In the middle and late 19th century, Universalists spent quite a bit of time arguing about the afterlife. Sure, they agreed that every human being was going to be saved; they were Universalists after all. But some Universalists (an increasing number as the 19th century went on) believed that there would be some form of punishment in the afterlife; while other Universalists believed that you would go straight from death to glory in heaven. The first group were called the Restorationists; the second group were called the Ultra-Universalists, or the “Death and Glory” faction. The Unitarian Universalist Historical Society has a good (albeit long) article on the Restorationist controversy.
You are probably not interested in the Restorationist controversy, but some few of us are. I used to get into gentle arguments with Lindsay Bates, who is a Restorationist. She would say, “There are some people whom I believe need to be punished.” I would say that if there is any afterlife at all, either I want us all to go straight there upon death (yes, even the child rapists and axe murderers), or I didn’t want to be a part of such a theological scheme; or to put it another way, either God is perfectly good beyond human comprehension, or I didn’t want any part of God.
Not only was Lindsay a much better debater than I, I always felt my argument was pretty weak. Today, I was leafing through Hosea Ballou’s An Examination of the Doctrine of Future Retribution, on the Principles of Morals, Analogy, and the Scriptures (Boston: Universalist Trumpet, 1834), and I came across an argument against Restorationism that was new to me, and convincing in an odd, 19th-century sort of way. Ballou writes:
“But I must hasten to notice your queries. 1st. In relation to what you term ‘death and glory.’
“This subject has never been much agitated among brethren of our order, until quite lately. Dr. Priestley’s views of an unconscious state after death, were not known to me when I wrote my treatise on atonement, nor had that subject then ever been considered by me. This accounts for my silence on it. Of late, I have endeavored to know what divine revelation has communicated on this subject; but, owing to my want of discernment, I have not been able to reconcile all the passages, which seem to relate to the case, to a fair support of either side of the question. My efforts, I acknowledge, have not been made with that intenseness of application, respecting this matter, as they would have been, had I been persuaded that the question was of any great consequence. Being fully satisfied that the Scriptures teach us to believe no moral state, between the death of the body, and the resurrection state, in which that which was sown in dishonor will be raised in glory, and that which was sown in corruption, shall be raised in incorruption, it seemed to me immaterial whether we enter, immediately, after the dissolution of the body, on the resurrection state, or sleep in unconscious quietude any given time before that glorious event shall take place. In either case, it is what you call ‘death and glory’; for it makes no difference as to the length of time during an unconscious state. In such a state there can be effected no moral preparations.”
You go, Hosea! Take that, all you Restorationists!
Now I just wish someone would write a hymn that uses the phrase “Death and glory!”