnipotent reigns" - Rev. xix. 6.
Men fear the reproach of Calvinism, which is quite another creed from this; and so have lost all true conception of a divine sovereignty, which is universal love. Nor is man a machine, because God is and must be, Master in His own house. Man can resist, but God's grace is stronger. Perhaps the strongest assertion the New Testament contains of human freewill is S. Malt. xxiii. 37, "You would not:" but, reading on, we learn that even they, who would not, are one day to say, "Blessed is He that comes in the name of the Lord."
The exigencies of controversy must be great to induce men to teach, on the authority of the New Testament, that the clay can absolutely defy the great Potter. May I remind our opponents that, when controversy is forgotten, we all in fact admit this divine supremacy. So the Prayer Book tells us that God can "order the unruly wills of sinful men, " evidently teaching that He will do this. It states that He disposes the hearts of kings (and if so, of all,) as it seems best - not to human freewill - but to His will and governance.
That which Scripture so plainly affirms, the very idea of Redemption implies. For Redemption is either an empty sound, or it implies setting free the will of man, i.e., bringing it into harmony with God's will. "The bondage I groan under is a bondage of the will, and that has led me to acknowledge God as emphatically the redeemer of the will; *** but if of my will then of all wills."- F. D. MAURICE.
I have stated my glad acquiescence in human freedom, only preserving God's freedom and sovereignty. For if consciousness assure me of a freedom very real in its own sphere, yet there is another side - a Divinity that "shapes our ends, rough hew them how we will,"- words that may fitly sum up this controversy.