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A Treatise on Atonement, by Hosea Ballou

Hosea Ballou's 1805 work on Universalist theology, edited by Rev. Dan Harper.
Table of Contents.
Return to chapter 7.
Continue to chapter 9: The Most Frequent Objections Answered.


In this last inquiry, I must be a little more lengthy than in either of the former, but I hope not to be too tedious. What I shall contend for, as the consequences of atonement, is the universal holiness and happiness of mankind, in the final issue of the Redeemer's process. In doing this, I will --

First. Make a fair statement of the doctrine of universal salvation, as I understand it.

Secondly. Take notice of the most frequent objections stated against the doctrine by various denominations.

Lastly. Give my reasons for believing in my general proposition from scripture and reason.

Chapter 8. Salvation Must Be Universal

Before we proceed to notice the direct proofs of the doctrine of the final holiness and happiness of all men, we shall notice some opposing doctrines and arguments, and endeavour to obviate them by scripture and reason.

The first that we notice is found in a proposition frequently stated by modern divines thus, "God, in the great and infinite plan of moral government, consults the greatest possible good to the whole system; and in order for the greatest possible happiness to be produced, it was necessary, that some of God's rational creatures should be eternally miserable: Agreeably to which, all men cannot be saved." This is the only ground on which an objection can be stated against universal holiness and happiness, while we admit the existence of an Infinite Supreme.

I cannot go into an examination of any authorities on which the above statement is supposed to stand; for I know of none. All I can do is to examine the statement itself. It is argued, agreeably to this proposition, that the infinite and inconceivable miseries of the wicked in the world to come will enhance the happiness of the glorified in heaven.

Against these statements I argue, if, in order for the greatest possible happiness to exist, the greatest possible misery must also exist, I wish to reverse the subject. Then the proposition would stand thus: In order for the greatest possible evil to exist, the greatest possible good must exist. Then if God, in his universal plan, has produced as much good as was possible, he has also produced as much evil as possible, which renders the statement that he consulted the greatest possible evil as just as that he consulted the greatest possible good. Of course, there is no more propriety in calling him good, than there is in calling him bad!

If it be said I carry this evil, or misery, too far, even beyond my opponent's meaning, I will endeavor to show him according to his own statement that I do not. He says, every degree of misery in hell will produce many degrees of happinesss in heaven; if so, if the wretched be not made as miserable as possible, the blessed cannot be made as happy as possible; if they are not made as happy as possible, they must experience some want; and, of course, some misery themselves. On the other hand, if the wretched be not as miserable as possible, they must have in possession some remaining convenience. Then, neither the greatest possible happiness, nor the greatest possible misery is produced.

Almighty God being put to the necessity of making some of his rational offspring eternally miserable, in order to make the rest forever happy, may be represented by a parent who has ten children; but only provisions enough to preserve the lives of five until he can get more. In this awful dilemma, he sits down to consult the greatest possible good; says to himself, if I divide my provisions equally among my children, all must surely starve to death; but by neglecting five, I can save the lives of the other five; which he finally concludes to do.

But I ask the rational, I petition the reasonable, I request the impartial to guess the feelings of a father on such an occasion! Before him are ten children, all in the image of himself; he sees his own eyes roll in their heads, hears his own voice on their tongues, while his own blood frolics through their veins; how could he make the division? how could he decide on one, for a victim? Would he not rather give his own flesh to be their meat, and his own blood to be their drink, and fervently pray for plenty!

But is the Almighty poor? Has he not enough and to spare? When the prodigal came home, did the father turn away his brother, so that he might have a plenty for him? Is there not fulness enough in God to satisfy the wants of all his creatures? Why the necessity, then, of making some miserable eternally? My opponent will say the blessed are happified in consequence of the misery of the wretched. But what reason can be given for such an idea? How do we look on a person in this world who manifests joy and happiness in the misery of one of his fellow creatures? Do we say, he manifests a godlike disposition? Surely, no. From whence came charity? -- from heaven. If souls in heaven possess it, they cannot be happy in consequence of the misery of any rational being.

Again, if a soul in heaven derives happiness from seeing, say, one-half, or two-thirds, of the human race in misery, would he not yet enjoy more, providing the whole, except himself, were in the same torment? If it be granted that he would, then, in order for a soul to be made as happy as possible, the whole human race, except that one, must be endlessly as miserable as possible! If it be argued that it is not the number or multitudes of individuals who are made miserable that thus constitutes or enhances the happiness of the blessed, but that it is the nature, justice and intense-ness of this misery which is necessary for the above purpose, it makes it very plain that the eternal misery of one would produce as much good as of ten thousand, or more.


We have now got so far, even on our opponent's ground, as to see that there is no need of more than one soul's being endlessly miserable; and it still further appears to me that the misery of one may be dispensed with without departing from what my opponent has acknowledged; and that by letting each individual of the human race for a moment, or any limited time, experience the nature of the misery contended for; and then giving them a memory to retain it fresh in mind forever; this must of necessity produce the effect as well, and without the expense of a single soul. I do not think it would absolutely require omniscient wisdom to concert a better plan than the one I am opposing.

Suppose we alter the circumstance of the father and his ten children: suppose the father has provisions enough for the whole, and his object in the bestowing of it upon them is to cause the greatest possible happiness among his children. Which way would good sense and parental affection choose: either to feed five to the full and starve the rest to death that their dying groans might give the others a better appetite and their food a good relish; or to let them all be hungry enough to relish their food well and all alike partake of it?

I will take notice of a certain passage of Scripture in this place, which some have endeavored to accommodate to the argument which I am disputing. See Rev. xiv. 10-11:

The same shall drink of the wine of the wrath of God, which is poured out without mixture into the cup of his indignation; and 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 ascendeth up forever and ever: and they have no rest day nor night who worship the beast and his image, and whosoever receiveth the mark of his name.

It is not because I am afraid of wounding this beast, or of affronting its rider, that I do not enter into a particular explanation of the passage recited; but because it deserves the labor of more time than I have now to spare. However, the idea of my opponent is easily refuted; and this is as much as the reader ought to expect in this work. The common idea is, that the punishment here spoken of is altogether in eternity, and not in this world of mortality; that it being in the presence of the holy angels, and in the presence of the Lamb, it indicates that it affords pleasure in those heavenly mansions where they dwell.

First, I request the reader to observe that the verbs "ascendeth," "have," "worship," and "receiveth" are all in the same tense, which at least favors the idea that the sulphurous smoke of this torment ascendeth up at the same time that the tormented worship the beast. If the apocalyptical beast be worshipped to an endless eternity, it follows that his worshippers will be tormented as long. Until it is proved that some will worship this beast in another world, or endlessly, it cannot be proved from this passage that any will be tormented in another world, or endlessly. It is said in the text that the worshippers of the beast have no rest day nor night. If it can be proved that day and night are reckoned in another world, or in eternity, my opponent has better ground for his argument than I think he has.

This beast, undoubtedly, is Antichrist; the worshippers of the beast are apostatized Christians of all denominations since the Christian apostacy. They have always been in wars and commotions, and have had no rest; and as for their being tormented, in all their public worship, with fire and brimstone, no argument is necessary to make it obvious.

Another objection, which has often been stated against the salvation of all men, stands in a pretended axiom, namely, "A God all mercy is a God unjust." The force of this pretended axiom as used against the salvation of all men is: if God should do justly by all men, he would be an unmerciful being; or, if he should show mercy to all men, he would be an unjust being. There is nothing self-evident in this axiom that I can see but its own want of propriety; it represents justice and mercy at an eternal variance. According to this axiom, and the argument deducible from it, justice may be compared to a monstrous wolf in pursuit of a number of lambs, and mercy to a shepherd who is obliged to give up a large number of them, to gorge his omnivorous appetite, while he makes off with the rest.


I have already sufficiently refuted the idea of justice requiring the endless misery of the creature; and, until that notion can be supported by Scripture or reason, an objection against the salvation of all men cannot be stated, from the nature of justice. I have also showed that in order for justice to require the endless misery of any moral being, it must of necessity require the endless continuance of sin, than which nothing is more absurd.

Again, it is objected, as many are going out of this world daily in a state of sinfulness and unreconciliation to God, and there being no alteration in the soul for the better after it leaves this natural life, millions must be miserable as long as God exists.

The force of this objection stands on the supposition that there is no alteration for the better after death. Could this supposition be, proved, I grant it would substantiate a formidable and (I think) an unanswerable objection against the final holiness and happiness of all men. I have often heard the objection made, but never heard an evidence brought from Scripture or reason to support the declaration. Divines being sensible of the want of Scripture to support this (their) supposition, have, very liberally, been at the expense of making some; and the notable passage which they have coined and brought into very frequent use is not to be found in the scriptures of the Old or New Testament; but is frequently to be heard from the pulpit, read in many of their writings, and recited by many of their adherents. It is as follows: "As the tree falls, so it lies; as death leaves us, so judgment will find us." I shall not contend about a different explanation of this addition to the Scriptures from the usual one; but will only say, if the thing which my opponents would prove by it be true, namely, that souls cannot be altered for the better after death, all our Christian people must remain eternally as unsanctified as they are in this world of infirmities.

Again, many contend that God deals with mankind as moral agents; that he sets life and death before us, and leaves us to make our own choice, and to fare accordingly. That, as our eternal state depends on what use we make of our agency, millions will prove rebellious, and, therefore, miss of salvation. But I query, if one soul can obtain salvation on the principle of moral agency, why another cannot as well? If it be granted he can, I ask, again, why all men cannot as well as any? If it be still granted, I say, as I have before said, that which can be done may be done; therefore the objection fails. But the objector will say it renders universal salvation uncertain; I answer, no more than it renders universal damnation certain. All may be lost forever as well as one; therefore my opponent's hopes are subject to the same shipwreck to which he would expose mine. I would further inquire, if God deals with man upon a system of moral agency, is it God's revealed will that all men should be saved agreeably to their agency? If it be granted that it is, I further inquire, whether God's will in the moral agency of man will be eternally frustrated? If not, no objection stands against Universalism; but the proposition on which my opponent endeavors to substantiate an objection favors the doctrine as far as it goes.

In my observations on the liberty of will, I have given some of my ideas concerning agency as it is generally understood; but moral agency may be very differently understood by different persons. If by moral agency be meant an ability to love an object or objects which appear agreeable, I have no objections to make ; but if it mean an ability to hate that which appears agreeable and to love that which appears disagreeable, I contend no such agency exists in any being within the compass of our knowledge. It is certainly reasonable to suppose that all the agency possessed by man was given him by his Maker; and that when God gave him this agency it was for a certain purpose, which purpose must finally be every way answered, providing God be infinitely wise. I cannot but think it incorrect to suppose that God ever gave any creature agency to perform what he never intended should be done. Then, if any soul be made endlessly miserable by its agency, it follows that God gave that soul this agency for that unhappy purpose; and if any be saved by their agency, God gave them their agency for that blessed end. If any wish to make a different use of agency, let them state fairly that God gave man an agency intending man's eternal salvation thereby; but man makes a different use of his agency from what God intended, whereby the gracious designs of Deity are forever lost!

If my opponent will not fix his agency on some of the above noted principles as it respects the issue of the argument, I am sure he can do nothing with it to any effect. If agency be stated on the principle of God's intending the creature's salvation by it, and it be granted that his will in the affair will be done, it is an acknowledgment of the doctrine for which I contend. But if it be stated that although God gave man his agency, for the glorious purpose of his endless felicity, yet his purpose may fail. Could this statement be proved true, it would not only refute universal salvation, but everything else as being a divine system on which we may, with any confidence, depend.

Continue to chapter 9: The Most Frequent Objections Answered.
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