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Universalism – wrong and right

“Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved.”

Universalism is the belief that all people everywhere will eventually be saved.

And how attractive it is! The thought that any should face God’s final punishment, or be denied heaven, is hard to bear – particularly when we think of those we love, or millions who have not trusted, or even heard, of Christ.

Indeed, God Himself says, “Do I take any pleasure in the death of the wicked?” (Ezekiel 18:23) So in their book The Blueprint, Phillip Jensen and Tony Payne put universalism under the provocative heading of “Godly heresies”: for it is surely a godly desire in us that all people should be saved! This is why we’d love universalism to be true.

However, our Lord Jesus spoke with great solemnity about a future judgment when He would separate the sheep from the goats (Matthew 25:31-45). There are two roads (Matthew 7:13-14), two types of crop (Matthew 13:24-30) and two types of fish (Matthew 13:47-52). We must assume He was not bluffing, either in these passages, or in other places where He mentions hell. I may long for universalism to be true, but I’d have to get round Jesus’ own teaching.

Nevertheless, universalism has been held in various forms down the centuries. Back in the sixteenth century, the English reformers clearly framed the Church of England’s Article 18 to counter it. It has gained huge traction in the last century.

I have a hunch it is very widespread now, as judged by two problems which spin out of it.

One is a fog of confusion about what the church’s mission is. We know we’re to witness to the world – but to what end?

The other is a lack of godly seriousness about the warning passages in Scripture, often about behaviour, such as this one of Paul’s: For of this you can be sure: no immoral, impure or greedy person – such a person is an idolater – has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ or of God (Ephesians 5:5). If we’ll all be alright in the end, why be troubled by such statements?

Universalism in this sense may come from good motives, but it is wrong.

This said, there is also a right universalism! This is that the gospel of our Lord Jesus is for all people. Just as the Apostles said “only through Jesus”, they also said “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” There must be no-one we regard as off-limits with the life-transforming good news of Jesus.

That is how God’s desire not for the death of the wicked is to be expressed: as we keep praying, working and longing to share the news that saved us, in Jesus.