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LECTURE 9 NOTE C.—P. 341.
ALLEGED PAULINE UNIVERSALISM.
The two strongest passages in favour of Pauline universalism are undoubtedly 1 Cor. xv. 21-28 and Eph. i. 10, yet the ablest exegetes concur that in neither can Paul be held to teach the doctrine of universal salvation. With this view I cannot but agree. It is easy to read such a meaning into certain of Paul’s universalistic expressions, but an unbiassed study of the passages and their context makes it plain that it is far from the apostle’s intention to affirm any such doctrine. As respects 1 Cor. xv. 21-28, we have first the statement—“For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive” (ver. 22). But to affirm that in Christ all shall be made alive is a very different thing from affirming that all shall be made alive in Christ. And that the latter is not the apostle’s thought is made evident from the next verse, which declares that this making alive of those that are Christ’s takes place at His coming. “Each in his own order: Christ the first-fruits; then they that are Christ’s, at His coming” (var. 23). This making alive, therefore, is the making alive at the resurrection at the Parousia. But no universalist maintains that at that period “they that are Christ’s” embraces all humanity. The subsequent clauses are not more decisive. “The last enemy that shall be abolished is death” (ver. 27); but here again it is foreign to the context to suppose that Paul has in view any other abolition of death than that he has been speaking of throughout the chapter, viz. its abolition at the resurrection. The putting down of all (rival) rule, authority, and power (ver. 24), the putting all His enemies under His feet (ver. 25), the subjection of all things to the Son (vers. 27, 28), do not naturally suggest reconciliation or conversion, but rather forcible subjugation—the destruction of all hostile authority and influence. In this sense, accordingly, must be interpreted the final expression—the strongest of all—“that God may be all in all.” Meyer observes—“Olshausen and de Wette find here the doctrine of restoration favoured also by Neander, so that ἐν πᾶσι would apply to all creatures, in whom God shall be the all-determining One. . . . The fact was overlooked that ἐν πᾶσι refers to the members of the kingdom hitherto ruled over by Christ, to whom the condemned, who, on the contrary, are outside of this kingdom, do not belong, and that the continuance of the condemnation is not done away even with the subjugation of Satan, since, on the contrary, the latter himself by his subjugation falls under condemnation” (Com. in loc.). Weiss similarly says: “Even the context of this passage excludes any referring of it to a restitution of all things (Apokatastasis), for the dominion which God henceforward wields immediately can be no other than that which Christ has received and given up to Him; and that does not consist in this, that all hostile powers are destroyed or converted, but in this, that they have become powerless, and are subject to His will.”—Biblical Theol. ii. p. 73 (Eng. trans.).
The second passage, again, Eph. i. 10, speaks of a summing up of all things in Christ as head (I agree with Weiss that there is no need for weakening or denying the force of the composite word) in the dispensation of the fulness of the times—a truly wonderful and comprehensive expression. The τὰ πάντα here is in itself quite general,—all created things and beings,—and might therefore quite well suit a universalistic sense. But, first, the τὰ πάντα is limited by the succeeding clause,—“the things in the heavens, and the things on the earth,”—which excludes the demoniacal powers, certainly not conceived of as “things in the heavens”; and, next, it is a question whether time annulling of the divided state of “things on earth” is effected by the conversion of hostile powers, or not rather by their subjugation, and separation from the holy part of the creation. This is a question to be determined by Paul’s general mode of thought, and Meyer and Weiss agree that such an idea as the final conversion of the unbelieving and the demons is not within his view. “With the Parousia,” says Meyer, “there sets in the full realisation which is the ἀποκατάστασις πάντων, (Matt. xix. 28; Acts iii. 21; 2 Pet. iii. 10 ff.); when all antichristian natures and powers shall be discarded out of heaven and earth, so that thereafter nothing in heaven or upon earth shall be excluded from this gathering together again. . . . The restoration in the case of the devils, as an impossibility in the case of spirits radically opposed to God, is not in the whole New Testament so much as thought of. The prince of this world is only judged” (Com. in loc., and Remark 2, on the doctrine of Restoration).” A bringing back of the world of spirits hostile to God,” says Weiss,—“which, moreover, is considered as definitely bad,—is as far away from the Biblical view as is also a need of Redemption on the part of the angel world, and therefore the author felt no need to guard his expressions against either of these thoughts. . . . Enough that they by their subjection to Christ are stripped of any power which can hurt the absolute dominion of Christ ” (Biblical Theol. of N. T. ii. pp. 107, 109).
The one thing which would be really decisive in favour of a universalistic interpretation, would be some passage from Paul (or any part of the New Testament), which explicitly affirmed that fallen spirits or lost men in eternity would ultimately repent and be saved; but no such expression can be found. Dr. Cox has no scruple in telling us that those condemned in the judgment will yet, after a remedial discipline, all be brought to repentance, to faith; will be restored to God’s Fatherly love, etc. If this is the Scripture doctrine, why do Christ and His apostles never explicitly say so? Why do they not use expressions as clear and unmistakable as Dr. Cox’s own? Why only these general expressions, of which the application is the very question in dispute? The ancient prophets, e.g., had no difficulty in making clear their belief that a day of general conversion would come for sinful and rejected Israel. Why does Jesus, or Paul, or John not tell us as plainly that a day of general forgiveness and restoration will come for all God’s backsliding children—that those whom they describe as perishing and destroyed, and under wrath, and undergoing the second death, will yet be changed in their dispositions, and made sharers of God’s eternal life? It is not simply that this is not declared of all, but it is not, in one single utterance, declared of any; and while this is the state of the case scripturally, universal restoration, however congenial to our wishes, must be held to be a dream in the air, without solid basis in Revelation.
What many passages do teach is the complete subjugation of those found finally opposed to Christ; and in this way the restoration of a unity or harmony in the universe, which involves the cessation of active, or at least effective, opposition to Christ’s rule. What may be covered by such expressions,—or what yet unrevealed may in future ages be disclosed—who can tell?
Reference may be made to a careful study of the whole New Testament teaching on this subject in a series of papers by the Rev. Dr. Agar Beet in the Expositor, vol. i. (4th series), 1890.
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