Universalists, a religious denomination, holding the' final destruction of evil, and the restoration of all souls through Jesus Christ. The following statement probably represents the belief of the great majority of Universalists of the present day.
They believe that God is infinite in all his perfections, creating man with the fixed purpose that the existence he was about to bestow should prove a final and everlasting blessing; that, foreseeing all the temptations, transgressions, and struggles of man, he shaped his government, laws, and penalties with express reference to these emergencies, and adapted the spiritual forces to the final overcoming of all evil; that being almighty, he can convert and save a world of sinners as easily as he converted and saved Saul of Tarsus or Matthew the publican, and without any more violation of "free agency" in the one case than in the other. They also believe in the perfection of the divine justice; and affirm, on this ground, that God would not impose on finite beings a law infinite in its demands and penalties; but that, being perfectly just, he will deal with every man according to his works, whether good or bad.
They uniformly reject the doctrine of the Trinity, making Christ subordinate to the Father. They believe that he is gifted with spirit and power above all other intelligences; that he is "God manifest in the flesh," i. e., that God has displayed in him the brightness of his glory and the express image of his person, as in no other being tabernacled in flesh; that he was sent of God to be the Saviour of the world, and that he will actually save it, because God would not offer, nor would Christ accept, a mission which.both knew would end in failure; therefore, they say, the work of redemption will be thorough and universal.
They believe that Adam was created upright, but liable to sin; that all men are formed, as Adam was, in the moral image of God; and that this image, though it may be disfigured by sin, can never be wholly lost. Faith and regeneration remove the stains and defilements of sin, and renew or reform the soul in the divine likeness.
They believe the new birth to be that thorough change of heart which takes place when a man, wrought upon by divine truth and grace, forsakes his sins, or turns from his former life of worldliness and indifference toward God and the Saviour, and is drawn into fellowship with the Holy Spirit, and, thus quickened into new spiritual vitality, consecrates himself to a life of active goodness and piety. This new birth is not supernatural, but the result of appointed means suitably improved. The Holy Spirit blesses the use of these means, and moves upon the heart of the sinner, encouraging, comforting, assisting, sanctifying. They do not believe in instantaneous regeneration, though they teach that there may be a turning point in the life of every man, when his attention is specially directed to religion. Conversion is only the commencement of religious effort.
They teach that salvation is not shelter nor safety, nor escape from present or future punishment. It is inward and spiritual, and not from any outward evil, but deliverance from error, unbelief, sin, the tyranny of the flesh and its hurtful lusts, into the liberty and blessedness of a holy life, and supreme love to God and man. This is an important doctrinal and practical point with Universalists, and is constantly enforced in their preaching and writings. They urge on all to seek salvation, not from the torments of a future hell, but from the present captivity of sin. In reply to the objection that millions die in sin, in pagan ignorance and unbelief, they answer that no one is wholly saved in this life, but that all men are saved, in a greater or less degree, after death; and assert that the power of Christ over the soul does not cease with the death of the body, but that he continues the work of enlightenment and redemption till he surrenders the kingdom to the Father, which does not take place till after the resurrection is complete.
The resurrection is not merely a physical but a moral and spiritual change. It is not only clothing the soul with an incorruptible body, but it is an anastasis, a raising up, an exaltation of the whole being into the power and glory of the heavenly; for, "as we have borne the image of the earthy, we shall also bear the image of the heavenly." It is a change, they say, by which we become as the angels, and "are children of God, being (or, because we are) children of the resurrection." It must, therefore, be something more than clothing the soul in a spiritual body. It is, besides this, growth in spiritual strength and power, in knowledge, in holiness, in all the elements and forces of the divine life, until we reach a point of perfectness and blessedness described by the term heaven. This resurrection, or lifting up of the soul into the glorified life of the angels, is the work of the Lord Jesus Christ. The end of his mediatorial reign, the completion of his saving work, and the final surrender of his kingdom back to God, does not take place till after this anastasis, or till this uplifting of all the dead and living into "the image of the heavenly " is completed.
On the subject of rewards and punishments, the Universalist belief is substantially, that holiness, piety, love of God and man, are their own reward, make their own heaven here and hereafter; and that in the nature of things no other reward is possible. If men love God with all their hearts, and trust in him, they find, and are satisfied with, the present heaven which love and faith bring with them. They hold the same doctrine respecting punishment: that it is consequential, not arbitrary - the natural fruit of sin; that it is for restraint, correction, and discipline; and that God loves as truly when he punishes as when he blesses, never inflicting pain in anger, but only because he sees that it is needed to prevent a greater evil. They affirm that the law is made for the good of man, and that of course the penalty cannot be such as to defeat the object of the law. Transgression brings misery or punishment, which is designed to correct and restore to obedience, because obedience is happiness. They maintain that pain ordained for its own sake, and perpetuated to all eternity, is proof of infinite malignity; but God, they say, is infinitely beneficent, and therefore all suffering must have a beneficent element in it, all punishment must be temporary and end in good. - The Universalists believe that traces of their main doctrine may be found in the earliest Christian writings.
Some of the Gnostic sects held to the final purification of those who died in sin, as the Basilidians, Valentinians, etc. The famous Christian collection known as " Sibylline Oracles" teaches explicitly the doctrine of the final restoration of the lost. As this work was written expressly to convert the pagans to Christianity, Universalists affirm that this is conclusive as to what was regarded as Christian doctrine on this point in the earliest period of Christianity. They profess to find the same belief taught in the writings of Clement of Alexandria, Origen, Marcellus of Ancyra, Titus of Bostra, Gregory of Nyssa, Didymus the Blind of Alexandria, Diodorus of Tarsus, Theodore of Mopsuestia, and Fabius Marius Victorinus (A. D. 200-400). Notwithstanding that Universalism, as such, was specially and formally condemned by a council, that of Mennas, held in Constantinople, A. D. 544, the doctrine survived, and occasionally appeared in strength; as among the Albigenses and Waldenses in the 12th century, the Lollards of Germany in the 14th, the "Men of Understanding" in the 15th, and some of the Anabaptist sects in the 16th. When the reformation began in England, this doctrine rose with it, and was defended with such zeal and success that, in preparing the " Articles of Faith" for the national church, it was thought necessary to introduce a special condemnation in an article which afterward, when the fortytwo articles were revised and reduced to thirtynine, was omitted.
Some of the most eminent members of this church have sanctioned the doctrine: Archbishop Tillotson, Dr. Burnet in his De Statu Ifortuorum, Bishop Newton, Dr. Henry Moore, William Whiston, David Hartley in his " Observations on Man," and others. Among others who believed and defended it were Soame Jenyns, Jeremy White, chaplain to Oliver Cromwell and author of " The Restoration of All Things," and William Law, author of the "Serious Call" and "Christian Perfection." The English Unitarians generally believe the doctrine; and it is held by numbers in the established church, and positively taught in their writings, as in those of Charles Kingsley, Stopford Brooke, and George Macdonald. The doctrine prevails extensively in Germany. It is freely accepted also in the liberal branch of the French Protestant church. Universalism began to attract attention in America about the middle of the 18th century, and since the arrival of the Rev. John Murray in 1770 it has spread with great rapidity. The denominational "Register" for 1876 gives a United States convention, composed of 22 state conventions, in their turn composed of 73 associations, representing 689 ministers, 867 parishes owning 623 church edifices, and having 628 Sunday schools with a membership of 58,000. The church property is estimated at over $7,500,000 above all liabilities.
They have established and supported 5 colleges, 2 theological schools, 7 academies, and 13 periodicals. There arc also various state missionary, Sunday school and tract societies. The woman's centenary association alone distributed nearly a quarter of a million tracts in 1875. The Universalisl publishing house at Boston, denominationa property, owns the title, copyright, and plate of 125 volumes, and issues five periodicals The Murray centenary fund, established ir 1869 as a memorial of the first century of Universalism in America, devoted to the educatioi of young men for the ministry, the circulatior of denominational literature, and church extension, amounted in 1875 to $120,700. Tuft, college, at Med ford, Mass., opened in 1854 has now a property of over $1,000,000; St Lawrence university, Canton, N. Y., $255,000 Buchtel college, Akron, Ohio, $300,000; and Dean academy, Franklin, Mass., $350,000. Relief funds, in aid of aged and needy clergymen and their families, amount to $47,000. The ecclesiastical government of the denomination is representative and congregational, the United States convention being the final court of appeal in all cases of fellowship and discipline. - See Ballou's "Ancient Universalism " (edition of 1872), Whittemore's " Modern Universalism" (1830), Thayer's "Theology of Universalism," etc.