Many people today think that the entire subject of the Restoration of All Things as spoken by the prophets is a new doctrine. However, the opposite is true, as a serious study of the sayings of the Historical Church Fathers reveals. If the concept of Restoration seems to be a modern idea, it's only because the understanding of this glorious plan of God is new to our modern minds. Restoration, in fact, is as old as Scripture and is a Truth once taught to and received by the saints of antiquity. The modern church has become blinded to the facts of Restoration as given in the scriptures, but this is not a blindness shared by the early church. The present-day understanding of restoration is simply a return to the original truths as given by revelation to the apostles and prophets of old.
From the very beginning of the Christian church, learned men have applied themselves to the study of the scriptures, seeking answers from the Word of God to questions concerning God's ultimate will for His creation. What is the purpose of judgment? What does Christ's victory over evil mean to mankind? Is there a point at which the mercy of God fails? Historical church writings contain a wealth of information on such topics. Let us look at what some of the Ancient Fathers have said on the subject of Restoration.
Irenaeus, the Bishop of Lyons, lived from 130 to about 200 A.D. In this treatise, Against Heretics, he writes in Book III, Chapter 23, paragraph 6:
Wherefore also He [God] drove him [Adam] out of Paradise, and removed him far from the tree of Life, not because He [God] envied him [Adam] the tree of Life, as some dare to assert, but because He pitied him and desired that he should not continue always a sinner, and that sin which surrounded him should not be immortal, and that the evil interminable and irremediable.
Augustine (354-430 A.D.), 'one of the four great Latin Church Fathers (Augustine, Ambrose, Jerome and Gregory the Great), wrote:
There are very many in our day, who though not denying the Holy Scriptures, do not believe in endless torments.
Origen, a pupil and successor of Clement of Alexandria, lived from 185 to 254 A.D. He founded a school at Caesarea, and is considered by historians to be one of the great theologians and exegete of the Eastern Church. In his book, De Principiis, he writes:
We think, indeed, that the goodness of God, through His Christ, may recall all His creatures to one end, even His enemies being conquered and subdued.... for Christ must reign until He has put all enemies under His feet.
Howard F. Vos in his book Highlights of Church History states that Origen believed the souls of all that God created would some day return to rest in the bosom of the Father. Those who rejected the gospel now would go to hell to experience a purifying fire which would cleanse even the wicked; all would ultimately reach the state of bliss.
Gregory of Nyssa (332-398 A.D.), leading theologian of the Eastern Church, says in his Catechetical Orations:
Our Lord is the One who delivers man [all men], and who heals the inventor of evil himself.
Neander says that Gregory of Nyssa taught that all punishments are means of purification, ordained by divine love to purge rational beings from moral evil, and to restore them back to that communion with God.... so that they may attain the same blessed fellowship with God Himself.
Eusebius of Caesarea lived from 265 to 340 A.D. He was the Bishop of Caesarea in Palestine and a friend of Constantine, great Emperor of Rome. His commentary of Psalm II says:
The Son 'breaking in pieces" His enemies is for the sake of remolding them, as a potter his own work; as Jemniah 18;6 says: i.e., to restore them once again to their former state.
Gregory of Nazianzeu lived from 330 to 390 A.D. He was the Bishop of Constantinople. In his Oracles 39:19 we read:
These, if they will, may go Christ's way, but if not let them go their way. In another place perhaps they shall be baptized with fire, that last baptism, which is not only painful, but enduring also; which eats up, as if it were hay, all defiled matter, and consumes all vanity and vice.
Ambrose, Bishop of Milan (340-397 A.D.), writes on Psalm I:
Our Saviour has appointed two kinds of resurrection in the Apocalypse. Blessed is he that hath part in the first resurrection, for such come to grace without the judgment. As for those who do not come to the first, but are reserved unto the second resurrection, these shall be disciplined until their appointed times, between the first and the second resurrection.
Jerome, who revised the old Latin Translations and translated the Old Testament from Hebrew into Latin, lived from 340 to 420 A.D. In his comments on Zephaniah 3:8-10 he says:
The nations are gathered to the Judgment, that on them may be poured out an the wrath of the fury of the Lord, and this in pity and with a design to heal.... in order that every one may return to the confession of the Lord, that in Jesus Name every knee may bow, and every tongue may confess that He is Lord. All God's enemies shall perish, not that they cease to exist, but cease to be enemies.
Athanasius, called the Great Father of Orthodoxy, writes:
While the devil thought to kill One [Christ], he is deprived of all those cast out of hades, and he [the devil] sitting by the gates, sees all fettered beings led forth by the courage of the Saviour.
Again, Jerome comments on Isaiah 14:7, saying:
Our Lord descends, and was shut up in the eternal bars, in order that He might set free all who had been shut up... The Lord descended to the place of punishment and torment, in which was the rich man, in order to liberate the prisoners.
The collection of the previous testimonies are only a representative portion of the great leaders of the Church in the first four hundred years. A well known German theologian named Ethelbert Stauffer writes in his book, New Testament Theology, these words in his chapter entitled "Universal Homecoming":
The primitive church never gave up the hope that in His will to save, the All-Merciful and All-Powerful God would overcome even the final "no" of the self-sufficient world.
Again, he says,
Paul is quite confident that there will be possibilities of salvation for men after death. It is possible.... that even in the world to come, hope for the future will not cease.
And he concludes:
In I Corinthians 15:24, 26, Paul speaks of destruction of hostile demonic powers, which by their fall disturbed the original course of universal history. But after this great clearance, all other creatures find their way back to themselves and to their Creator in their subjection to the Son, who finally subjects Himself to the Father "that God may be all in all."
The Reformer Martin Luther had hope for all. In his letter to Hanseu Von Rechenberg in 1522, Luther wrote:
God forbid that I should limit the time of acquiring faith to the present life. In the depth of the Divine mercy there may be opportunity to win it in the future.
Bengel's book, Gnomon, quotes Luther's exposition of Hosea as accepting the idea that Christ appeared to souls of some who in the time of Noah had been unbelieving, that they might recognize that their sins were forgiven through His sacrifice.
Let us then take seriously the testimony of our Ancient Fathers, beginning with the Apostle Paul. He and those who followed after desired to deliver to us today that faith and truth which was given them by God Himself. As one pastor remarked recently concerning the subject of God bringing all back to Himself,
We are beginning to see what the Apostle Paul saw in I Corinthtans 15:22 and following."
For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive. But every man in his own order.
For he must reign, till he hath put all enemies under his feet.... And when all things shall be subdued unto him, then shall the Son also himself be subject unto him that put all things under him, that God may be all in all.
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