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What Kind of Universalism?
Prepared by Bill Samuel for use at Adelphi Friends Meeting, 12/5/04
Frequently Friends speak of “universalist” and “Christo-centric” Friends. I would like to suggest that it would be more helpful to think of different kinds of universalism among Friends, as I believe there are very few Friends who are not universalist in some sense or another.
Classifications tend to be somewhat arbitrary, as there is a wide range of possible perspectives not just a set number of possible positions. Nevertheless, I think most perspectives cluster around the five positions I enumerate below:
1. Classic Christian Quaker Universal Grace
I will devote most of this piece to this position because it is where Friends started, and it is not well understood by many Friends.
The traditional Quaker view, which remains normative for Christo-centric Friends today, is that Christ died for all, and He provides the opportunity of redemption - saving grace - to every person, regardless of whether they have outward knowledge of the life and death of Jesus Christ. This view was expressed by the Quaker apologist Robert Barclay as follows (Barclay quotes are identified by a different type face):
THE FIFTH AND SIXTH PROPOSITIONS
Concerning the Universal Redemption by Christ,
and also the Saving and Spiritual Light
wherewith every man is enlightened
THE FIFTH PROPOSITION
GOD, out of his infinite love, who delighteth not in the death of a sinner, but that all should live and be saved, hath so loved the world, that he hath given his only Son a Light, that whosoever believeth in him shall be saved (John 3:16), "who enlighteneth EVERY man that cometh into the world" (John 1:9), and "maketh manifest all things that are reprovable" (Eph. 5:13), and teacheth all temperance, righteousness, and godliness; and this Light enlighteneth the hearts of all in a day, in order to salvation; and this is it which reproves the sin of all individuals, and would work out the salvation of all, if not resisted. Nor is it less universal than the seed of sin, being the purchase of his death, "who tasted death for every man: for as in Adam all die, even so in Christ all shall be made alive" (1 Cor. 15:22).
THE SIXTH PROPOSITION
According to which principle or hypothesis all the objections against the universality of Christ's death are easily solved; neither is it needful to recur to the ministry of angels, and those other miraculous means which they say God useth to manifest the doctrine and history of Christ's passion unto such, who, living in the places of the world where the outward preaching of the Gospel is unknown, have well improved the first and common grace. For as hence it well follows that some of the old philosophers might have been saved, so also may some, who by providence are cast into those remote parts of the world where the knowledge of the history is wanting, be made partakers of the divine mystery, if they receive and resist not that grace, "a manifestation whereof is given to every man to profit withal." This most certain doctrine being then received, that there is an evangelical and saving Light and grace in all, the universality of the love and mercy of God towards mankind, both in the death of his beloved Son the Lord Jesus Christ, and in the manifestation of the Light in the heart, is established and confirmed, against all the objections of such as deny it. Therefore Christ "hath tasted death for every man," not only for all kinds of men, as some vainly talk, but for every man of all kinds; the benefit of whose offering is not only extended to such who have the distinct outward knowledge of his death and sufferings, as the same is declared in the Scriptures, but even unto those who are necessarily excluded from the benefit of this knowledge by some inevitable accident; which knowledge we willingly confess to be very profitable and comfortable, but not absolutely needful unto such from whom God himself hath withheld it; yet they may be made partakers of the mystery of his death (though ignorant of the history), if they suffer his Seed and Light, enlightening their hearts, to take place; in which Light communion with the Father and the Son is enjoyed, so as of wicked men to become holy, and lovers of that power, by whose inward and secret touches they feel themselves turned from the evil to the good, and learn to "do to others as they would be done by," in which Christ himself affirms all to be included. As they have then falsely and erroneously taught, who have denied Christ to have died for all men; so neither have they sufficiently taught the Truth, who, affirming him to have died for all, have added the absolute necessity of the outward knowledge thereof, in order to obtain its saving effect. Among whom the Remonstrants of Holland have been chiefly wanting, and many other asserters of universal redemption, in that they have not placed the extent of his salvation in that divine and evangelical principle of Light and Life wherewith Christ hath "enlightened every man that cometh into the world," which is excellently and evidently held forth in these scriptures: Gen. 6:3; Deut. 30:14; John 1:7-9,16; Rom. 10:8; Tit. 2:11.
(Apology for the True Christian Divinity by Robert Barclay, Quaker Heritage Press edition, 2002, pp. 96-98)
Because the first paragraph of the following section from Barclay’s Tenth Proposition, Concerning the Ministry, is often quoted when discussing universalism without the second paragraph of the section which clarifies it, I am providing this also:
§IV. To be a member then of the catholic Church, there is need of the inward calling of God by his Light in the heart, and a being leavened into the nature and spirit of it, so as to forsake unrighteousness and be turned to righteousness, and, in the inwardness of the mind, to be cut out of the wild olive tree of our own first fallen nature and ingrafted into Christ by his Word and Spirit in the heart. And this may be done in those who are strangers to the history (God not having pleased to make them partakers thereof) as in the fifth and sixth propositions hath already been proved.
To be a member of a particular church of Christ, as this inward work is indispensably necessary, so is also the outward profession of, and belief in Jesus Christ and those holy truths delivered by his Spirit in the Scriptures, seeing the testimony of the Spirit recorded in the Scriptures doth answer the testimony of the same Spirit in the heart, even as "face answereth face in a glass." Hence it follows that the inward work of holiness and forsaking iniquity is necessary, in every respect, to the being a member in the Church of Christ; and that the outward profession is necessary to be a member of a particular gathered church, but not to the being a member of the catholic Church; yet it is absolutely necessary where God affords the opportunity of knowing it: the outward testimony is to be believed where it is presented and revealed; the sum whereof hath upon other occasions been already proved. (Ibid., pp. 233-234)
2. Common Christian Universal Grace
While it is common for Christians to believe in the universal saving grace of Jesus Christ, many believe it is necessary for salvation for a person to know (outwardly) and accept the story of Jesus’ life and death. A favorite Bible verse is Romans 10:14 : “How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them?” This view has probably crept into the evangelical wing of Friends, but I’m not sure as to what extent it has.
3. Classic Christian Universalism
The classic Christian universalist position is that all will come to accept Jesus Christ in this life or the next, and thus be saved. A favorite Bible passage is Philippians 2:9-11: “Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” This view seems to have attracted only a small number of Friends.
4. Many Paths Universalism
In this view, God has provided a number of paths adequate for salvation, of which Christianity is just one. Most contemporary Quakers who call themselves universalist hold to this view.
5. No Choice Universalism
Most adherents of the above four positions believe that each person needs to make choices to assure their salvation. While the offer of grace may be to everyone, the adherents of the other positions generally believe the offer must be accepted in some way in order to be effective for the person. But there is another view that all persons are saved regardless of the faith and moral choices they make, a position they may call unconditional grace. This view has been popularized by two Quaker pastors, Philip Gulley and James Mulholland, in their 2003 book, If Grace Is True: Why God Will Save Every Person. Because this view departs dramatically from the traditional Quaker view and orthodox Christianity, a number of Friends have called for the removal of the authors from pastoral positions within Quakerism. However, both have retained their positions.
The first three views listed above are clearly Christo-centric, demonstrating that Christo-centric Friends may be fairly considered to be universalist in some sense, and that the term exclusivist sometimes applied to them may be misleading. The adherents of the fifth view may also consider themselves Christo-centric, but many Christo-centric Friends would feel that is not a valid characterization given the major emphasis the canonical gospels indicate was given by Jesus Christ to the eternal importance of the choices people make.
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