The Evangelical Universalist Forum

Alexander Mack on Universal Restoration

Alexander Mack was the founder of the German Baptist Brethren, a Pietist/Anabaptist group similar to the Mennonites. They began as a clandestine Bible study circle, and derived their foundational beliefs via consensus. Many of my ancestors were Brethren, and I have read Mack’s writings before, but I either missed, or glossed over, the explicit Universalism contained therein.

So, why post a fuller excerpt from Mack’s work that has already been passed around ad infinium? Because it is not enough to demonstrate that he was a Universalist; indeed, his belief in Universal Restoration was firmly rooted in, and ultimately inseparable from, the context of a broader Evangelical theology.

Mack, Alexander, Rights and Ordinances; trans. Donald F. Durnbaugh, European Origins of the Brethren, pp. 398-400.

[On Punishment of Unbelievers]. Son: If, then, the true and believing soul shall enjoy such great and, indeed, inexpressible blessedness, what will happen to the unbelievers who were not obedient to the commandments of the Lord Jesus, and did not love Him and His Kingdom but rather the world and its glories, and who died in sin?

Father: Just as the glories of the believers will be inexpressible, the torment of the condemned and unbelievers will be equally inexpressible. The Scriptures say: “Behold, he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him, every one who pierced him; and all tribes of the earth will wail on account of him” (Revelation 1:7). They will cry to the mountains and hills in sheer fear and terror: “Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who is seated on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb” (Revelation 6:16). That will no longer help them, for they will have to listen as Christ says: “Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels…” (Matthew 25:41). “If any one worships the beast and its image… he shall be tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb. And the smoke of their torment goes up for ever and ever; and they have no rest, day or night…” (Revelation 14:9, 10, 11).

If anyone’s name is not found in the Book of Life, he will be thrown into the lake of fire, where the worm does not die and the fire will not be quenched (Revelation 20:15; Mark 9:48; Isaiah 66:24). They will be an abomination to all flesh. In all of their torment, the pain will be increased the more when they realize how they frivolously forfeited through folly the great blessedness and glories which they now see in the children of God, when they still lived in the time of grace. They did not respect them then, but heedlessly spent the time in every sin. Then the righteous will stand with great gladness opposite those who had so persecuted them and rejected their work (their teaching and faith in Jesus Christ). Then the damned will see this and stand in dreadful awe of such blessedness, and will say to one another with penitence, and sigh with anguish of the spirit: “This is the man we fools once laughed at… We thought his life was madness… How did he come to be reckoned among the sons of God, and why is his lot among the saints ? Then we must have wandered from the true way… What good did our arrogance do us? And what have wealth and ostentation done for us?” (Wisdom of Solomon 5:1, 4-8).

They will ponder all of these things – how they spent their lives in sin, how they did not love God as the highest good, and lost through this folly all this great blessedness. Then they will experience torment, grief, and misery which no tongue can express, for they are banished from the presence of God and all the saints.

[On Universal Restoration]. Son: These things are most horrible to hear. Do tell me, are these torments and tortures to last for eternity, without end?

Father: According to the testimony of the Holy Scriptures, “the smoke of their torment goes up for ever and ever” (Revelation 14:11). However, that it should last for eternity is not supported by Holy Scripture. It is not necessary to talk much about it or speculate about it. The joyous blessedness is definitely forfeited by their folly. Even if at some time the torment should end after long eternities, they will never attain that which the believers have achieved in the time of grace through Jesus Christ if they obey Him.

Many who have heard about universal restoration commit the great folly not to deny themselves completely but rather hope for the restoration. This hope will most certainly come to naught when they enter the torment, and can see no end to it. Their pitiful comfort will vanish like smoke. Therefore, it is much better to practice this simple truth that one should try to become worthy in the time of grace to escape the wrath of God and the torments of hell, rather than deliberate how or when it would be possible to escape from it again. It is as if a thief were to console himself like this: “Oh, even if I am seized because of the theft, my punishment will have its end.” Would not that be a miserable consolation!

Therefore, that is a much better and more blessed gospel which teaches how to escape the wrath of God than the gospel which teaches that eternal punishment has an end. Even though this is true, it should not be preached as a gospel to the godless. Unfortunately, in this day, everything is completely distorted by the great power of imagination of those people who teach and write books about restoration.

Mack, Alexander, Rights and Ordinances; trans. H. R. Holsinger, History of the Tunkers and the Brethren Church, pp. 113-115.

[Of Everlasting Torment]. In the same manner that the glory of the faithful shall be inexpressible, so will be the misery of unbelievers. The Scripture expressly says of the Son of God: “Behold, He cometh with clouds; and every eye shall see Him, and they also which pierced Him; and all kindreds of the earth shall wail because of Him. Even so, Amen.” Rev. 1:7. And out of great fear they shall say “to the mountains and rocks. Fall on us and hide us from the face of Him that sitteth on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb.” Rev. 6:16. But all this will profit them nothing, for Christ will say unto them, “Depart from Me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels.” Matt. 25:41. For they who “worship the beast and his image” “shall be tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb; and the smoke of their torment ascendeth up forever and ever.” Rev. 14:10, 11.

“And whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire,” where “their worm shall not die, neither shall their fire be quenched.” Rev. 20:15; Isa. 66:24. Yes, they will be abhorring to all flesh, and their punishment will be still more aggravated when they recollect that they have forfeited this glorious life which they now behold in the children of God, for which they have had so little respect.

Moreover, when the righteous shall be seen with great cheerfulness by those who have given them such anxiety, and rejected their doctrine and faith in Jesus, then will the damned fall into a terrible dismay respecting such blessings; in sorrow will they converse with each other, and sigh with anxiety of spirit: This is he whom we fools had treated as an outcast and his conduct as insane. Now he is counted among the children of God; and his inheritance is among the saints. Therefore, have we missed the ways of righteousness. What profit do we now reap from our pomp? Of what avail now are our riches and pride? When they will now seriously reflect upon all their sinful deeds committed in this world, without the least love of God as the greatest good, and consider their forfeiture of such enjoyments, a torture and misery will ensue in them, which will be inexpressible; for they are banished from the presence of the Lord and all His saints.

According to the testimony of Scripture, it appears that “the smoke of their torment” will ascend “up forever and ever.” Rev. 14:11. But that it is to be without any termination the word does not teach, which, however, is no consolation to the believer, and not worthy of much inquiry or investigation, for the wicked will have lost so much of the heavenly enjoyment that even if there should be a final termination of their punishment, after a long eternity, they could never enjoy that which the faithful will inherit through obedience to Christ.

It is a great error, and will prove disastrous to many, who, having heard of a final restoration, will trust to it for their redemption, and neglect the only means of salvation, entire consecration to the service of Christ. When they once enter the place of torment, such hope will vanish like a vapor, even in an apparent eternity. It is much wiser, therefore, to secure the hope of salvation in the time and by God’s appointed means of grace, and thus escape the wrath of God and the torments of hell, than to waste time in devising means of final escape. As if a thief were to console himself with the thought. Ah, well, if I should be apprehended and convicted, my sentence would expire sometime! Would not that be poor comfort?

Therefore the gospel which teaches how to escape the wrath of God, is much safer and better than the gospel which teaches that external punishment will finally cease, which, though a truth, is however not at all the proper gospel to be preached to the ungodly.

While I think he may have some good points in there, I think he misses it on a number of levels. One of the most glaring of which is the notion that the gospel is about avoiding God’s wrath, and that grace has a time limit.

But it’s easy to see how one could miss the UR in there!

I find Chris Date’s annihilationistic views far more convincing.
For him, the punishment is eternal in that the wicked will NEVER be restored.

But of course, the major flaw there is that the word “eternal” really doesn’t mean endless.