Page images
PDF
EPUB

teaching the eternity of punishment, not as an advocate of the “common doctrine," but as wishing under cover of this to introduce “ the great esotoric truth,” that“ in this world nothing is isolated, nothing is without consequences, without endle88 consequences.” As to the argument that God can only punish with a design to improve the subject, the question is raised whether it is settled that punishment in order to be resormatory must not be endless. It is not the endlessness of punislıment that conflicts with the goodness of God; it is its intensive endlessness which is irreconcilable with reason and with Scripture, because it excludes improvement and progress. Lessing's endless punislıment, then, was endless development and progress under the endless disadvantages of the cousequences of sin.

It would be difficult to assign Lessing to any theological party or definite school of thought. He was not strictly a theologian, although he exerted a most powerful influence on theology. He was a literateur and a critic, was drawn into theological controversy against his inclinations, and wrote pamphlets, aphorisms, fragments, short theses and sharp polemics. He was not a rationalist nor a douster, but a man of profound faith in the religion of Christ. At the same time his theology was rational throughout, and all his conclusions rested on the deductions of the most searching critical examination. To this everything must submit - systems of faith, traditions, authorities, the Bible itself — all must come to this test, that Reason might have her rights, that error and sophistry might be exposed, and the foundations of faith be laid in the eternal Truth. His was the work of the critic - the work of dividing, rejecting, destroying, unfolding principles, discov. ering foundations. But he sought to reject and destroy only the temporal, the transient, the uvessential, in order that out of the fiery ordeal Religion might be preserved in its divine simplicity and purity — rescued from its history and its dogma, saved from its friends. In an age of boasted “enlightenment,” he was the only enlightener who wrought with an earnest faith and a truly conservative purpose, who, in

giving the impulse to revolution, pointed the way to construction, and who, while seeking with passionate zeal truth for its own sake, never lost sight of the good of man. The great Emancipator of his own age, he stands forth to all ages the luminous prototype of the Cbristian critic and scholar

“ Auf sich selbst steht er da, ganz allein!"

ARTICLE XI.

The Power and Progress of Universalism.

An article on Universalism which recently appeared in a widely read journal has attracted much attention, and called forth many replies. Our own thoughts, as one of the Universalist clergy, have turned with energy to the consideration of the history of the Universalist body, its present condition, and the signs of its future. The result of this thinking is a deep conviction of the power of our faith and of its progress. We shall attempt to show the bases of our belief.

It is very certain that the early preachers of Universalism the apostles Peter and Paul — believed that the message they delivered to men would endure forever. Many passages could be adduced to show the vigor of their hope. Take one from Peter. It is in his first epistle. “The word of the Lord shall endure forever. And this is the word which by the gospel is preached unto you.”

He has no hesitation, no fear, no doubt. The gospel he preached was the word of the Lord, and that “ should endure forever.”

What was this gospel? This — that God had sent Jesus Christ who died on the cross and who rose from the dead — to be the Teacher, and Lord, and Saviour of men. In that, much was involved. God loved men

as their Father; He saw none who were not his children, Gentiles as well as Jews - sin was death – righteousness was life

Jesus would draw all men from sin - unto holiness and happiness. With that gospel he preached mightily to men. Not wandering as widely as did the greater soul — the apostle Paul — Peter, nevertheless, moved men, converted men, brought them to God and Christ.

We believe that Peter's gospel is our gospel. Our gospel is the word of the Lord and that shall endure forever. We believe, therefore, in the power and progress of Universalism. Let us, then, lay before our readers our reasons in detail for this strong conviction.

We can see the power of our faith in the mighty work it has already accomplished. The writer of the article to which reference has been made declared that " Universalism had broken the backbone of orthodoxy in New England.” Well, to do that requires a mighty force. We can measure it as we study the days when Hosea Ballou struck his valiant blows. Congregationalism then ruled New England. The Baptists were few and obscure. The Methodists were only gathering way. Calvinism reigned. Men feared God. They believed in an everlasting hell.

Ballou delivered his message. He showed the meaning of Paul's mission; he interpreted the words of Christ; he set in new light the teachings of Psalmists and of Prophets. His work on the “ Atonement was read, made converts, changed the Universalist fraternity (it was hardly a body then) into Unitarians. Against the teachings of the learned Congregationalist clergy, he made way. Against the aristocracy of society he made way. Then, as now, in many circles of society, men were exclusive. They did not wish to go to Heaven, if everybody else was going there too. The power of Ballou's faith shattered all these forces. It “ broke the backbone of Orthodoxy.” Surely here was power.

The power of our faith is clearly seen also in being able to keep itself alive under the long suppression of the hierarchy established by Constantine.

The simple, rational, uplifting gospel of Christ -- repeated NEW SER.ES. VOL. ?!!

12

by Peter and above all by Paul - was speedily overcast by the terror of ecclesiastical thunder. They saw the Heavenly Father; they told of the Prodigal Son; they saw all sin subdued, and God reigning over all in love. The hierarchy showed an angry God — a burning hell — the keys to Paradise held only by themselves. And for more than a thousand years, they ruled Christendom. But beneath all councils and creeds ; beneath all orders of priests, and bishops, and archbishops ; beneath the papal throne itself, Universalism lived on in the souls of those who trusted their own reason and conscience — who got close to the hearts of Paul and Christ. The power of these mighty souls

vibrate through the words of the New Testament. The faith - once delivered to the saints ;” the Christianity of Christ; the gospel of Paul, could not be killed. It lived on, flamed up now and then, flowed on from century to century, and rose in mighty force in Relly, in Murray, in Winchester, in Stacy, above all in Hosea Ballou. To live under such conditions is to show mighty power.

Again we measure its might by its power of suppressing “ Orthodoxy" to-day. We read that Park Street chnrch was built in order that faithful preaching of “ everlasting hell ” might be secured. The place became famous as “ Brimstone Corner.” We honor its pastors for their fidelity. But if the doctrine is still believed that many men are to be punished forever, then, surely every “Evangelical ” church should be a “brimstone corner" flaming forth most furiously. But they are not. Preachers preach the love of God - the damnation of the “ finally impenitent oocasionally - the need of good works. Hearers are not aroused nor appalled. The lights flickering on the church walls are not reflected from hell, but only from the sweet sun typifying the universal goodness of God. The hymns are no longer lurid with awful doctrine. The prayers are no longer expostulations of an angry Deity, or avowals of being worms of the dust. The force which has shut up hell so largely, which has changed preaching so greatly is our faith.

1881 clearly shows its power. From this history of our faith we have a right to infer progress.

We do not know that Universalism is the word of the Lord,” but, with all our souls, we believe it is. For if Jesus Christ delivered the message of God, and if that message taught that all men will be punished by an all-wise, allloving, all-powerful Father in order that they may turn from evil ways, then the faith we preach to-day is the message of Christ and the word of God. It will, therefore have “free course, and be glorified.” But though it is the word of the Lord, it requires helpers. God works through men. This word, proclaimed by Christ, must be repeated, and with power, by those who live today. Now if the thoughtful and the earnest believe that our faith is a blessing to the world, they will declare their belief. We can see abundant proof that many of the thoughtful, the earnest, the influential do thus believe. There is reason, then, to believe in the progress of Universalism. For consider that Literature, Science, Philosophy — three mighty forces in the world — are the helpers of our faith. Through these, the thoughtful, the earnest, the influential express their convictions. Look at Literature! The leading newspapers of the day are on our side. From editorial and contribution it is easy to see the spirit of our faith appearing. Even the leading religious newspapers are more and more voicing our faith. The Christian Union and the Independent, though not committed to our views, teach men to regard respectfully and sympathetically the faith which is so precious to us. The leading essays are filled with our divine, eternal hope. The leading novels are on our side. The poets are wholly the sweet singers of our faith. As sings Tennyson, so sing they :

"O! yet we trust that somehow good

Shall be the final goal of ill,

To pangs of nature, sins of will,
Defects of doubt and taints of blood;
That nothing walks with aimless feet,

That not one life shall be destroyed,

Or cast as rubbish to the void,
When God shall make the pile completo.

« PreviousContinue »