Universal Reconciliation

heaven and hellJohn Piper in his book, Jesus: The Only Way to God, asks this question, “Will anyone experience eternal, conscious torment under God’s wrath?” Piper says that one of the answers to this question is universalism. He defines universalism this way: “all people and devils will be saved eventually, and that hell, if it exists at all, will lead to repentance and purity and salvation.” An interesting definition for sure, but is this really what the term universalism means? It does, but let me be even more specific. The term universalism means that everyone will end up being saved, but there is a distinction between non-Christian and Christian Universalism. Non-Christian Universalism is the belief that Jesus is not the only way to heaven and that all religions are equally valid. (Chan and Sprinkle, Erasing Hell). But what we are talking about is Christian Universalism, which is the idea that all people will be saved and that the Bible actually teaches this doctrine. Christian Universalists do believe Jesus is the only way to salvation, but that individuals will have multiple chances after death to accept Jesus and be saved (Chan and Sprinkle).
Whether we like it or not, the entire doctrine of Christian Universalism hinges on what we believe about hell. That may sound strange, but we have to realize that when we are saved, we are being saved from something. Remember the question by Piper, “Will anyone experience eternal, conscious torment under God’s wrath?” We are saved through faith in Jesus from God’s wrath. The question Piper is asking is foundational to our faith and answers the question of universalism. Considering this, we will evaluate three individual’s beliefs about the doctrine of hell: A. W. Pink, Martyn Lloyd-Jones, and Jesus.
A. W. Pink in his work, Eternal Punishment, points out two ideas that center around universalism. The first is that the punishment of the wicked in hell is corrective. Pink states, “There are those who allow that the wicked will be cast into hell, and yet they insist that the punishment is corrective rather than retributive. . . If men who died rejecting the Saviour are yet to be saved, if the fires of hell are to do for men what the blood of the Cross failed to effect, then why was the Divine Sacrifice needed at all.” What Pink is saying is that if we adhere to the universalist idea that hell can save us through correction, then the atonement of Jesus was not necessary. The second point Pink makes is in reference to the eternality of hell. The question arises by universalists, does “eternal” in the New Testament actually mean a season of time? Pink writes, “Eternal or everlasting is the one and unvaried meaning of aionios in the New Testament. The same word translated ‘everlasting destruction,’ ‘everlasting punishment,’ ‘everlasting fire,’ is rendered ‘everlasting life’ in John 3:16; ‘the everlasting God’ in Romans 16:26; ‘eternal salvation’ in Hebrews 5:9; ‘His eternal glory’ in 1 Peter 5:10.” His point is that you cannot assume eternal means anything other than forever if the same word is used for “eternal life” as “everlasting punishment”. Pink defeats the argument that hell in any way can be a temporary assignment.
Martyn Lloyd-Jones is in agreement with Pink. In Great Doctrines of the Bible, Lloyd-Jones uses the example of Matthew 25:46, “And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.” What we see here is a contrast between the unrighteous and righteous, which is also the contrast between eternal punishment and eternal life. This shows that you cannot say that punishment is temporary while eternal life is not. This is not consistent with the text. Both are eternal. Lloyd-Jones also references Mark 9, where it states, “It is better for you to enter life crippled than with two hands to go to hell, to the unquenchable fire. . . It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into hell, ‘where their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched.’ (vs. 43,47-48) The worm not able to die and the unquenchable fire refer to a place that is unending and suggest a state of eternal punishment. (Martyn Lloyd-Jones, The Church and the Last Things, pg. 73-74)
Much of what we know about hell comes from the lips of Jesus. That is why it is difficult to defend universalism from a biblical perspective. If you doubt this, consider the words of an atheist. English philosopher Bertrand Russell in his book, Why I Am Not A Christian, writes, “There is one very serious defect to my mind in Christ’s moral character, and that is that he believed in hell.  I do not myself feel that any person who is really profoundly humane can believe in everlasting punishment.” Not only does Russell show that Christ believed in hell, he establishes the fact that the Christ or Christian perspective of hell is everlasting punishment.
We have already noted a few passages from the words of Jesus, there are plenty more.
Matthew 13:40-42 says, “Just as the weeds are gathered and burned with fire, so will it be at the end of the age. The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will gather out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all law-breakers, and throw them into the fiery furnace. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”
“Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.” Matthew 25:41
“Then the king said to the attendants, ‘Bind him hand and foot and cast him into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’” Matthew 22:13
The best description of hell is the story of the rich man and Lazarus in Luke 16. Jesus provides a vivid picture of the torment of hell, for the rich man begged Abraham to send Lazarus to dip the end of finger in water to cool his tongue. This story demonstrates exactly what hell is, an eternal torment in fire.
Revelation 20 tells us that the Devil, the beast and false prophet will be thrown into the lake of fire where they will be “tormented day and night forever and ever” (vs. 10). It goes on to say, “if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.” (vs. 15) This leaves all doubt aside about the biblical view of hell.
In the final analysis, absolutely no scriptural references validate the doctrine of universalism. If hell is real and eternal, then universalism falls flat and can be seen as a false and unbiblical view of salvation. Just because we want something to be true does not mean that it is. God is sovereign. John Calvin in his famous Institutes of the Christian Religion, writes, “it is perverse to measure divine by the standard of human justice.” (Calvin, Book Third, Chapter 24)

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