The doctrine of limited atonement (the L in TULIP) states that Christ’s work on the Cross was effectual only for the elect, who in God’s sovereign will were chosen out of the mass of humanity for salvation. This is represented by the infralapsarian and supralapsarian order of decrees. The sublapsarian sequence of decrees broadens the scope of what was accomplished by Jesus Christ through His death. The order of divine decrees reads:
- Creation of human beings
- Permit the Fall
- Provide salvation sufficient for all
- Election to salvation and reprobation
As you notice upon comparing the infralapsarian and supralapsarian decrees, the salvation made possible by Christ was only for the elect. The Universalist searches the whole of Scripture and finds a different idea; that Christ’s work on the cross was sufficient for all people and made effectual upon their exercise of faith. This is the view of an interesting union of Arminians and some Calvinists and it makes the gospel message of John 3:16(-17) come to life:
For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through Him.
Election, for the universalist, is neither limited nor conditional but is rooted in merciful character of God. As portrayed in the well known passage above, election is an expression of God’s love for the world which is unconstrained in scope and unconditional in application. In other words, the universalist will point out that the New Testament declares that God at a minimum wills or desires the salvation of all humans and is not will that any of them should perish. To link these ideas to scripture:
This is good, and pleases God our savior who wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. (1 Tim 2:3-4)
The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance. (2 Pet 3:9)
God’s mercy is fixed in his love, and God is love. Universalism will dispute that God’s love is evidenced by the Augustinian God who separates in His mysteries one from another for salvation. This unconditional election is incompatible with the God of love described by 1 John 4:8-16 whose very essence is love and the object of that love is all the world. The Arminian who is able to thwart God’s desire, thus His plan, is also considered to be incorrect because, though God’s love may be resisted, it cannot be denied or challenged. God does not stop loving those who reject them and this brings Him ever greater glory.
Christian universalists believe that, apart from a corporate salvation of the human race as a whole, there is no real grace and no worthwhile salvation for anyone. Limited election replaces mercy with a decree, and an arbitrary one at that, while conditional election grants the human agent who exercises their free will to choose God a kind of moral superiority that outshines God’s grace. To quote Thomas Talbott, “For no power in the universe, not the power of death itself and not even the power of our own recalcitrant wills, can finally ‘separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.'” (Rom 8:30)