Saviour of All Fellowship
Dear Friends in faith,
I have recently read an article opposing universal salvation in Bibliotheca
Sacra, the journal of Dallas Theological Seminary. This was part
of the W.H. Griffith Thomas Memorial Lectures for 1972, given by James I. Packer, printed in the January-March 1973 issue of the journal, and concerning Colossians 1:20 Packer said that it admitted of another explanation more germane to the context.
Now I would have supposed that Professor Packer would have instructed the seminary students on the germane explanation for this important passage of Scripture. However, all he said was see the commentaries.
Well, this is what we have been doing. We have looked at comments by F. F. Bruce, Peter T. OBrian, H. A. Ironside and others. Almost every commentator admits that this verse speaks of the widest possible reconciliation, though indeed they often attempt to restrict what they see the context demands, by adding qualifications of their own. Hence F. F. Bruce says that reconciliation means pacification when applied to the most stubborn of enemies, even though the word reconciliation does not have that sense in the context (v.22) or anywhere else in the Scriptures or even in Greek literature. And H. A. Ironside notes that rebels remain in spite of the fact that peace has been made, as though that were germane to this passage which speaks of (to use Dr. Ironsides words) the far-reaching results of Christ work.
Mike Wine writes, Many evangelicals have seemed to follow (Col.1:20) to a logical and accurate conclusion only to add a qualifier at the end . . . .In the recent EVANGELICAL DICTIONARY OF THEOLOGY, edited by Walter Elwell, there is an article on all. In the text there is a reference to Col.1:20: The totality of creation is to experience reconciliation through his blood. A few sentences later after an additional reference to Philippians 2:5-11 the article states: Such material is not to sustain a universalism but to declare the totality of the Lordship of Christ and the inclusiveness of the call of faith (p.33).
Without attempting to take them up chronologically let me quote a few of the commentators explanations of Colossians 1:20. I will label their comments supporting universal reconciliation (A) and any denial of that conclusion as (B). I will leave it to the reader to decide which (if any) comment is a germane explanation of the passage.
Heinrich August Wilhelm Meyer: CRITICAL AND EXEGETICAL HAND-BOOK TO COLOSSIANS (New York, 1885): The only correct sense therefore is, that the entire universe has been reconciled with God through Christ (p.240). (A)
Later he writes, But through the Parousia the reconciliation of the whole which has been effected in Christ will reach its consummation, when the unbelieving portion of mankind will be separated and consigned to Gehenna, the whole creation . . .will be transformed into its original perfection, and the new heaven and the new earth will be constituted as the dwelling of (the righteous) . . . (p.241). (B)
John Eadie: COMMENTARY ON THE EPISTLE OF PAUL TO THE COLOSSIANS (Grand Rapids, 1957 reprint): The phrase (the all) in this verse, must be identical in meaning with (the all) in the 16th verse . . . . The apostle seems thus to refer to the universespecially the intelligent universe (p.73). (A)
On the other hand, it is going beyond the record to base upon the words the dogma of universal restoration. Evil spirits, and finally impenitent men are left in unrelieved gloom . . . (p.74). (B)
W. H. Griffith Thomas: STUDIES IN COLOSSIANS AND PHILEMON (Grand Rapids, 1973): When it is said that Christ reconciles all things, it seems to mean that in Him there will be no discord of any sort, for both reconciliation and peace come through the blood of his cross . . . . Thus the Creator has become the Savior. The Son of God is manifested in redemption; and His mediatorial function in the Church follows from His role in creation. It was the great contention of Athanasius that the author of creation must of necessity be the Redeemer, and so His relation is parallel in both spheres . . . (p.55). (A)
It is not, however, that universal reconciliation means universal salvation, because we know that, while the work of Christ is sufficient for all, it is efficient only for those who actually accept it. It is indeed Gods purpose to save all men, but not all of them will come to Him for life. He impels, but never compels (p.55). (B)
Perhaps this is enough for now. It seems clear to me that the commentaries do themselves admit of explanations other than a real, universal reconciliation. But they do not show that the passage itself admits of any other explanation.
Returning again to J. I. Packers lecture, I am aware that his real objection to the teaching of universal reconciliation is not that he (or the commentators) cannot find it supported by the Scriptures, but that if it is so, then present decision is no longer really decisive, and the urgency of evangelism is taken away. The irony of all this to me is that Dr. Packer has published a book entitled EVANGELISM & THE SOVEREIGNTY OF GOD (Inter Varsity Press, Downers Grove IL, 1961) in which he struggles to show that belief in the sovereignty of God does not take away the urgency of evangelism. He points out that it is only false thinking that leads believers to oppose the truth of Gods sovereignty to the truth of the need to evangelize. Indeed. Let us also not oppose such a passage as 1Timothy 4:10 to 2Timothy 4:5, or even Colossians 1:20 to Colossians 3:16.
Let me conclude this part of this letter with some additional reflections from Mike Wines letter. When I first began to seriously investigate this theme several years ago I was seeking to vindicate the orthodox position. Instead I was astonished and yes, flabergasted by the weak exegesis and non-sequiter thinking of evangelical leaders. The seeming inability to think in a clear and syllogistical fashion discredits many so-called scholarly conclusions. The irony of this situation is that I did and many times still do find myself just as blind to some basic truths of scripture through a darkened mind.
That last remark certainly shows a commendable honesty. It is only by Gods grace that we can believe that all will someday appreciate the reconciliation established through the blood of Christs cross. Clearly this grace has not been granted to all our brethren, but this too will come in time.
A recently retired university professor, Dr. William S. Penn, Jr., writes, To some of us less learned in the Scriptures, these scholarly disagreements are close to being incomprehensible in the light of what the plain words of the Scriptures till us. Another friend confesses, I do lack patience and sometimes when things sound so clear to me, I become a little irked if I think people are not sincere in their questionings . . . (Wilbur Smith). Believe me, I know just how they feel, especially now having just gone through my pile of commentaries on Colossians to find something germane on 1:20. Some lose sight entirely of the fact that Paul is dealing here with an accomplishment of the cross of Christ. (Several commentators are clearly embarrassed by the words the blood of His cross, and attempt to dismiss it as a minor point.)
Yet I find that the scholars can often help us by focusing on questions and problems that we easily overlook. Not all the light of Colossians 1:20 is expressed in plain words. And although our critics are not always sincere, I find that many of them often are very sincere in their desire to be faithful to our Lord.
So although Colossians 1:20 clearly speaks of a reconciliation of the all through the blood of the cross of Gods beloved Son, it also speaks of this in relation to the complement (the pleroma), in relation to celestial beings as well as those on the earth, and indeed the very sense of the words the all is not entirely obvious even when it is paralleled with verse 16. These are all matters which the scholars discuss, sometimes in exhaustive detail. We do well to consider them also, but in doing so we do not want to lose sight (as some commentators have done) of the emphasis here in the glories of Christ and the significance of His cross. And in no way should our consideration of these matters distract us from the clear meaning of the passage.
In our previous newsletter we have brought up the matter of the meaning of the words in the heavens in this verse, and I am sure we have much to learn on this point. Now I would like to bring up a matter referred to above, which is often debated by the scholars and the laymen as well. This is: what exactly is meant by the all. The King James Version adds the word things as though to say (I suppose) that every item in the universe, animate and inanimate, is in view. This seems proper when the subject is creation as in verses 16 and 17, but is it appropriate (or even understandable) when the subject is reconciliation?
Years ago the limitarian would say to the universalist, You make the reconciliation to refer to only bad angels and sinners, so you make the words the all actually refer to different things in verse 16 and 20! Today, we are more likely to hear it said that both verses refer to all things in general, in order to arrive at the sense of an objective reconciliation which may not ever be appreciated subjectively by every individual.
My friend Tony Nungesser has been discussing this matter with me, and he suggests that Paul meant all intelligent creatures when he used the words the all in these verses. The examples Paul gives in verse 16 (thrones, lordships, sovereignties, authorities) are certainly intelligent beings (designated by their offices). Tony observes, Paul did not say: for in Him is all created, the heavens and the earth and all that is in them, but limited it to that in the heavens and that on the earth. The idea of rule and that of reconciliation are certainly to be related to intelligent beings. The all which is for Him (verse 17) seems likely to refer to responsive creatures, and throughout the context human beings as well as celestial authorities are obviously in view. While all things, both animate and inanimate are part of creation, it may well be that Paul had in view only intelligent creatures when he used the words the all both in verse 16 and in verse 20.
In any case, the attempt to define the universal reconciliation of verse 20 in terms of cosmic peace while still allowing for everlasting suffering for a large portion of conscious creation does no justice to this passage. Any reconciliation of the all will have to include every human being and every heavenly creature who has been estranged from God, whatever and whoever else may be in view.
Anthony J. Borrello of Scriptural Research Studies has published several pamphlets of interest, including one entitled, Sooner of Later, God: All in All. I do not have a supply of these myself. This pamphlet concludes, God will not allow any to be lost. He is not a fiend just waiting for the first chance to destroy. He is a loving Creator, working out His purpose for the universe, Who desires love from all, so that He can, and will be All in all.
While at the Baldwin (Michigan) Fellowship, August 2-4 (Grace and Truth Chapel, Box 84, Baldwin MI 49304), I was happy to be presented with a copy of a new book entitled THE PURPOSE OF GODS WILL, by Brother Guy Marks. I have a great deal of respect for Brother Marks and thank God for enlightenment I have received through the years because of his ministry. Let me quote briefly from this book:
We notice (in 1 Tim.2:1-7) first how God wills that all mankind be saved and come into a realization of the truth. In the case of Israels deliverance according to Exodus chapter 12, it was Gods will that Israel be saved; so a sacrifice was offered for Israel. Here in 1 Timothy 2:1-7, it is Gods will that all mankind be saved, so a sacrifice, or a corresponding ransom, is given for all. Since the passover lamb was sufficient for Israels deliverance, thus also the sacrifice of Christ as a correspondent ransom for all is likewise sufficient for the deliverance of all mankind. Since there was no failure in Israels deliverance, so also there will be no failure in the deliverance of all mankind . . . .
Yours in Him,
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