by George Sidney Hurd
What did James Strong, the compiler of The Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible, have to say about the prevalence of the belief in the final restoration of all during the first centuries of Church history?
In my previous article, The Testimony of the Fathers, as well as in the book, The Triumph of Mercy, I cited numerous prominent Church Fathers, as well as several notable authorities on Church History such as Philip Schaff, Johann Gieseler and J.W. Hanson, who all affirmed that Universalism was the prevailing doctrine concerning the final destiny of mankind during the first centuries of the history of the Church, being taught in four out of the six major theological schools of that time. Even Augustine who opposed the doctrine conceded, saying: “There are very many in our day who, though not denying the Holy Scriptures, do not believe in endless torments.” [i]
However, in spite of the informed testimony of these and many more authoritative sources, most who deny the final restoration of all refuse to concede that it was the prominent belief of that time – that in spite of the fact that these historians were not themselves Universalists.
Here I am adding to their testimony that of John McClintock and James Strong, the publisher of The Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible. The following is the entry under “Universalism,” cited from their ten-volume encyclopedia, The Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological, and Ecclesiastical Literature, published in 1895. Again, while neither scholars were themselves Universalists, nevertheless, they here confirm what has been the unanimous consensus of nearly all Church historians.
Here they begin by mentioning the four major schools of theology that taught Universalism during the first centuries of the Church history, and then they follow the thread of saints who held fast to the belief in the final restoration of all throughout history up to their day in the 19th century, in spite of the fact that the emperor Justinian in the 6th century had declared eternal torment to be the only permissible belief concerning the destiny of the lost, anathemizing all who taught Universalism or Annihilationism. It is rather lengthy, but it helps one to see that Universalism was not some fringe deviation from Traditional Christianity, as many who defend the doctrine of eternal torment would have one believe. In fact, the first original established tradition within the Church was actually the apocatastasis, or the final restoration of all until a Roman emperor outlawed it.
John McClintock and James Strong
The Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological, and Ecclesiastical Literature
1. In The Early Centuries.
In 195 Clemens Alexandrinus, who was president of the Catechetical School at Alexandria, advocated Universalism on the ground of the remedial character of all punishment. His pupil and successor in the school, Origen Adamantius, famous alike for his learning, piety, and zeal, taught Universalism on the ground of the ever-continuing freedom of the will, the deep mental and spiritual anguish occasioned by the light and knowledge of the truth until it leads to repentance, and then the harmony of the soul with God. Origen's position, abilities, and untiring efforts for the spread of the Gospel gave him great influence with his pupils, and with the Church at large, in whose behalf he became a voluminous writer. In addition to his position and work in the SCHOOL OF ALEXANDRIA, he also had care for several years, in connection with Pamphilius, of the theological SCHOOL AT CAESAREA, one of whose distinguished pupils was the celebrated Gregory Thaumaturgus, a great admirer of his master's theories, and finally, about A.D. 235, his strong defender and ardent eulogist. Pamphilius, and Eusebius, the first Church historian, also defended Origen's doctrines from charges brought against them by the Western Church, and in answering the complaint that he denied all future punishment they quote from his writings in contradiction thereof, not only his positive assurances of future and severe punishment, but his equally positive assertion that such correction is purifying and salutary. In A.D. 364, Titus, bishop of Bostra, wrote in advocacy of Universalism, contending that, although there are torments in the abyss of hell, they are not eternal, but that their great severity will lead the wicked to repentance and so to salvation. Gregory of Nyssa, A.D. 380, also advocated Universalism on the same grounds. Contemporary with him was the justly celebrated defender of orthodoxy, Didymus the Blind, a successor of Origen in the school at Alexandria, and a zealous Universalist. Prominent among his scholars was Jerome, eminent alike for his abilities, his inconsistencies, and instability. Universalism as taught by Origen is clearly and ably set forth by Jerome in his commentaries on the epistles, and in his letters. John, bishop of Jerusalem at this period, was also an advocate of Universalism on Origen's theory.
Another contemporary, Diodorus, a teacher of great repute in the SCHOOL AT ANTIOCH, and afterwards bishop of Jerusalem, was also a Universalist, who, in opposition to the then general prevalence of allegorical interpretation, strictly adhered to the natural import of the text in his many commentaries on the Scriptures. He defended Universalism on the ground that the divine mercy far exceeds all the effects and all the desserts of sin. His pupil and successor in the school, Theodore of Mopsuestia, A.D. 420, called "the crown and climax of the school of Antioch," and by the Nestorians, whose sect he founded, "the interpreter of the Word of God," and whose writings were text-books in the SCHOOLS OF EASTERN SYRIA, was a prominent and influential Universalist.
His theory was that sin is an incidental part of the development and education of the human race; that, while some are more involved in it than others, God will overrule it to the final establishment of all in good. He is the reputed author of the liturgy used by the Nestorians, a Church which at one time equaled, in its membership the combined adherents of both the Greek and Latin communions, and which has had no rival in military zeal. In the addresses and prayers of this liturgy Universalism is distinctly avowed. Theodoret, A.D. 430, bishop of Cyprus in Syria, a pupil of Theodore of Mopsuestia, was also a Universalist, holding the doctrine on the theory advocated by the Antiochian school. For some time prior to this, certain opinions of Origen on pre-existence and on the salvation of the devil had been in dispute and pronounced heretical by a synod; but his doctrine of the universal salvation of the human race had not been involved in this condemnation.
At a local council called by the emperor Justinian at Constantinople, A.D. 544, Origen's doctrine of universal salvation was declared heretical. Nine years later another council was held by the same authority at the same place, when condemnation was pronounced on the Nestorians, although their belief in Universalism was not mentioned. It has been common to call this an ecumenical council, but without warrant (see the action of the Latin Church in refusing to recognize it or to send a legate to it). Doderlein, in his Institutes of Christian Theology, after quoting the decree of Justinian against Origen, says, ‘That was not the belief of all, and in proportion as any one was eminent in learning in Christian antiquity, the more did he cherish and defend the hope of the termination of future ‘torments.’ Drexelius, in his defense of eternal punishment, gives this testimony, ‘That God should doom the apostate angels and men at the day of retribution to eternal torments seemed so hard and incredible a doctrine to some persons that even Origen himself who was mighty in the Scriptures, and no less famous for his admirable wit and excellent learning, presumed to maintain in his book of principles that both the devils and the damned, after a certain period of years, the fire having purged or cleansed them from their pollutions, should be restored to grace. Augustine and others set forth his error and condemned him for it. But, notwithstanding their condemnation, this error has found a great many in the world who have given it a kind of civil reception. The Anti-heretics so called, dispersed this error throughout all Spain under various interpretations." Gieseler, the ecclesiastical historian, says, ‘The belief in the inalienable capacity of improvement in all rational beings and the limited duration of future punishment, was so general, even in the West, and among the opponents of Origen, that, even if it may not be said to have arisen without the influence of Origen's school, it had become entirely independent of his system.’ And Augustine bears this testimony: ‘Some - nay, very many - from human sympathy commiserate the eternal punishment of the damned and their perpetual torture without intermission, and thus do not believe in it; not, indeed, by opposing the Holy Scriptures, but by softening all the severe things according to their own feelings, and giving a milder meaning to those things which they think are said in them more terribly than truly.
Universalism almost wholly disappeared during the period known as the Dark Ages, although there are occasional glimpses of it even in the mutilated records which the papal Church has permitted to descend to us. In the 7th century, Maximus, the Greek monk and confessor taught Universalism; in the 8th, Clement of Ireland was deposed from the priesthood for teaching that when Christ descended into hell he restored all the damned; while in the 9th, John Scotus Erigena, a famous philosopher who stood at the head of the learned of the court of France, was a bold defender of Universalism. In the 11th century, the Albigenses were, according to papal authorities, Universalists; In the 12th, Raynold, abbot of St. Martin's, in France, was charged before a council with holding "that all men will eventually be saved;” In the 13th, Solomon, bishop of Bassorah, discussed the question of universal salvation, answering it in the affirmative. The Lollards in the 14th century taught Universalism in Bohemia and Austria; and at the same period a council convened by Langman, archbishop of Canterbury, gave judgment against Universalism as one of the heresies then taught in that province. In the early part of the 15th century, a sect called ‘Men of Understanding’ taught Universalism in Flanders, advocating it on the ground of the German Mystics, as did Tauler of Strasburg, and John Wessel, who, with others, have been called ‘the Reformers before the Reformation,’ whose writings Luther industriously studied and greatly admired.
2. In Modern Times.
With the Reformation, Universalism made a fresh appearance early in the 16th century, chiefly among some of the Anabaptist sects. The seventeenth article of the Augustine Confession, 1530, was expressly framed to ‘condemn the Anabaptists, who maintain that there shall be an end to the punishments of the damned and of the devils.’ Denk, Hetzer, and Stanislaus Pannonius were the most eminent defenders of Universalism at this period. Later in the century, Samuel Huber, divinity professor at Wittenberg, taught Universalism, it is alleged by Spanheim; and because, says Musheim, he would not go back to the old methods of teaching, "he was compelled to relinquish his office and go into exile.’
Early in the 17th century, Ernest Sonner, professor of philosophy at Altorf, published ‘a theological and philosophical demonstration that the endless punishment of the wicked would argue, not the justice, but the injustice, of God.’ John William Petersen, at one time court preacher at Lutin, and subsequently superintendent at Lunenberg, adopted and defended Universalism with such zeal that he was cited before the consistory, and, as he could not conscientiously renounce his convictions, was deprived of his office and forced into private life. In his retirement he wrote and published three folio volumes on Universalism, entitled Musterion Apokatastaseos Paltan, in which he mentions many who had defended that doctrine. The volumes appeared between the years 1700 and 1710. They opened a century of spirited controversy, of which Mosheim says, ‘The points of theology which had been controverted in the 17th century were destined to excite keener disputes in the 18th, such 'as the eternity of hell torments, and the final restoration of all intelligent beings to order, perfection, and happiness.’ Dietelmair, an opponent of Universalism, wrote on its history about the middle of this century. In the preface to his work he speaks of the contests which raged vehemently enough within the very bounds of the orthodox Church in the end of the last century ‘the’ beginning of the present.” Among the defenses of Universalism contained in the first volume of Petersen's work was the Everlasting Gospel, attributed to Paul Siegvolk, which was but an assumed name of George Klein-Nicolai, deposed for his Universalism as preacher of Friessdorf. He published other works in defense of Universalism, but the most rapid and lasting popularity belonged to the Everlasting Gospel, which in forty-five years passed through five editions in Germany. In 1726 John Henry Haug, professor at Strasburg, having procured the assistance of Dr. Ernest Christoph Hochman, Christian Dippel, Count De Marcey, and others, commenced the publication of the Berleburger Bibel, an entirely new translation and commentary of the Holy Scriptures. They made themselves familiar with all the writings of the Mystics, and in their great work taught and defended Universalism from the Mystical standpoint. Their work fills eight large folio volumes, the last of which was published in 1742. Strong persecution assailing them, and no printer being willing to risk his office in doing their work, they were compelled to purchase their own type and a small press. When the Church they had established was at last broken up by their enemies, the members fled to America, taking their press with them, and it was set up by Christopher Sower in Germantown, Pa. One of De Marcey's intimate friends was George De Benneville, born of French parents in London in 1703. Before he was twenty years of age he commenced preaching in France, where he was arrested and condemned to die, but was reprieved on the scaffold by Louis XV. Making his way into Germany, he there preached Universalism several years, and then came to America. In 1727 appeared Ludvig Gerhard's Complete System of the Everlasting Gospel of the Restoration of All Things, together with the Baseless Opposite Doctrine of Eternal Damnation. The author was at one time professor of theology in the University of Rostock, and his publication called forth, according to Walch, no less than fourteen volumes in reply. Jung, Stilling in the latter part of the 18th century, an able defender of Christianity against German rationalism, was an ardent and eminent Universalist. Prof. Tholuck wrote, in 1835, that this doctrine “came particularly into notice through Jung-Stilling, that eminent man who was a particular instrument in the hand of God for keeping up evangelical truth in the latter part of the former century, and at the same time a strong patron to that doctrine. ‘During the present century, Universalism has made rapid progress in Germany. Olshausen says of it that it ‘has, no doubt, a deep root in noble minds, and is the expression of a heart-felt desire for a perfect harmony of the creation.’ Dr. Dwight wrote in 1829, ‘The doctrine of the eternity of future punishment is almost universally rejected...’
In England the Protestants, in drawing up their Forty-two Articles of Religion, in 1552, condemned Universalism. Ten years later, when the convocation revised the doctrines of the Church, the number of articles was reduced to thirty-nine, omitting, among others, the one condemning Universalism. Since that time Universalism has not been a forbidden doctrine in the Church of England, but has been advocated and defended by some of the most eminent members of its communion-such men as Dr. Henry More, Sir George Stonehouse, Bp. Thomas Newton, Dr. David Hartley, William Whiston, Dr. Thomas Burnet, Revs. Frederick W. Robertson, Charles Kingsley, Stopford Brooke, and canon Farrar, and indirectly by archbishop Tillotson. The Presbyterian Parliament of 1648, which temporarily overthrew Episcopacy, passed a law against all heresies, punishing the persistent holders of some with death, and of others with imprisonment. ‘That all men shall be saved’ was among the heresies punishable in the latter manner. This law was not long operative, for the Independents, headed by Cromwell, soon overthrew the law-makers. Gerard Willstanley published a work in advocacy of Universalism only a few days after the passage of the law, which was soon followed by similar works from his pen. William Earbury fearlessly preached Universalism. Richard Coppin was active in its advocacy, publishing largely in its exposition and defense, and was several times tried for his offence. Samuel Richardson, an eminent Baptist, also wrote strongly in its behalf. Sir Henry Vane (the younger), member of the Parliament dissolved by Cromwell, and in 1636 governor of Massachusetts, was a Universalist. Jeremy White, one of Cromwell's chaplains, preached Universalism, and published a work which has passed through several editions. Jane Lead, a Mystic, was the author of several Universalist books. Henry Brooke, a literary writer, avowed his belief in Universalism in his Fool of Quality, and in a poem on the Messiah. William Law, author of the Serious Call, declared in his Letters, ‘As for the purification of all human nature, I fully believe it, either in this world or some after ages.’ The English literary reviews of the last century contain many notices of works in defense of Universalism. In 1750 James Relly, who had been a preacher in Whitefield's connection, shocked at the doctrine of reprobation, was by meditation and study led into another scheme of redemption, some of the peculiarities of which may be said to have had their origin with him. Accepting as true the common theory that all men, having sinned in Adam, justly incurred eternal damnation, and that Christ had borne this infinite guilt and punishment in behalf of all who should be saved, Relly was moved to find, if possible, some ground of justice in such a scheme. The divine law explicitly declares that "the soul which sinneth, it shall die," and that the innocent shall not suffer for the guilty. How could a transfer of human sin and penalty to Christ be consistent with that law? How could it be reconciled with equity? The divine sovereignty, without regard to inherent justice in the plan, could not account for it for the absoluteness that could set justice aside might just as easily, and more mercifully, have gone straight to its aim by remitting instead of transferring sin and its deserts. To say that the sufferings of Christ were merely accepted as satisfaction for human deserts, only reckoned as such, by God's sovereign pleasure, was no adequate explanation, since they were thus only a fictitious, not a real, satisfaction; and, further, any sufferings whatsoever, even those of a man, would have answered just as well as an arbitrary acceptance of the coequal of God. The perfect consistency of God's procedure, its absolute harmony with justice and equity, Relly found, as he claimed, in such a real and thorough union of Christ with the human race as made their acts his, and his theirs. All men, he held, were really in Adam and sinned in him, not by a fictitious imputation, but by-actual participation; equally so are all men in the second Adam, ‘the head of every man,’ and he is as justly accountable for what they do as is the head in the natural body, accountable for the deeds of all the members united to that head. Accordingly Christ, in his corporate capacity, was truly guilty of the offence of the ‘human race, and could be, as he actually was, justly punished for it; and the race, because of this’ union, really suffered in him all the penalty which he endured, and thus fully satisfied justice. There is no more punishment, therefore, due for sin, nor any further occasion for declaring the demands of the law, except to make men feel their inability to obey, and thus compel them to an exclusive reliance on Christ the head. He has effected a complete and finished justification of the whole world. When man believes this he is freed from the sense of guilt, freed also from all doubt and fear. Until he believes it he is, whether in this world or in another, under the condemnation of unbelief and darkness, the only condemnation now possible to the human race. In illustration and defense of this theory, Relly wrote and published several books, preached zealously in London and vicinity, and gathered a congregation in the metropolis. After his death in 1778, two societies were formed from his congregation; but both have now ceased to exist, as has the society gathered by Winchester about 1789, and the Church founded by David Thom, D.D., in Liverpool in 1825. The Unitarians in England are all believers in Universalism, as are also many of the Congregationalists.
3. In America
Universalism is the result of the proclamation of a variety of theories, some of them at a very early date, all resulting in one conclusion - the final holiness of the human race. Sir Henry Vane as was said above, was a Universalist. It is not known that while in America he made any public avowal of that belief; but the presumption is that he did not stand alone. In July, 1684, Joseph Gatchell, of Marblehead, Mass., was brought before the Suffolk County Court for discoursing "that all men should be saved," and, being convicted, was sentenced ‘to the pillory and to have his tongue drawn forth and pierced with a hot iron.’ Dr. George DeBenneville, also mentioned above, came to America in 1741, expressly called of God, as he believed, to preach the Gospel in the New World. For more than fifty years he preached in various parts of Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia, and the Carolinas. He was not an organizer, but simply a preacher, and quite a voluminous writer, though only a few of his productions were published. For several years he was welcomed to the pulpits of the ‘Brethren’ (Dunkers). It was no doubt at his suggestion that Siegvolk's Everlasting Gospel was translated into English, and published by Christopher Sower, printed, probably, on the identical press on which the Berleburger Bibel had been struck off. This edition was reviewed by Rev. N. Pomp, a German minister in Philadelphia. Alexander Mack, an eminent preacher among the Dunkers, replied to Pomp, defending Siegvolk's views. This work was never published, but the MS. is still preserved. There was found among Dr. De Bonneville's papers, after his death, in 1793, a Commentary on the Apocalypse, which was printed in German, at Lebanon, Pa., in 1808. There was also Universalism in the Episcopal Church. Rev. Richard Clarke, rector of St. Philip's in Charleston, S. C., from 1754 to 1759, was a pronounced advocate of it; as was Rev. John Tyler, rector of the Church in Norwich, Conn., who wrote a work in its defense, which was published by someone to whom he had loaned his MS., about 1787. Some of the Congregationalists of New England were believers in Universalism; among them Dr. Jonathan Mayhew, minister of the West Church in Boston from 1747 to 1766, who distinctly avowed his belief in it in a published Thanksgiving Sermon, Dec. 9, 1762. Dr. Charles Chauncy, minister of the First Church in Boston from 1727 to 1787, issued a pamphlet on the subject in 1782, which was reviewed by Dr. Samuel Mather. In 1784 his larger work The Salvation-of All Men was published, a second edition following in 1787. Dr. Joseph Huntington, minister in Coventry, Conn., from 1762 to 1794, left a work in favor of Universalism, entitled Calvinism Improved, which was published in 1796.” [End Article] [ii]
Therefore, in summary, we can see that Universalism is not a new doctrine. In fact, it was the predominant original doctrine in the early Church until entering into the Dark Ages in the fifth and sixth centuries. Even in the Dark Ages there were voices in the darkness proclaiming the pure gospel of restoration of all things, at the risk of their own ecclesiastical position and even their own lives. With the invention of the printing press, placing the Bible in the hands of the people, the reformation began and the number of individuals who broke with the tradition of eternal punishment for the majority and embraced Universalism greatly increased.
In the last few years there seems to be a restoration of this forgotten doctrine. The reformation of the sixteenth century restored the truth of Justification by faith and other doctrines of the Bible which the Church had lost sight of. In my opinion we are seeing the beginnings of a new reformation, and this time it involves the rediscovering of the truth of Universal restoration. The Church needs to awaken to this truth in order that, in the time of the manifestation of the sons of God, we might have the vision for the liberation and restoration of all of creation as prophesied (Rom 8:18-23). If we do not want to repeat the history of the Jews, we must expand our vision so as to see that salvific work of the cross does not end with us – that we are just the firstfruits, the church of the prototypes, and that all the rest will be made alive in due time (James 1:18; 1Cor 15:22-23). It is time that we comprehend that we who first trusted in Christ are His workmanship, destined to be manifested to the praise of the glory of His grace in the coming ages (Eph 1:12; 2:7-10).
[i] Enchiridion, Chapter 112
[ii] John McClintock, James Strong, Enciclopedia de la Literatura, Bíblica, Teológica y Eclesiástica, 1895, Toma 10 páginas 109-133
The Inerrency of Scripture
The Love of God
The Fear of the Lord
The Question of Evil
Understanding the Atonement
Homosexuality and the Bible
Answers to Objections:
Has God Rejected Israel:
God's Glorious Plan for the Ages
The Manifest Sons of God
The Trinity and the Deity of Christ
Eternal Preexistence of Christ
Preterism vs. Futurism
The Two-Gospel Doctrine Examined