A Good Word, but not the Only Word
Operating on the principle that article XVII is a good word that we are to preach and learn and understand to be in continuing with the tradition of the church as well as the confession of Scripture, but not the only word on the subject, I am quoting from the lectionary text for this coming Sunday, the 2nd week of Advent 2003:
Who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears? For he is like a refiner's fire and like fullers' soap; he will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver, and he will purify the descendants of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, until they present offeringers to the Lord in righteousness. Malachi 3:2-3
This is a different kind of universalism than the popular one, the one we all hope for, where all are saved. In this proclamation of Malachi's, a proclamation not at all unique, the universalism is of a negative sort. The answer to the question "Who can stand?" is "No one, not a single one." All will be refined and fuller-ized, until they present offerings to the Lord in righteousness.
God has held all under condemnation so that he might have mercy on all. Not sure if the two images presented, one from Malachi, and this new sentence from Romans, say exactly the same thing, but they certainly present a different idea than the pure division between the sheep and the goats, the evil to everlasting punishment, the good to everlasting joy.
Here we have multiple and complex teachings on the how of salvation, to be sure, not contradictory, but full and hot and worth our contemplation.