In the last number I reproduced William Barclay’s testimony as to why he believed in Universalism. I referred to his courage in respect of his openness. After all, he was a Professor of Divinity in Glasgow University. Some men hold to Universalism and keep it close to their chest, knowing the price they would have to pay in advertising their beliefs. Others have preferred to live with truth as they see it, regardless of the brick-bats and abuse.
Let me quote from pp.95-96 of Barclay’s autobiography. “If teaching had brought its joys, it has brought its sorrows as well. I never knew what hatred was until I began to teach. . . The hatred of theologians is a reality. . . When I began to teach, and particularly when I began to write, and when I began to be known outside my own town, attacks began and still go on. I have been called a child of the devil, a destroyer of the faith, a traitor to Jesus Christ. I have been informed that I am destined for hell, and that there are those who are praying that I may be brought to see the error of my ways. Those who disapprove of me so strongly are those who are commonly called fundamentalists or conservatives.”
But the most hurtful incident of all occurred under the following circumstances. Let me quote from pp.45-46. “The BBC asked me to do a week’s ‘ten to eight’ in the morning talks on radio. . . . on the modern approach to the miracles of Jesus. . . I spoke of the stilling of the storm on the Lake of Galilee . . . the lesson of the story is that in any storm of life, there is in the presence of Jesus confidence and calm, that the storms Jesus stills are in the hearts of men. . . .On the last day of the week, instead of a talk, I was interviewed by David Winter. He asked me how I had come to this way of looking at things. I told him the truth. I told him that some years ago our 21 year-old daughter and the lad to whom she would some day have been married were both drowned in a yachting accident. I said that God did not stop that accident at sea, but he did still the storm in my own heart, so that somehow my wife and I came through that terrible time still on our own two feet. The letters after the broadcast began to come in, and there came an anonymous letter from Northern Ireland: ‘Dear Dr Barclay, I know now why God killed your daughter; it was to save her from being corrupted by your heresies.’ I know now why God killed your daughter. That – the accidental destruction of the beautiful and the good – the will of God. If I had had that writer’s address, I would have written back, not in anger – the inevitable blaze of anger was over in a flash – but in pity, and I would have said to him, as John Wesley said to someone: ‘Your God is my devil.’ The day my daughter was lost at sea there was sorrow in the heart of God.”
In earlier years the same cruel attacks were felt by Hannah Hurnard, whose fame had spread far and wide after writing “Hind’s Feet in High Places.” In her later years she had been almost forced into believing that God had, in Christ, dealt with the sins of the whole world, and that no one would ultimately be lost for ever. All her erstwhile admirers began to turn against her. Her two biographers, (one in Britain, the other in the USA) spoke of her ‘departure from orthodoxy’, and how sad this was after her promising start. Her Universalism was the unacceptable face on her trust in God. Although ‘Hind’s Feet’ still flows freely from Publishers, her later books which spoke of her reasons for God’s Total Victory are soft-pedalled, and difficult to find. The evangelical world treated her Universalism as a cancer, and were quite vocal in their abhorrence of it. Their attitude was more vindictive than towards those who denied the Trinity, and one is amazed at the sheer venom that has been generated.
But in the early days of the Christian Church the same attitude prevailed towards that great scholar and teacher Origen, whose Alexandrian School was one of the most influential of all Christian centres in the Roman world. It didn’t happen in his lifetime, but eventually the Roman church outlawed his teachings, and to this day one finds the very mention of his name causing a narrowing of the eyes amongst conservative evangelicals, many of whom have never even read his works.
It would be true to say that I personally find certain aspects of the teaching of Barclay, Hurnard, and Origen unacceptable. But that is not the point. My present concern is the attitude problem. Why does this overwhelming intensity of violent passion rise in the human breast against others who clearly love the Lord Jesus with a whole heart? Why does the Devil inject this vitriolic hatred into men’s minds? Why do men listen to that serpentine whisper? This is a subject in its own right, and needs to be addressed further.
I would like to quote from one of Hannah Hurnard’s books, entitled “Kingdom of Love.” Hannah herself had been plagued with an attitude of almost scornful derision towards others who departed from ‘sound doctrine’, and in the book she documents how the Lord broke her of this tendency. In the last chapter of the book she has this little piece to offer. “There is an interesting account of one of God’s servants listening at a theological college to a professor who was discrediting the Virgin Birth in one of his lectures, and yet the professor himself was a sincere and earnest follower of the Lord Jesus, though intellectually he could not accept that particular doctrine. As he listened, this servant of God grew more and more troubled and wretched until he could bear it no longer, and, lifting his heart to the Lord, he exclaimed inwardly, ‘Lord, what is the truth? What am I to believe? And how can one who professes to love and serve you deny the Virgin Birth?’ And gently and clearly, it seemed to him, the Lord gave an answer, which for him was the perfect answer. He said, ‘I was born of a virgin, but I accept those who don’t see it.'” Hannah’s comment on this – “Some glad day we shall all see and understand a great deal of truth to which we are now blind, and then we shall be very thankful indeed that the Lord did not wait, nor refuse to accept us, until we could and would understand all that he meant us to know about him.”
To sum up: it seems that as believers we are to focus our eyes on men’s hearts rather than their minds, to know whether they are truly of the Little Flock. But lest one should think that ‘anything goes’, that it doesn’t matter what we believe, we would quote Jude’s statement in verse 3, that we “should earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered to the saints.” And so, as far as we are able, with whatever light the Holy Spirit has imparted to us, we will continue to write for edification and caution, remembering that God has accepted all those whose hearts are right, whether they speak our theological language or not. Likewise, God has accepted us, regardless of all our own shortcomings. His mercy is everlasting.