Patristic Universalism 

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Two Views , two extremes


Nothing is more contrariant to the divine nature and attributes than for God to bestow existence on any being, whose destiny He foreknows must terminate in wretchedness without recovery.

 - Bishop Newton


Arminianists were correct that Christ’s atonement was for everyone; that Christ’s death on the cross was a price paid for all mankind (John 3:16) and that it is God’s desire for everyone to be saved (1 Tim 2:4). They understood that Jesus was “pierced through for our transgressions” (Isa 53:5) and that “All of us like sheep have gone astray” (Isa 53:6) and that this Servant, Jesus Christ, “will justify the many…and intercede for the transgressors” (Isa 53:11-12). Where they missed the mark was believing that God’s desire to save all of mankind could be thwarted by the freewill of man. If this were true, it would render Adam more powerful than God since Adam – a mere mortal – was able to destroy the perfect plan of God for all mankind while Christ’s atoning work on the cross was successful only for a lucky few. 

 But didn’t Paul tell us that God’s decisions are not based on what we do but solely on His will (Rom 9:11)? Didn’t Paul tell us that it does not depend on “the man who wills” (NASB) but on God’s mercy (Rom 9:16. See also Ex 33:19)? Didn’t Paul say we are but clay in the hands of the Master Potter (Rom 9:20-21)? How can the actions of a frail, feeble, sin-stained human possibly overpower the will of the Almighty God? If it’s God’s desire to save everyone (and the universal nature of His atonement would certainly suggest this), how can we stop Him? And if salvation depends on us having faith, why does Paul tell us it is a gift from God (Eph. 2:8)? Clearly, the Arminianist's view that God would like to save us but can’t because of the power of our freewill is not only illogical it’s unbiblical.

Then there’s the Calvinist view, which correctly understands that God is sovereign and that we can in no way change His plans. They know that man is weak and has no power to assist in his salvation; that our victory comes from God and God alone. They understand that nothing can stop the will of God. But where the Calvinist’s fall off the rails is believing that God does not desire to save all of mankind. They teach that God, prior to the creation of the world, selected who would be saved (i.e. the elect) and by default, who would not be saved. Logically this entails a God who created billions of people knowing they were being created for hell. Wouldn’t it have been better not to create them at all? But this model also runs counter to scripture for the Bible tells us that God does not desire the death of anyone (Ezek. 18:23; 32; 33:11; 2 Peter 3:9), that God loved the world so much He gave His only Son (John 3:16) and that He “desires a all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Tim 2:4)? Clearly, the Calvinist view that God does not want to save everyone is not only illogical it’s unbiblical. 

More on this topic in Chapter 7, 

Patristic Universalism, by David Burnfield