These are the things that we do know:
(a) the fact of human sin which can pervert even the most well-intended theology of grace into a means of self-justification;
(b) the fact of human responsibility which may not be diminished by any system of thought, however much it may emphasize divine grace;
(c) the fact of the divine promise – “everyone who calls upon the Name of the Lord will be saved” (Romans 10:13) – which must be central to the Christian proclamation concerning eternal salvation.
A proper understanding of Christian proclamation is closely related to the avoidance of spiritual presumption. Speculation concerning the number of the saved, regardless of the direction it follows, can lead to spiritual presumption.
(i) “A priori” universalism may lead to spiritual presumption because it is inclined to take human responsibility with insufficient seriousness.
(ii) Eschatological dualism may lead to spiritual presumption, should the “saved” forget that they themselves have received mercy. Thus, the antithesis between good and evil becomes a proud and legalistic antithesis that isolates the “saved” from the world, rather than an antithesis which intensifies the call to witness to God’s mercy. The Gospel does not give the “saved” to regard themselves as superior to those adjudged to be lost. The Gospel is very different from the kind of moralism by which the “saved” tend to regard themselves as not so sinful that they deserve to be lost. The “saved” must never forget the Biblical warning, – “you have no excuse, O man, whoever you are, when you judge another?” (Romans 2:1).
The possibility of spiritual presumption need not, by itself, lead to the rejection of a particular positions. It is important, therefore, to understand that we should not reject any of these eschatological interpretations simply because of the danger of spiritual presumption. Of both of these eschatological interpretations, we ask the question, “Does this way of answering the question, ‘How many will be saved?’ provide us with an accurate echo of Christ’s response to this question?”
G C Berkouwer emphasizes that “Scripture deals with the future only in the context of preaching, appeal and demand for response” (The Return of Christ, p. 397). Questions regarding the eschaton are to be asked, not with a view to theological system-building but with a view to emphasizing the personal response of faith for which the Gospel calls.
To the question, “Lord, will those who are saved be few?”, Jesus gave the challenging answer, “Strive to enter by the narrow door” (Luke 13:23-24). To the question, “Who then can be saved?, Jesus gave the encouraging answer, “With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible” (Mark 10:26-27).
When we read the words of Luke 13:23 – “Strive to enter by the narrow door”, we should also note the second half of this verse – “for many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able.” In this second half of the verse, Jesus clearly indicates that there will be the lost as well as the saved. We emphasize the exhortation, as a serious call to faith in Christ, without speculating concerning a withdrawal of the threat of judgment. We must take care when we speak of these things. We dare not presume to make our own pronouncements concerning what God will or will not do. Our responsibility is to be faithful and fearless in preaching the warning of the Gospel as well as the promise of the Gospel.
What are we to say about the possibility that God, in the freedom of His grace, might choose to withdraw the threat of judgment from all people?
(a) We should not suggest that we expect this to happen. There are too many warnings in God’s Word for us to take for granted the salvation of all.
(b) We should not complain if God chooses to save all. There are suggestions, in Scripture, that this may happen. If it does, we rejoice! For now, let’s be faithful in the preaching of the Gospel. We preach the words, “Everyone who calls upon the Name of the Lord” (Romans 10:13) without reducing this statement to “Everyone will be saved.” We proclaim the message, “By grace you have been saved” without forgetting to add the words “through faith” (Ephesians 2:8).
Where does this leave us in relation to the question of universalism?
He highlights both the attraction of universalism – “a fine emphasis on God’s love and sovereignty” – as well as the reason why many feel that they cannot commit themselves to a universalist view – “a serious distortion of biblical teaching.”
People will disagree over the interpretation of the Bible verses which feature in discussions concerning universalism. Neither side will convince the other side. I think that it is important, for both sides, to recognize that universalism has both strengths and weaknesses.
* Those who teach universal salvation should recognize that, for all the “advantages” of question, we must still ask the question, “Does universalism rightly represent all that the Scriptures have to say concerning our eternal destiny?”
However we may answer this question, we must respect those who take a different point of view from ourselves.
When different Scriptures appear to be pulling us in different directions, we should take care not to go beyond what the Scriptures actually say. When we start making, “There will be …. ” statements, we may be claiming to know more than we really do know. When we are sounding out the warning, “How shall we escape if we neglect so great salvation?” (Hebrews 2:3), we are not claiming that we know everything about what’s going to happen in the future. Our objective is to proclaim “so great salvation.” We encourage our hearers to make sure that they don’t miss out on “so great salvation.” In John 3:16, “eternal life” is contrasted with “perishing.” John 3:18 tells us that those who don’t believe in Jesus Christ are “condemned already. John 3:36 tells us that “the wrath of God rests on” them. There is ample encouragement, in the preaching of Jesus, to make sure that the Gospel warning remains a part of our preaching which has as its great goal the bringing of sinners to the Saviour – “Strive to enter by the narrow door.”