Friday, June 25, 2010

"Much More Surely" -- Paul's Universalism

Friday, June 25, 2010 -- Week of Proper 7, Year Two
James Weldon Johnson, Poet, 1938

Today's Readings for the Daily Office (Book of Common Prayer, p. 973)
Psalms 102 (morning)       107:1-32 (evening)
Numbers 20:1-13
Romans 5:12-21
Matthew 20:29-34

First a note about today's new observance from our proposed calendar Holy Women, Holy Men:  James Weldon Johnson [June 17, 1932-June 26, 1938] Poet, Writer. A major figure in the Harlem Renaissance, Johnson was also active in the NAACP and served as consul to Venezuela and Nicaragua. Author of God's Trombones and wrote lyrics to Lift Every Voice and Sing. (June 25)

Today's argument from Paul is one of several places in the scripture that invite an interpretation that it is God's intention to save all humanity, and that God will succeed in God's intention.  The theological word for that conviction is Universalism. 

Paul is using a common device in Rabbinical debate.  He is arguing from the lesser to the greater.  If the lesser is true, how much more surely is the greater true.  In this argument, the lesser is Adam, law, sin and death.  The greater is Jesus, obedience, grace and eternal life. 

Paul begins with the lesser:  "Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man (Adam), and death came through sin..."  Paul gets into a bit of a tight place, because "death is not reckoned when there is no law," and yet there was sin and death for all who came after Adam and before the law began with Moses.  But Paul has established the lesser conditions -- one man's trespass has resulted in the death of all.

Then Paul introduces the greater.  He uses the phrase "much more surely" to establish the greater power and effect of Jesus, and his obedience which leads to the "free gift" of grace and eternal life:  "For if the many died through the one man's trespass, much more surely have the grace of God and the free gift in the grace of one man, Jesus Christ, abounded for the many.  For the judgment following one trespass brought condemnation, but the free gift following many trespasses brings justification."  Again Paul shows which is the greater:  "If, because of the one man's trespass, death exercised dominion through that one, much more surely will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness exercise dominion in life through the one man, Jesus Christ."

Then Paul makes the implication explicit.  If Adam's sin brought death to all, much more surely will Jesus' obedience bring eternal life to all.  Paul's words:  "Therefore just as one man's trespass led to condemnation for all, so one man's act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all."  Paul says Jesus' act is an act of universal salvation.  Just as everyone dies because of Adam's sin, much more surely shall all be justified into eternal life through the grace of Jesus' obedience.  Jesus' triumph is total.  His victory is greater than Adam's sin and humanity's failure.

Paul sees the function of the law as a magnifier of the deadly effects of Adam's sin.  "But law came in, with the result that the trespass multiplied."  Again there is a greater grace that overcomes the lesser trespasses amplified by the law:  "...but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, so that, just as sin exercised dominion in death, so grace might also exercise dominion through justification leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord."

Paul will still have to deal with some objections to his message of radical, universal grace.  Some will say, well then, if everyone is saved and if grace always abounds more than sin, why can't we just sin all we want to, knowing we will ultimately be forgiven and saved?  (We'll read about that tomorrow.  The cleaned up English translation of Paul's answer is "By no means!")  Some will say, well what about those who have rejected the gift?  What about those who said "No!" when offered the gift of grace through Jesus Christ?  The audience need not look very far to point to their Jewish relatives who have rejected the gift.  Paul will go back to his focus on God and on Christ.  Again his answer will be "By no means!"  Paul always emphasizes the power and grace of God who intends to extend the free gift to everyone.  Paul can't seem to imagine that God will ever fail, toward Jew or Gentile.

His is a glorious vision of God.  Paul has confidence in God's power to save.  After all, Paul argues, if God came to liberate and save one who was as lost as I was, "much more surely" will God's grace extend mightily to everyone. 



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About Morning Reflections
Morning Reflections is a brief thought about the scripture readings from the Daily Office of Morning and Evening Prayer according to the practice found in the Book of Common Prayer of the Episcopal Church.

Morning Prayer begins on p. 80 of the Book of Common Prayer.
Evening Prayer begins on p. 117
An online resource for praying the Daily Office is found at
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The Mission of St. Paul's Episcopal Church
is to explore and celebrate
God's infinite grace, acceptance, and love.

Visit our web site at

Our Rule of Life
We aspire to...
worship weekly
pray daily
learn constantly
serve joyfully
live generously.

Lowell Grisham, Rector
St. Paul's Episcopal Church
Fayetteville, Arkansas


At 11:15 AM, Anonymous janet said...

And it can get rather frustrating to see that this ideal has been in the consciousness of Christians for two thousand and a few years and yet, how much systematic and other prejudice and oppression still lives on. The gift of God's grace renders each equal - no more slave and free, no more male and female. Would that the spiritual reality that Paul voices be valid and visible in the day to day realities of our world.

Peace and hope, Janet

At 10:31 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dear Lowell,

Well said!

And God Bless you and yours.

From Scotland.

At 7:41 AM, Blogger Lowell said...

Wow. Thanks for the note from Scotland.

And for Janet. You know, I think much of the prejudice and oppression that has haunted us for centuries can be traced to the religious imperialism that our faith and others too often try to exert over the other, the different, the pagan or infidel.



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