Will Everyone Be Saved?
April 22nd, 1987 @ 7:30 PM
WILL EVERYONE BE SAVED?
Dr. W. A. Criswell
4-22-87 7:30 p.m.
There is not a more fundamental message that I have ever prepared or will ever share than the one that is delivered tonight. It is entitled Will Everyone Be Saved? And it is an exposition of the twelfth verse of the fourth chapter of the Book of Acts: “Neither is their salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved” [Acts 4:12]. The foundation of the gospel message is this: that there is only one way to be saved. But there are initial problems that immediately are confronted when this message is delivered.
Here is one. A recent widow will ask, “What of my husband? He was not a Christian. He was not a member of the family of God. He was not a communicant in the church. But he was a good man. He was kind and generous. Will my husband spend eternity away from God in hopeless darkness because he did not accept Christ as his Savior?” Or again, a young scholar will ask, “What of Mahatma Gandhi, one of the most Christlike men who ever lived? Will he be forever damned and away, shut out from God because he was a Hindu and not a Christian?” A third, “What of the people in the world who have never heard of the gospel of Christ, or the name of Jesus?” Three fourths of the people who have lived in this earth since the days of Christ have never heard the name of our Lord. Now, it is questions confronted like this that give birth to the doctrine of universalism; namely, that all eventually will be saved. And today, there is a growing openness in acceptance of that doctrine—that somehow, some way, everybody is going to heaven. Everybody is going to be saved.
This doctrine of universalism was presented as a system by John Murray of Gloucester, Maine, who lived from 1741 to 1815; he was the founder of the Universalist denomination. He was followed by Hosea Ballou, son of a Baptist preacher. He lived from 1771 to 1852, and he was founder of the Unitarian denomination. And in 1961, the Universalist denomination and the Unitarian denomination joined forces and they are one communion today. Now, what of Universalism and what of the doctrine that everyone will be saved—which is espoused by the Unitarian/ Universalist communion?
Number one: plainly God’s Word and way avow that we are saved only on the condition of our repentance and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ [Acts 4:12]. There is no other way. That is the Word of God. Number two: Scripture is emphatic and clear concerning the estate of those who do not accept the atoning grace of our blessed Lord. One, they are described as separated from God; twice the Lord Jesus says, “Depart from Me” [Matthew 7:23, 25:41]. Number two: 2 Thessalonians 1:8-9, those who know not God, who obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ, shall be “punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord.” Again, Gehenna, “hell fire”—named for the garbage that was dumped in the Valley of Hinnom outside of Jerusalem, where the fires burn and the worms work [Mark 9:44-48]. That awful word is used twelve times in the New Testament to describe the estate of those who refuse the mercy of Christ—and eleven of those twelve times comes from the lips of our blessed Savior. Again, they are described as in darkness, impenetrable darkness [Matthew 8:12]. Again, they are described as being consigned to that place—Gehenna, “where the worm never dies” [Mark 9:44, 48. Again, they are described as living in trouble and distress and torment and agony [Luke 16:23-24]. And again, they are described as being in shame and everlasting contempt [Daniel 12:2].
They were described as living in futility and purposelessness. For example, in Mark 8:36: “What shall it profit a man, if he gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?” They are, according to the Word of God, under the wrath of God; for example, John 3:36. “He that believeth is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God” [John 3:18]. And he is outside the pale of God’s mercy and is under the wrath of the Lord God Himself. And that expression “the wrath of God” [John 3:36], is used more than six hundred times in the Scriptures. They are spoken of as being guilty of an unpardonable sin [Matthew 12:31-32; Mark 3:28-30]. The terrible truth: the soul that rebels against God and chooses to remain unrepentant will separate himself from the kingdom of God forever and ever and ever.
Now the question is raised, “Would the love of God allow any soul to be damned?” Could God in His grace and goodness see a humanity thus consigned to eternal torment and damnation? The answer is plain. Love not accompanied by righteousness is a mere sentimental display. Sentimentality and love are altogether two different things. Let me describe that poignantly. Here is a man with a deadly disease. Is it a part of love to tell him that nothing is wrong, that everything is all right, when you know he has a horrible and terrible disease? I think of this thing we are going to listen to next Wednesday night from the lips and the dedicated study of one of our finest physicians—“AIDS, a Judgment of Almighty God.” If a man is guilty of that venereal judgment, is it an act of love to tell him there is nothing wrong? That is the damnation of sin. Sin is a horrible wrong against God and against the sinner, and faces an inevitable judgment.
Now we are going to talk about universalism—Unitarianism—the doctrine that everybody is going to be saved. First, the doctrine minimizes the nature of sin. If sin is nothing, then the atonement of Christ that could wash away our sins is nothing. It erodes the significance of the atonement of our Lord. In the Universalist denomination, after the atonement was downgraded, the deity of Christ was jettisoned, and the Lord appears as just another good man who preaches a moralistic doctrine. But if sin is infinitely wrong against God, it is not merely a momentary mischievousness. But if it is a violation of the character of God, then God’s response must be infinitely meaningful. And that infinite response is found in the death of Christ [2 Corinthians 5:21]. The meaning and message of the atonement finds its ultimate in the tragedy of a lost soul, the terrible wrong of sin [Romans 3:23]. If universalism is true, if everyone is going to be saved, then one of two things is also true. Number one; there is salvation outside of the preaching of the gospel; or two, then there must be a way of salvation beyond the grave.
Let us look at this just for a second. If there is a salvation outside of the preaching of the gospel, then it makes a mockery of the death of our Lord. Christ’s atoning sacrificial crucifixion was not necessary. There is some other way that a man can be saved, so there is no need for the incarnation, there is no need for the cross, there is no need for the atonement. And that, second, if there is some other way for a man to be saved beyond the grave—then the urgency of the Bible is a joke. It is a mockery. You don’t have to repent. You don’t have to turn. You don’t have to accept the Lord. After you die, there will be plenty of opportunity then and beyond to be saved. Both propositions make evangelistic and missionary zeal almost a matter of choice. It erodes it. The effect is seen in the Unitarian denomination itself. I could not imagine missionary zeal poured forth in love and grace for a lost world by the Universalist denomination. Why would they be a missionary? Why would they be evangelistic? Why would they try to win the lost when the lost are going to be saved anyway? A gospel that trades upon a diminished view of sin, and on a modified notion of the divine righteousness, and on a restructured atonement has lost its meaning to a lost world. It is no gospel at all.
The truth of the revelation of the reality of hell brings tears to our eyes, and compassion for the lost, and a desire to witness and win the doomed and the damned. I turn to the Book of Romans, and I listen to the pathetic appeal of a brokenhearted apostle Paul, “I say the truth in Christ, I lie not, my conscience also bearing me witness in the Holy Ghost, that I have great heaviness and continual sorrow in my heart. For I could wish that myself were damned,” that my soul was eternally lost “from Christ for my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh” [Romans 9:1-3]. Now he begins the next chapter, chapter 10, in the same vein, “Brethren, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for my people [Israel] is, that they might be saved” [Romans 10:1]. That arises from the doctrinal truth that they are lost without Christ [John 3:36]. So Paul poured forth his heart in intercession and in appeal and in tears and supplication for his people because they were lost. People are of surpassing worth to God. They bear the divine image [Genesis 1:27] and God’s everlasting love is demonstrated to us in the atoning suffering and death of our wonderful and precious Savior [Romans 5:8; 1 John 4:10].
May I—may I close as I began? If men are going to be eventually saved, there is no urgency in preaching the gospel, none at all. But if men are lost outside of the saving grace of our blessed Savior [2 Timothy 1:10; Titus 2:11], then Lord, help me to preach. Help me to pray. Help me to visit. Help me to win. Help me to appeal. Help me to invite. God bless us as we bear the only message of hope to men and women who are lost outside of our dear Lord [Acts 4:12].
Now Denny, let’s sing us a song, and while we sing that song, somebody you give your heart to Jesus our blessed Lord [Romans 10:9-13]. A family you to come into the fellowship of our precious church or to answer a call of God in your heart. When we sing the appeal, welcome, welcome while we stand and while we sing.