As the Scriptures abound in representations of Divine truth, and of its influence in sanctifying and saving the souls of men, so they are no less explicit in declaring the unholy and destructive influence of error. It is said to “increase unto more ungodliness,” and to “eat as doth a gangrene.” The same Divine writer speaks of “strong delusion;” or the energy, mighty working, or effectual operation of error. It is often alleged, in behalf of the advocates of certain doctrines, that, allowing them to be in an error, yet there is no reason to question their sincerity; and, if so, it may be only an innocent mistake. If by sincerity be meant no more than that they really believe what they teach, there is no reason to doubt their being possessed of it; but the same was true of the persons described by Paul. Their doctrine was a lie, yet they believed it. Paul, however, was far from reckoning their error on this account an innocent mistake. On the contrary, he represents it as leading to damnation; and its abettors as righteously given up of God on account of their not having received “the love of the truth,” even while professing to embrace it.
Without taking upon us to decide how far, and for how long, a real Christian may be drawn aside from the simplicity of the gospel, or what degree of error may be found after all to consist with being “of the truth,”—it is sufficient that the natural tendency of these things is destructive. Every man who sets a proper value on his soul will beware of coming within the sweep of that by which multitudes, in all ages of the church, have been carried into perdition.
Under the fullest conviction that what has been said of error in general is applicable to the doctrine of universal salvation, or the restoration of men and devils from the abodes of misery to final happiness, we wish, in the most serious and affectionate manner, to caution our readers against it. To this end, we shall point out a few of its dangerous consequences, which, if clearly ascertained, will be so many presumptive proofs of the falsehood of the principle.
First, The violence which requires to be done to the plain language of Scripture, ere this doctrine can be embraced, goes to introduce a habit of treating the sacred oracles with levity, and of perverting them in support of a preconceived system. If he who offendeth in one point of the law is guilty of all, in that he admits a principle which sets aside the authority of the Lawgiver; he who perverts a part of the Scriptures to maintain a favourite doctrine, in the same way perverts the whole, and thus renders the word of God of none effect. Hence it is that Universalism leads to Socinianism, as that does to deism. One of the leading advocates of this system was warned of this at his outset; and by his late publications, and those of his party, they appear to have given full proof of the propriety of the warning.
Secondly, To explain away the Scripture threatenings of eternal damnation is intimately connected with light thoughts of sin; and these will lead on to a rejection of the gospel. The whole doctrine of redemption by the Son of God rests upon “the exceeding sinfulness of sin,” and the lost condition of sinners; for “the whole need not a physician.” If these, therefore, be given up, the other will follow; and this is another reason why Universalism will be almost certain to end in Socinianism. The benevolence which is ascribed to God by the advocates of both is in reality connivance; it is that which must induce him to pardon the penitent without a vicarious sacrifice, and to punish the impenitent only for a time, and that for their ultimate advantage. The Socinians openly renounce the atonement; and though some of the Universalists may at present retain the name, yet they have abandoned the thing.* The corruption of Christian doctrine among the Galatians went to introduce “another gospel,” and to make “Christ to have died in vain.” But what would Paul have said of this? Let those who have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil judge.
Thirdly, If the Scripture threatenings of eternal damnation be set aside, and light thoughts of sin admitted, sinners will be more and more hardened in their impenitence. The greatest object of desire to a wicked man is, doubtless, a heaven suited to his inclinations: but if this cannot be, his next object is to be exempted from punishment; on which principle he would gladly be annihilated; but if this cannot be, he would next prefer a punishment of short duration; and if God be supposed, notwithstanding what has been said of eternal damnation, and of sinners being never forgiven, to intend nothing more than this, he will naturally conclude that the degree of it will be abated, as well as the duration shortened. The same kind of reasoning from the Divine benevolence which brings him to believe the one will bring him to believe the other. It cannot be a very fearful thing, he will suppose, to fall into the hands of a Being who will inflict nothing upon him but for his good; and therefore he will indulge for the present, and abide the consequence. This is not an imaginary process: it is a fact that these are the principles by which profligate characters, in great numbers, comfort themselves in their sins. When Rousseau was impressed with the doctrine of eternal punishment, he could scarcely endure his existence; but a lady, with whom he says he was very familiar, used to tranquillize his soul by persuading him that “the Supreme Being would not be strictly just, if he were just to us.” If all such characters were as free in their confessions as this debauchee has been in his, there is no doubt but the same tale, in substance, would be told by millions. It is the hope that they shall not surely die—or, if they die, that the second death will consist of annihilation, or at most of only a temporary and tolerable punishment, that makes them comparatively easy. So Universalists and Socinians preach, and so profligates believe, or at least are very willing to believe if their consciences would suffer them.
Fourthly, It is a principle that will universally hold good, that there is no ultimate risk in adhering to truth, but the utmost danger attends a departure from it. It is thus that we reason with unbelievers: It is possible at least that Christianity may be true; and, if it be, we have infinitely the advantage. But, allowing that it may be false, yet what risk do we run by embracing it? While we are taught by it to “deny all ungodliness and worldly lusts, and to live soberly, righteously, and godly in this present evil world,” neither your principles nor your consciences will allow you to deny that we are safe. But if that Saviour whom you have despised be indeed the Son of God, if that name which you have blasphemed be the only one under heaven given among men by which a sinner can be saved, what a situation is yours! Apply this reasoning to the subject in hand. If Universalism should prove true, there are few if any dangers that can follow from disbelieving it; but if it should prove false, the mistake of its abettors will be inexcusable and fatal. If we be wrong, we can plead that we were misled by interpreting the terms by which the Scriptures ordinarily express the duration of future punishment in their literal or proper sense; that we found the same word which describes the duration of future life applied in the same passage to the duration of future punishment; and thence concluded it must mean the same; moreover, that, if any doubt had remained on this head, it must have been removed by eternal damnation being explained in the Scriptures by never having forgiveness, Mark 3:29. But if they be wrong they can only allege, that observing the terms to be often applied to limited duration they concluded they might be so in this; and, this sense best comporting with their ideas of Divine benevolence, they adopted it. In the one case, our fears will be disappointed; in the other, their hopes will be confounded. If the mistake be on our side, we alarm the ungodly more than need be; but if on theirs, they will be found to have flattered and deceived them to their eternal ruin, and so to have incurred the blood of souls! If we err, our error is much the same as that of Jeremiah, on supposition of the Babylonians having been repulsed, and Jerusalem delivered from the siege; but if they err, their error is that of the false prophets, who belied the Lord, and said, “It is not he, neither shall evil come upon us.” Which of these paths, therefore, is wisdom’s way, we leave our readers to judge.
Fuller, A. G. (1988). The Complete Works of Andrew Fuller: Expositions—Miscellaneous. (J. Belcher, Ed.) (Vol. 3, pp. 802–805). Harrisonburg, VA: Sprinkle Publications.