Universalism is the teaching that God, through the atonement of Jesus, will ultimately bring reconciliation between God and all people throughout history. This reconciliation will occur regardless of whether they have trusted in or rejected Jesus as savior during their lifetime. This universal redemption will be realized in the future where God will bring all people to repentance. This repentance can happen while a person lives or after he has died and lived again in the millennium or some future state. In ancient times, some of the so called Church Fathers (Clement of Alexandria, Gregory of Nyssa, and Origen) held and taught Universalism.
The second article of the Winchester Profession (New Hampshire, 1803), which is the historic symbol of the Universalist denomination, says: ‘We believe that there is one God, whose nature is Love, revealed in one Lord Jesus Christ, by one Holy Spirit of Grace, who will finally restore the whole family of mankind to holiness and happiness’.
To support their teaching, Universalists quote some Bible passages from the Holy Scriptures which are the following ones: John 12:32; 2 Corinthians 5:19; Titus 2:11; 1 John 2:2; 1 Timothy 2:4; Ephesians 4:6; Romans 3:23-24; 5:18.*
I am going to expound briefly the above mentioned passages to show you that Universalism is a false doctrine which must be rejected.
● Jesus said: “But I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself” (John 12:32 – NIV).
According to Universalists ‘all men’ means all mankind; is that true? Not at all. Let me explain to you why. On that occasion Jesus spoke of His death, or rather of the kind of death He was going to die, in that immediately after these words it is written: “He said this to show the kind of death he was going to die” (John 12:33 – NIV). Therefore Jesus spoke of His crucifixion. However, He did not mean that when He would die He would save all men, that is to say, He did not mean that even the unbelieving people would be saved by Him, because Jesus Himself said to Nicodemus: “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up: That whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life” (John 3:14-15). Therefore, in the light of these words spoken by Jesus to Nicodemus, the above mentioned words: “But I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself’ mean that when He would die He would draw to Himself and save all those who would believe on Him. Consequently, those who refuse to believe in Him are excluded from that ‘all men’.
● Paul says to the Corinthians: “God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them” (2 Corinthians 5:19 – NIV). Now, these words seem to say at first glance that all men have been reconciled to God, and thus all men are friends of God and there are no enemies of God on earth. But I am going to show you that this is not the true meaning of those words of Paul. God, through the death of His Son on the cross, offered reconciliation to all men, but men need to be reconciled to God for the apostles preached to men the word of reconciliation saying: “Be reconciled to God” (2 Corinthians 5:20 – NIV). It is evident therefore that those people to whom the apostles preached that message were people who were enemies of God by nature or believers who had become enemies of God because they had become friends of the world. We must affirm, therefore, that only those who have repented of their sins and believed in the Gospel have been reconciled to God, as Paul wrote to the saints of Colosse: “And you, that were sometime alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now hath he reconciled In the body of his flesh through death, to present you holy and unblameable and unreproveable in his sight” (Colossians 1:21-22). And when did this reconciliation take place? It took place when we repented of our sins and believed on the Son of God. Someone may ask then: ‘Do you mean then that when Jesus died on the cross He did not reconcile us to God?’ No, I don’t mean that, because we can say both things because Paul says to the Romans: “For if, when we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life!” (Romans 5:10 – NIV). However, we must keep in mind that as long as we were without Christ and dead in our sins we were enemies of God and we needed to be reconciled to God in order to live in peace with God. And that, according to Paul, not all men were reconciled to God is confirmed by the following words he wrote to the Romans about the unbelieving Jews: “As far as the gospel is concerned, they are enemies on your account” (Romans 11:28 – NIV).
Let me tell you now something about the following words of Paul “not counting men’s sins against them” or “not imputing their trespasses to them” (NKJV). It is evident that they don’t mean that all men have been forgiven, otherwise why should we still preach remission of sins to all men? Why did Paul preach remission of sins to all men? Furthermore, it is evident that it is not true that God did not impute sin to all men because the Scripture says: “Blessed is the man to whom the Lord shall not impute sin” (Romans 4:8 – NKJV).
● Paul says: “For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all men” (Titus 2:11 – NASB). These words don’t mean that all men are saved or that all men will be saved by the grace of God, but they mean that the grace of God which can save all men has appeared, or that God’s grace which extends to men from every tribe and tongue and people and nation has appeared.
● John says that Jesus Christ “is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the whole world” (1 John 2:2 – NKJV).
These words don’t prove that all men are saved because the apostle meant simply that Jesus Christ, through His blood, has purified us who have believed in Him from all our sins and He can purify through His blood even those who have not yet believed on Him. Yes, because in order to be purified from one’s sins one must believe in Jesus. For it should be noted that Paul said to the Romans that God presented Jesus Christ “as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood” (Romans 3:25 – NIV). Consequently, the propitiation of one’s sins is dependant upon one’s faith. In other words, a man can’t be forgiven by God unless he believes in Jesus Christ. And since Paul says to the Thessalonians that “not all have faith” (2 Thessalonians 3:2 – NKJV), we conclude that not all have been forgiven.
● Paul says that God “desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:4 – NKJV).
According to the Universalists, these words mean that God will save all men and nobody will perish. However, that’s not the true meaning of these words, because if it were so then all those Bible verses which affirm that not all men will be saved would be nullified. For instance, Jesus said that on that day those on His left hand “will go away into everlasting punishment” (Matthew 25:46 – NKJV); He said that at the end of this age “the Son of man shall send forth his angels, and they shall gather out of his kingdom all things that offend, and them which do iniquity; And shall cast them into a furnace of fire: there shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth” (Matthew 13:41-42); He said that “broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it” (Matthew 7:13 – NKJV); one day one asked Him: “Lord, are there few who are saved?” and He said: “Strive to enter through the narrow gate, for many, I say to you, will seek to enter and will not be able” (Luke 13:24 – NKJV); and the apostle Paul said that the Lord Jesus “shall be revealed from heaven with his mighty angels, In flaming fire taking vengeance on them that know not God, and that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ: Who shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of his power” (2 Thessalonians 1:7-9). As you can see, neither Jesus nor Paul said that all men will be saved, but they said in different ways, yet very clearly, that many will not enter into the kingdom of God but will be punished with everlasting destruction.
However, the fact still remains that God desires all men to be saved and that He will save all those who were appointed to eternal life, that is to say, all those who were predestined to believe. And what about the others? They will not inherit eternal life because God will not qualify them to believe. Is there unrighteousness with God? Certainly not! For He says: “I will have mercy on whomever I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whomever I will have compassion” (Romans 9:15 – NKJV), and Paul says that “God has mercy on whom he wants to have mercy, and he hardens whom he wants to harden” (Romans 9:18 – NIV).
● Paul says to the Ephesians that there is “one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all” (Ephesians 4:6 – NIV).
These words seem to say at first glance that all men are sons of God, thus all men were begotten by God, saved and purified from their sins. However that’s not the real meaning of those words. God is the Father of those who believe in Him, He is not the Father of the wicked. This is confirmed by the Scripture according to which in order to become sons of God men need to receive Christ, as it is written: “But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name” (John 1:12) and also: “For ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:26). Someone will ask: ‘What about those who don’t believe in Jesus Christ? They are not children of God but they are children of the devil. Yes, because according to the Scripture the devil also has children, for Jesus said to those Jews who did not believe in Him and wanted to kill him: “You are of your father the devil ….” (John 8:44 – NKJV), and John says: “In this the children of God are manifest, and the children of the devil: whosoever doeth not righteousness is not of God, neither he that loveth not his brother” (1 John 3:10). I have shown, therefore, that not all men are children of God because there are also the children of the devil. God is through all His children, as it is written: “For ye are the temple of the living God; as God hath said, I will dwell in them, and walk in them; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people” (2 Corinthians 6:16), but He “is far from the wicked” (Proverbs 15:29 – NKJV); God dwells in all those who believe, for it is written: “Whosoever shall confess that Jesus is the Son of God, God dwelleth in him, and he in God” (1 John 4:15), but He doesn’t dwell in unbelieving people, as it is written: “Whoever transgresses and does not abide in the doctrine of Christ does not have God” (2 John 9 – NKJV).
● Paul says: “For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God; Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” (Romans 3:23-24).
These words also seem to say that all men are justified by God, but that’s not the true meaning of these words. Here is what Paul meant by these words: all have sinned and therefore don’t have the everlasting inheritance promised by God, notwithstanding this they can be freely justified by God through faith in Jesus Christ and thus made heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ. Therefore, since only a few people have been justified by God, because only a few people have believed, in that day all unbelievers will be condemned because of their unbelief as it is written: “He who does not believe will be condemned” (Mark 16:16 – NKJV)
● Paul says to the Romans: “Therefore as by the offence of one judgment came upon all men to condemnation; even so by the righteousness of one the free gift came upon all men unto justification of life” (Romans 5:18).
As far as these words are concerned, I have to say something similar to what I have just said about the above mentioned words of Paul. The apostle explained that while on the one hand all have sinned and are under divine condemnation because of the sin of Adam, on the other hand everybody can benefit from the free justification that God offers to all men because justification of life came to all men. Of course, we can’t affirm that men are justified even if they don’t believe that Jesus died on the cross and rose again because the Scripture says that God justifies a man when he believes in Him, as Paul says: “Therefore it is of faith, that it might be by grace; to the end the promise might be sure to all the seed; not to that only which is of the law, but to that also which is of the faith of Abraham; who is the father of us all, (As it is written, I have made thee a father of many nations,) before him whom he believed, even God, who quickeneth the dead, and calleth those things which be not as though they were. Who against hope believed in hope, that he might become the father of many nations, according to that which was spoken, So shall thy seed be. And being not weak in faith, he considered not his own body now dead, when he was about an hundred years old, neither yet the deadness of Sara’s womb: He staggered not at the promise of God through unbelief; but was strong in faith, giving glory to God; And being fully persuaded that, what he had promised, he was able also to perform. And therefore it was imputed to him for righteousness. Now it was not written for his sake alone, that it was imputed to him; But for us also, to whom it shall be imputed, if we believe on him that raised up Jesus our Lord from the dead” (Romans 4:16-24).
I conclude by saying that those who hold Universalism don’t realize that God is not only love but also a righteous judge who will not leave the wicked unpunished. If God should leave the wicked unpunished, He would be unjust and would deny Himself. Of course, we recognize that, humanly speaking, it is more pleasant to hear people speak of the love and the mercy and the compassion of God, than hear people speak about the justice of God and His vengeance and about the fact that God will condemn all unbelievers and wicked to an everlasting torment in the lake which burns with fire and brimstone. However justice also is a moral attribute of God and we were called to proclaim also this moral attribute of God and by the grace of God we will proclaim it until the end, even though we know that some would like us to speak of pleasant things alone. To God be the glory now and forever. Amen.
Beware of all Universalists, they lie against the truth.
* A few Universalists even maintain that Satan and all demons will likewise be reconciled to God. This teaching also is false because the Scripture teaches that the devil, the demons, and all his angels, will be cast into the everlasting fire “prepared for the devil and his angels” (Matthew 25:41 – NKJV), where they will be tormented forever, as it is written: “The devil, who deceived them, was cast into the lake of fire and brimstone where the beast and the false prophet are. And they will be tormented day and night forever and ever” (Revelation 20:10 – NKJV).