Theories as to a Future State
THE ETHICAL QUESTION
IT is the judgment of many that the ethical question
should precede the exegetical, which seems as much as to say, that we must
first decide what Scripture ought to say, before we attempt to ascertain what
it does. We should certainly treat no other writings after that fashion; and
the claim of these to be divine does not affect their claim to be intelligible
also. If God has spoken, He is as well able to make Himself understood as
another, and is as ready too to assume the responsibility of His utterances. If
it be God, we need not fear lest His word should be immoral, or that it will
not approve itself to the consciences of men, His creatures. Judge Him too they
will, no doubt: but He will be justified in His sayings, and clear when He is
There is little doubt that the attempt to decide on moral grounds what Scripture must have said upon the subject before us, has destroyed with many all certainty of what it does say. Almost everywhere among universalist writers of every grade the doubtfulness of its testimony is a thing considered beyond dispute by reasonable men. We may affirm positively what conscience or the "moral reason" says. We may not affirm positively what Gods word has said. Strangely enough it is thought presumption to pronounce as to the latter, none in the former case. Yet it is hardly to be supposed God could not make himself intelligible if He pleased; and none can deny He has spoken on the subject, if Scripture be His word. Is it to be supposed He meant to give no definite statement? But why should He have kept back what the "moral reason" by itself can pronounce upon? Perchance because He would not interfere with the province of reason in a matter as to which it is so abundantly competent to decide! Is it then so competent? Why then are we all in such a fog today, except, indeed, Scripture itself be responsible for the fog, and have thrown the moral sense into confusion. And this is a conclusion some would seem to have arrived at.
But even so, it can scarcely be a perfectly safe and reliable guide, if liable to this perturbation; especially as we cannot logically assume that Scripture is the only possible perturbing cause. Confessedly for centuries the moral sense has accepted the truth of eternal punishment for many, and with the addition (Canon Farrars moral sense says, time softening addition) of a purgatory for nearly all. In the majority of cases within the limits of Christendom, it has not yet been able to free itself from what has been felt at least as a yoke which many would fain have shaken off. Nay, having shaken it off, as memorably at the French revolution, it has bowed its neck again and become subject. Outside of Christendom among the millions of Islam it has accepted a creed wherein God is blasphemously represented as assigning men their place in heaven or hell with utter and equal indifference.* Among Brahmans and Buddhists alike it accepts the loss of personal identity, the absorption into Brahma, or the attainment of Nirvana, as the goal and highest aim of man. While in Mr. Frederic Harrison and the Positivists it has come nearly round to this again, mans only worthy future being maintained to be a future of "posthumous activity": a possibly eternal influence upon indefinite generations of ephemera, or at least until the gradual cooling of the sun brings them to the end so very generally contemplated.
*Mr. Palgrave gives us as characteristic of Mohammedanism, a tradition, "a repetition of which," he says, " I have endured times out of number from admiring and approving Wahhabees in Nejed," that when God "resolved to create the human race, he took into his hand a mass of earth, the same whence all mankind were to be formed, and in which they after a manner pre-existed; and having then divided the clod into two equal portions, he threw the one half into hell, saying, These to eternal tire, and I care not; and projected the other half into heaven, adding, And these to Paradise, and I care not " (A Years Journey through Central and Eastern Arabia).
See "A Modern Symposium" in the "Nineteenth Century."
The moral sense can hardly then be considered a satisfactory guide. Nor indeed do those who follow its guidance dare to speak of the attainment of any certainty thereby. Thus Principal Tulloch commenting on Canon Farrars volume, while admitting that men do "crave to penetrate behind the veil, and to lay hold on something definite on which to rest their hopes or fears," asserts that at the same time all sober minds will feel how really impenetrable the veil is, and that no light of real knowledge can be carried beyond that sphere of time and space which now conditions all our powers of knowing" "Probability is all that we can attain to," adds Prof. Jellett, another critic on the same side. While W. R. Greg propounds it as one of his "Enigmas of Life," that while all the good, which he owns may be in a mans religion, lies in the certainty it communicates, a certainty that alone "sends him to the battle-field, or sustains him at the stake, or enables him to bear up through the long and weary martyrdom of life" - yet "it is precisely this certainty (to which all religions pretend, and which is essential to the influence of them all) which nevertheless thoughtful and sincere minds know to be the one element of falsehood, the one untrue dogma common to them all."*
*"Enigmas of Life," p. 242.
Thus the moral reason is not constructive, but destructive only; and destructive of (alas) the very power which would sustain a man through life, or at the stake if need be. Strangely enough, the thoughtful and sincere are they who must pay the penalty of renouncing what Mr. Greg calls "this strengthening and ennobling grace." That is one of the "Enigmas of Life," as he understands life: an enigma one might have thought essentially atheistic, but which is only "Agnostic," appertaining, that is, to a philosophy which without venturing to say, There is no God, simply affirms that He cannot make Himself known to His creatures, - that they know enough about Him to know that! The certainty of uncertainty as to all it most imports to know is what the painful toil of centuries of research has at last achieved.
"And finally, we philosophers and men of science know, with a conviction at least as positive as that of any of these believers, that they are all wrong, that no such dicta have ever been delivered, and that no such knowledge about the Unknowable can ever be reached" (p. 248).
God is the "Unknowable." But if He is, how then can we know that? Does not that imply some knowledge at least? Can reason rest assured that that is an ultimate fact? Is it impossible He could communicate some knowledge of Himself; some certainty as to a future life even? Has science decreed that He shall be dumb, or helpless, or indifferent, or what? Is the science perchance not too dear, that makes all science valueless? It would seem as if men must think so; as if these scientific altitudes would be too cold and barren for human dwelling-places. Certainly if reason can be satisfied with that which takes all meaning out of human life and history; if the moral sense can satisfy itself with what levels a man with the beasts that perish no thoughtful man can value eithers guidance, no sincere man can feel such life as other than a lie.
And what about sin? Is there such a thing? Is it true that "out of the heart of man proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies"? What says the moral sense again? Are these things inconveniences merely, or do they "defile the man"? Are they results of wrong diet, political blunders, accident, or are they innate in every child of man? If the latter, and if evil, is man as God made him, or is the Christian doctrine of the fall perchance a verity? One or other must be. If truth, if purity, if virtue be any more than a mere name, what is the world, and what are we? If we ourselves are exceptions, what at least are our neighbours? If God made such a world, He were not God. Either there is no God or we are fallen creatures.
Allow me once there is such a thing as sin, and the shadow is gone from off the face of God. It may rest on man, and on nature, but faith in God is possible once more. Death and judgment are realities, but God lives, and God is good. The very laws of nature bear Him witness, as the expression of a nature opposed to evil, visiting transgression with penalty. The shadow is the frown of God; and if upon evil, then because He is opposed to evil. Granted there may he difficulties and perplexities, the general bearing of the facts is evident; and the human laws without which men could not live, are but the copy and outcome of the Divine.
But grant once again that man is a sinner; grant that he has a will that perverts his judgment, lusts that seduce intellect; grant that sin indulged dulls the conscience and depraves still further the heart (and these are lessons of every day experience); grant that an offender is not an unprejudiced judge in his own cause; and you have abundant, over-abundant reason for distrusting the mere rational estimate of mans possible future. That he has a conscience capable of being aroused by Gods word, and of responding to His appeal, is of course true. that God challenges mans understanding and his moral sense, and makes them His witnesses is also true. He will be justified in his sayings, and clear when He is judged. But that those who have never learnt to measure themselves in His presence should arraign His justice because His estimate of sin is different from others, is the height of irrationality, as it is of pride.
Yet we are told that "every day sees an increase in the number of those who will not consent to receive a doctrine on external evidence only, without examination of its moral character. Many would give to the moral faculty the absolute right to reject as untrue any doctrine appearing to it immoral, whatever amount of (apparent) Scriptural evidence may be adduced in its favour?"* This principle leads to a different issue in different people; some giving up the doctrine only, while they retain the Scripture: some giving up the Scripture on account of the doctrine. Thus Dr. Bellows in behalf of Unitarianism applies the principle:
*Prof. Jellett upon Canon Farrar.
"If we are to continue to claim the name of Christians, we must continue to believe that the testimony of the records of our faith is not contradictory of the evidence of the moral reason. If it were proved such, we should be compelled to abandon Christianity, so far as it claims to be founded on the New Testament. We believe the general testimony of the New Testament to be in full accord with the testimony of mans moral nature, in regard to the issues of the divine government It is not to be denied that pictorial phrases, parables, and special texts, are to be found there, which, taken by themselves, seem to favour not only the doctrine of endless punishment in the popular sense, but, just as plainly, the existence of a material hell, and a personal devil. But as the literal force of these statements obliges us to accept the conclusion that this earth is the seat of the final (?) judgment, and that Christ is coming in person to judge the nations, we must leave it to those who are willing to accept the responsibility of maintaining these now generally discarded notions, to complain of our departure from the letter, in putting only a spiritual meaning upon any portion of these pictorial passages."*
*N. Amer. Review, March-April, 1878.
The requirements of the moral sense being thus various, the "spiritual" interpretation assumes any needed shape in order to accommodate itself to it. In some of the less sensitive, the moral sense will only require that the personal coming of Christ and the earthly judgment be banished, and will allow hell and the devil to be retained. A more fastidious taste will require these latter also to be blotted out. Scripture is thus adapted to the most diverse habits of mind, and no one is offended. Each one sees his face in the glass, and imagining it is another he is meeting, is easily persuaded to worship his own image. "Thoughtful sinners," as well as saints of all descriptions are accommodated, and every one approves of a divine government in which each is allowed to adjudicate for himself and of a revelation which is but a divine sanction put upon his own imaginings. Thus after all by a singular species of legerdemain the upholders of the supremacy of the moral sense manage to retain Scripture, while they cast overboard reason and the sense in order to do so.
Blains Review of Beecher, p. 83.
And those who seem most to contend for the letter of Scripture, as do the advocates of "conditional immortality," betray here the quiet undercurrent which is really carrying them. Mr. Constables chapter on "the Divine Justice" may be cited in proof It is thus he argues: -
"It was to a world of unbelievers that God was proposed as a God of justice as well as of pity and of love. To this world, which had no faith, God was proposed for acceptance. Gods character and conduct were placed before it, to win its faith and love. So it is even now. . . . The missionary tells the Unbeliever what kind of God the God of the Christian is, in order to convert the Unbeliever to the faith. Can we wonder that the answer of the heathen to our messages should be, We cannot, and will not, believe in a God of whom you affirm such outrageous wrong.. . . We ask the human heart for its verdict We say that judged by human judgment, and that the judgment of believers and unbelievers alike, the punishment which the theory of Augustine supposes that God will inflict is infinitely too great, and we are therefore to reject it as untrue, because wholly unworthy, not merely of a Merciful Father, but a just God."
Dur. and Nat. of Fut. Punishment.
Now we are going to look at the doctrine, not of Augustine but of Scripture, and to see how far it approves itself to the conscience of men. That it does and must, where the conscience is alive, is true, as I have already said. The extracts that follow in Mr. Constables book I am no way concerned to justify; yet even they tell in my ears a very different story to what they seem to do in his. They tell me how little this vaunted moral sense - how little this poor heart of man has really to say in the matter. From the Romanists who accept and approve the horrors of Pinamonti or Father Furniss to the Protestant hearers of Jonathan Edwards or of Mr. Spurgeon, how many condemned as incredible the things portrayed to them? You would expect from the statements of those who laud the moral sense so highly, that their auditors would have risen up with one over-powering outburst of indignation and have driven them from the pulpit, instead of saying Amen and circulating their books by hundreds or by thousands. Possibly the "intelligent and educated Hindoo merchants and magistrates" of whom Dr. Leask has told us,* had the advantage in these respects of their Christian brethren. But if it requires intelligence and education of a certain order to detect these errors, perhaps after all the virtue is in the mildness of the Brahmanism under which they had grown up rather than the moral sense which could give in the one case a decision so just, in the other so unhappy.
*Report of a Conference on Conditional Immortality, p. 24.
We happen to know, however, that where the gospel has made its largest and most permanent conquests, the doctrine of eternal punishment has been held and put forth. Nay, in Christendom itself it must, according to Mr. Constable, have conquered the whole ground, and that in the teeth of the moral sense, where this had certainly no self-interest to seduce it from the so much milder truth which had first possession of the field. How strange a reflection that what the heathen have moral sense to reject, Christendom should have almost universally accepted! But the gospel can scarcely be shown to have won its way by the aid of annihilation doctrine, or its history will have to be rewritten.
If Scripture be the word of God - if even the consciences of men not the worst in life have given a true verdict - man is a fallen being; and his estimates of sin and its desert are alike faulty. Viewed in this way by the light of reason only, we might well predict that the divine estimate of either would far transcend our own. Consequently that that judgment of it which did transcend our own, and was opposed therefore (in the way Mr. Constable and others speak) to the moral sense, would be precisely the judgment most rational to receive as Gods. Here reason and sense are in apparent opposition, an opposition which the word of God accounts for, if it does not remove. How false then must be the assertion that the gospel has won its way by winning mens admiration of God in the character of a Judge! Do the judgments which now come on the world from the Governor of it always approve themselves to men similarly as free from undue severity? No, the gospel has won its own way by being GOSPEL: by exhibiting God as a Saviour, not a Judge; by proffering a way of escape, not a mild sentence; and by the ransom given proclaiming the value put upon mens souls by Him who made them, and which gives real satisfaction to the awakened conscience by putting the righteousness of God, in the matter of salvation, upon the same side with His love.
But that ransom proclaims no less in its transcendant greatness the divine estimate of sin as equally beyond our own. Nor is it the estimate of an enemy, or of one indifferent, but of Him who at His own cost has provided the propitiation. Who that believes on the one can refuse his credence to the other also, when all that he has to object is but the testimony of a conscience dulled and enfeebled by the very sin which it is called to judge, a heart "deceitful above all things" as well as "desperately wicked"?
We do not believe then that God appeals to mans heart, in the way Mr. Constable avers, to decide whether His judgment be such as he can accept. He appeals to it by a love which would save him from it altogether, and presents His word, attested in every possible way as His, to enlighten and purify his conscience, not be judged by it.
Not one of those who lay this stress upon the judgment of the moral sense believe in any practical way in the fall, or in sin as defiling the conscience and enfeebling the intellect. One can hardly imagine that they receive what is the truth nevertheless, that the Light of the world, when come into it, shone upon a darkness which "comprehended it not," and that the cross was mans verdict as to Christ Himself. And yet here was not even judgment at all, but "God in Christ, reconciling the world unto Himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them."* In this form, indeed (to use Mr. Constables language), "Gods character and conduct were placed before it, to win its faith and love." The success was not what he would apparently imagine. "The carnal mind" was "enmity to God." And still it is so. By no mere moral appeal could that enmity be changed to love. Man must be born again. I do not say Mr. Constable does not believe this, but then it vitiates his entire argument.
*2 Cor. v. 19.
God has taken care, therefore, to make His appeal to man in another way than Mr. Constable suggests. Instead of putting before him as a philosopher a picture of rectitude with which he would be charmed, or expecting a criminal to fall in love with his sentence, He has treated him as a sinful but a miserable being, a creature fallen and lost. He puts before this prodigal in a far-off country the bread in His Fathers house - He appeals to the self-love of an essentially selfish being. He calls to Himself the thirsty, the weary, the heavy-laden, the lost; and the disinterestedness of a love which has come so far to seek, and gives so freely, without any gain but what love alone could count such, is all needed evidence of the truth of the message to the soul that thus finds itself searched out and besought.*
*Comp. John vii. 37-41.
Beside this Gods word has its abundant witness, so much the more evident because by no means of a mere moral kind. Thus prophecy invokes the facts of history, and even the current events before ones eyes; while in the present day the stones of Egypt and the bricks of Assyria are crying out in ears however unwilling. Thus not only conscience is appealed to; and where it is, it is not put into the critics chair, but into the felons dock; - not to judge, but to hear judgment. If man be a fallen, depraved creature, it must needs be so. If he be not, his existence, his condition, and his end, are alike an insoluble, impenetrable mystery.
Yet it is quite true that to a conscience quickened and enlightened by the word, Gods ways approve themselves. The light brought in manifests itself as such by revealing to the opened eye the beauty and the deformity of things not before apparent. It is conscious knowledge: "one thing we know whereas we were blind, now we see." Still the horizon is limited, and if the true light now shines, the darkness is yet passing only, and not passed. He that sees farthest sees most the limit. He that judges himself most truly will own most fully Gods judgments to be a great deep. It is not credulity to do so, but the most clear-sighted wisdom. Reason and faith are not at war. The apparent discords are but the evolution of a more perfect harmony.
So should we read 1 John ii. 8: e skotia paragetai.
In this spirit then we shall seek to examine the objections to the Scripture doctrine of future punishment, objections now on every side being urged. The truth of the doctrine remains, established from Scripture itself, apart from all question of our skill in meeting the objections.
(1.) And first, briefly as to one point, which, though it be not a primary one perhaps, or actually a part of the doctrine of eternal punishment itself is still naturally enough connected with it in mens minds, and tends to give it additional harshness - I mean the comparative fewness of the saved. The Lords words affirm, as to His people, that they are comparatively a "little flock," although, when gathered finally together, they may be also "a multitude which no man can number." The gate is strait, and the way narrow that leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it. Here Satan is represented therefore to have triumphed, and Christs work to have failed: as Dr. Littledale puts it,* citing the argument of Messrs. Jukes and White, - "if the popular theology be true, then Christ has been completely defeated by Satan in the contest for the souls of men, since incomparably the larger spoils of battle rest with the latter; and the incarnation has not affected the ultimate nature and destinies of mankind in general."
* In his Critique upon Canon Farrar in the Contemporary Review.
But this last is an uncomfortable argument in the hands of any save an out and out Universalist, such as Dr. L. hardly claims to be. For it is awkward to have to think it satisfactory for God only not to be defeated in so many cases and that He would be content to share with Satan, supposing only He got "the larger spoils"! Dr. L. blames Canon Farrar for having only "distantly glanced at [these] two cogent pleas"; but in truth he cannot himself have looked at them very closely, or else the defect is in his own perception. If Satan "triumphs" when a soul is lost, how futile to contend as to whether he triumphs somewhat less or more! In either case God is not God. Dr. Littledale does not believe with the wise man of old, that "if thou scornest, thou alone shall bear it." He will make God also "bear it," for the shame of "eternal judgment" would be His!
Prov. ix. 12.
Yet he rightly objects to Universalism, "that it militates against the existence of free-will, and the consequent possibility of a volition of evil through eternity"! Is this volition of evil then Gods shame or mans? If mans, would it in ten million men be any more His shame or His defeat than even in one? Does Scripture represent men perishing through Satans power or craft, apart from this "volition"? If not, how is it Satans triumph? And as far as he has any part in mans ruin, will he not have cause to own that apparent victory has been defeat; his success, according to the sure and immutable law of divine government, his degradation - "dust the serpents meat"? Is it not always so that success in evil is the degradation of the evil-doer? If Dr. Littledale will think upon it, he may yet discover in this the secret of that apparent change in the rich man in hades, which Mr. Cox and Canon Farrar would take as moral bettering from purgatorial flame. He who in life would have been the tempter of his five brethren, in death would have them warned so as not to come into that place of torment.
Mans damnation is from himself. "Ye would not," is the complaint in sorrow of the One who came to save. Will Dr. Littledale taunt Him with defeat? The legion were cast out of Gadara, but the men for whom He had broken Satans power refused deliverance. Did Satan defeat Him there? If it be mans contrary will that is his ruin what purpose of God does that defeat? Did He purpose to save all, spite of mans will? That He would have all men to be saved is the vindication of His heart; there is no declaration of a purpose to save all perforce, no defeat His purpose if it is not done.
(2.) It is objected to us the shortness of probation if limited to the present life, and that many have in fact none at all. Canon Farrar has many a vivid illustration of the injustice, as he considers it, of this; but I prefer to quote the calmer statements of others, not less forcible: -
"As yet I am compelled to believe," says Canon Plumptre,* "that where there has been no adequate probation, or none at all, there must be some extension of the possibility of development or change beyond the limits of this present life. Take the case of unbaptized children. Shall we close the gates of Paradise against them, and satisfy ourselves with the levissima damnatio, which gained for Augustine the repute of the durus pater infantum? And if we are forced in such a case to admit the law of progress, is it not legitimate to infer that it extends beyond them to those whose state is more or less analogous?" He adds further on, "The theory I am now defending gives a significance to the final judgment of which the popular belief, in great measure, deprives it. Protestants and Catholics alike, for the most part, think of that judgment as passed, irrevocably passed, at the moment of death. The soul knows its eternal doom then, passes to heaven or hell or purgatory, has no real scrutiny to expect when the Judge shall sit upon the throne; while, on this view, the righteous award will then be bestowed on each according to the tenor of his life during the whole period of his existence, and not only during the short years or months or days of his earthly being. This gives, I venture to think, not a less, but a more, worthy conception of that to which we look forward as the great completion of Gods dealings with our race."
It should in fairness be stated that Dr. P. is arguing with a Roman Catholic.
Dr. Bellows, on behalf of Unitarianism, goes yet further; he says: -
"What we have hitherto objected to in the creed of orthodoxy, on the subject of eternal punishment, was the alleged finality of human fate, as determined by the state of the soul at the moment of death. . . This life has been considered to be mainly a state of probation, and the only state. Unitarians reject both ideas. With them life is not, here or anywhere, mainly a state of probation, but a state of education and discipline; and still more, a state of being for its own sake. We can conceive no state of human existence, that is, of finite spiritual existence, which shall be different in these respects from the present. . . We cannot, with our reverence for the freedom of the will and the free play of spiritual laws, be among those who think moral evil, with its sufferings and its penalties, will be forcibly terminated by a fiat of divine benevolence at any future date. We object to the old orthodox view of the finality of human probation at death, as lacking probability, as disregarding our present experience of Gods government and the constitution of mans spirit. Moreover, while it seems awfully threatening to those who are inclined to evil and are likely to be lost, it seems relaxing of moral and spiritual obligations toward those who expect to be saved. It is a doctrine too cruel for the worst, too flattering for the best."
N. Amer. Review.
With which Dr. Littledale fully agrees. He objects* to the popular view of "this life being a state of probation, a solitary chance, failure in which involves destruction, just as with us gun-barrels which cannot pass the test in the proof-house are invariably condemned, broken up, and cast into the fire, - but only to be forged anew."
*In the Contemp. Rev.
"There is no warrant in Scripture (he says) for this current opinion, which in truth necessitates a denial of Gods foreknowledge as not being able to trust His own work, nor to predict how it will turn out till He has tested it. He does indeed try and prove, but it is in the way of education and purgation, not of inquiry. When He hath tried me, I shall come forth as gold (Job xxiii. 10). Behold, I will melt them and try them (Jer. ix. 7). Once grasp the notion that we have only one life given us to live, and that death is a mere episode in it, so that this world is but a lower class in Gods school, and another stage of education in our unbroken personality and life beyond the grave awaits us in the intermediate state, whether that stage be downward or upwards, according as we have used our opportunities here and the whole scheme of redemption shows clearer."
And even President Porter suggests that -
"Then, when the future life begins, every man will see Christ as He is, and the sight of Him may of itself bring a finality to his character and destiny, as it discovers each man fully to himself. They that pierced Him shall mourn, but not if when they see Him, they mourn that they pierced Him. The next life may another probation, in that, by its first revelations, it shall make everything clear which was dark, and bring out in vivid lines that moral and spiritual truth which the soul shall accept with sympathizing joy, or reject with sinful perverseness; and as it accepts or rejects, shall know its own character and its just award. . . . The opening scenes of the next life may be at once the souls second probation, and its final judgment."
In the N. Amer. Rev.
All this is anti-scriptural merely, and if unsound, then of necessity dangerous to the last degree. To teach men that they may put off into the future that which must he decided here and now is nothing less than enticing them to self-destruction. I have no desire to retain the word "probation"; but that Scripture insists upon it that salvation is a possibility only for those who find it in this life, we have already seen. The denial of it is reckless ignorance or unbelief. It destroys the whole meaning of death as death, the solemnity of the appeal to man founded upon the brevity of his life here; that the Son of Man hath power on earth to forgive sins, and that now is the accepted time, and now the day of salvation; that "he that loveth his life shall lose it, and he that hateth his life in this world shall keep it unto life eternal."* It denies the fact that already in hades is there a "great gulf fixed," dividing the evil and the good, and that it is when men fail (or die) they are received into everlasting habitations. It is contradicted by the affirmation - the very opposite of Canon Plumptres idea - that the sentence in the day of judgment will be for deeds done "in the body," and not at all for conduct in the intermediate state. Finally, that the spirits of the unsaved departed are "spirits in prison," and with whom (if His dealings be the same with all, and we may argue from the case of those before the flood) Gods Spirit will no more strive.§
*Matt. ix. 6; 2 Cor. vi. 2; John xii. 25.
Luke xvi. 9. 2 Cor. v.10.
§1 Pet. iii. l9; Gen. vi. 3
With regard to Canon Plumptres "unbaptized infants", I suppose as far as inadequate probation or want of development is concerned, they are scarcely worse off than those baptized. And while with all such the taint of a vitiated nature needs to be removed, those who know how absolutely we are debtors to Divine grace for this in any case will have no difficulty in this respect. That God cannot here show mercy, where no human will can yet be supposed of efficacy to resist the known divine will for the salvation of all; or that what people call probation in this respect should be a necessity in every case - this he must prove who would affirm. Those of this class can hardly be judged for deeds done in the body, nor condemned finally for a nature which they have without, any act of their own will. Of this the Lord gives us full assurance: "in heaven their angels do always behold the face of my Father which is in heaven; for the Son of Man is come to save that which was lost." And "it is not the will of your Father which is in heaven, that, one of these little ones should perish."*
*Matt. xviii. 10, 11, 14.
As to Dr. Littledales objections to the whole theory of probation, I suppose no one would contend for it in the sense he assumes, as if it were Gods proving what was a matter of uncertainty to Himself apart from the proof. Why it should be inconsistent for Him, to allow man after all to go through the trial, because He foresees the issue, is not made plain. Dr. L. can scarcely believe in the Edenic trial for the same reason; nor that Moses account of the wilderness can be the true one, that "the Lord thy God led thee these forty years in the wilderness to humble thee and to prove thee, to know what was in thine heart, whether thou wouldst keep his commandments or no." This he will naturally think a denial of divine omniscience, and repudiate, whereas it is only God refusing to act upon His foreknowledge, or to account that He knows, till man has justified it.
Deut. viii. 2.
In the same way the law has been the probation of man: "God is come to prove you," are again Moses words. But that, trial is over, and the verdict has been long since given: "there is none righteous, no, not one; there is none that doeth good, no, not one." And "we know that what things soever the law saith, it saith to them that are under the law, that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world become guilty before God."*
Exod. xx. 20.
*Rom. iii. 10, 12, l9.v
In this respect probation is passed for all. Israels condemnation is not merely a piece of past history; it is of present and universal force by reason of our complete essential identity: "as in water face answereth to face, so the heart of man to man." But in another respect also, and still more solemnly, is probation passed, inasmuch as when "He was in the world, and the world was made by Him, the world knew Him not. He came unto His own, and His own received Him not;" so that those who did receive Him, (and who do) are manifested by the very fact to be "born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God."
John i. 10-13.
Thus the cross of Christ was "the judgment of the world"; and man is convicted, not only of having failed to attain legal righteousness, but of having refused the One who came to save him from the laws penalty also. This is why I cannot contend for the term "probation," as applying to Gods present dealings with men; while yet it is true that God will not finally treat men as in the lump condemned, but each man for his own personal rejection of Himself: his reprobation of God will be necessarily his own reprobation.
John xii. 31.
The time required for this, and the circumstances I have not calculated, nor do I presume to have wisdom for the calculation. If others have, they should produce their arguments. They who believe that God has given His Son for men can rest in the conclusion that not only will He be "clear when He is judged," but that His long-suffering mercy, and His will that none should perish, will be abundantly revealed in the fast-hastening day of manifestation. This they will not venture to anticipate; nor can they believe that the world would be one whit better governed if the secrets of that government were made fully known. The existence of evil is the one real and only difficulty; but it exists: and God has answered the question as to Himself raised by it, not by a logical explanation of the difficulty, which it may perhaps be doubted if we should have ability to understand, but by unveiling Himself in Christ. I see in the cross His holiness, I see His goodness, I see His love; and, if the darkness be only passing and not passed, I can walk amid it without stumbling with a Fathers hand close clasping mine. The darkness that remains is but the necessary school for faith; but a faith which has the surest ground under its feet. "We know" but "in part"; still we know. The imperfection will pass, but the truth now known will abide forever.
(3.) For the continuance of evil God cannot be held responsible, save by an argument which throws upon Him equally the responsibility of its present existence. It is easy to assume that God could will it out of existence at any moment if He pleased, but then we must needs assume that He willed it into existence. Mr. Birks has well shown how much of the darkness which involves the subject proceeds from crude thoughts of omnipotence in this way. That He could annihilate, on the principle men are now zealously advocating, the sinful being is, of course, as a matter of power over His creatures, to be allowed. But the necessary limit of even Almighty power is determined by the circle of the divine perfections. That infinite Wisdom could do so we may not assume, except by assuming our own to be infinite. Nay, even reason may argue some things apparently against it. For His gifts and calling would scarcely be without repentance, did He destroy a being naturally deathless which Himself had given; and such is at least mans spirit. Mr. Constable has abundant cause to argue that the only true basis for annihilation is materialism. But such a mechanical destruction of evil might well seem to be its triumph in another form, - a confession of his being defeated by it in the creature thus destroyed. If men turn round and ask why at least create the being that He knew would fall, the practical answer is, He has created. "Who art thou, O man, who repliest against God?"
This line of argument Scripture itself suggests to be the true one. The conflict with evil is ever represented in it as a real thing, and a necessary, not to be dispensed with by the mere fiat even of Omnipotence: and that because Omnipotence in God means necessarily Omnipotent Wisdom,* as it does Omnipotent Love. Thus He "willeth not the death of a sinner," yet they die. Who will say He wills their sins; and yet they sin. And when we are told of some that " it is IMPOSSIBLE to renew them again unto repentance," if we are to take such words in their full and apparent sense, must we not believe that Omnipotence had in their case found its limit; or can we say God would not still have renewed them, if He could? In the face of his own repeated protestations, can we believe that through His pleasure sinners, however much sinners, could not be renewed?
*It seems to me that herein Mr. Birks argument as to the limitation of Omnipotence in measure fails, that he does not insist enough that the limit is only that imposed by the Divine Perfections.
Heb. vi. 4-6.
If we touch mysteries on all sides here (and so we do), all the more must we keep to the simple, plain assurances which are the silver thread guiding us through the apparently, and to us really, inextricable labyrinth. God is God, because God is good: and to this His word holds us fast.
On the other hand it does not represent Him as baffled by the evil, and having to undo His own handiwork, as if mans will were thus triumphant above His. The reality of the conflict with evil gives the only basis for the reality of victory over it; and that victory is assured. "The Lord hath made all things for Himself; yea, even the wicked for the day of evil ;" not their wickedness surely, but themselves. Praise Him therefore they shall, as "all His works"§ do. The "vessels of wrath" and "to dishonour,# are still "vessels," and have their use. Who shall say that "to show Gods wrath, and make His power known," is not such a necessity in divine government as in any other?
Prov. xvi. 4. §Psa. cxlv. 10.
#Rom. ix. 22; 2 Tim. ii. 20.
The eternity of sin is the real basis of the eternity of punishment. If in this life God has with any spent all available resources in vain for their deliverance, so that He should Himself have to say "it is impossible to renew them," what less than "eternal fire" can be the award of those of whom He has had to say, "he that is unjust, let him be unjust still; and he that is filthy, let him be filthy still"? Mr. Greg tells us:* "No subtlety of logic, no weight of authority, will induce rightly constituted minds, which allow themselves to reason at all, to admit that the sins or failings of time can merit the retribution of eternity - that finite natures can, by any guilt of which they are capable, draw upon themselves torments infinite either in essence or duration." But, although we must allow that that is the way the doctrine of eternal punishment has been often sought to be justified, it is not the scriptural ground of it. Nay, it is one which has obscured the subject it was meant to clear; for it represents God in judgment as merely at the best exacting the full extent of penalty, even supposing it proved that that were the extent.
*Enigmas of Life. p. 271.
Mr. Constable represents the view I am advocating as one in which the "Augustinian theorists" are taking new ground. That is of little moment, that it should be new to them, if only it be a return to Scripture. At the same time I cannot accept Prof. Mansel as the exponent of it, if Mr. Constable gives justly his exposition. Scripture gives no hint of "sins throughout eternity increasing in number, in magnitude and in guilt! Condemnation and punishment throughout eternity gathering force and falling more terribly upon the wretched sufferers"! We may agree perfectly with Mr. C. that "Scripture, from first to last, says not one word of the sins of hell." And with Mr. Girdlestone, as he quotes him "as the saved will be raised above the possibility of sinning; so the lost will be sunk below it." But while sin in act will be thus restrained by punishment, he that is unjust will not be less unjust, nor he that is filthy less filthy. Restraint is not reformation. The eternal state is one fixed absolutely and bounded on all sides, as Mr. Birks suggests with probable truth a "lake of fire" may intimate.
Nat. and Dur. of Fut. Pun. p 153
We do not accept then the teaching that the punishment of hell is inflicted for the sins of hell. On the other hand we cannot concede that the measure of eternal judgment being the measure of the sins of this life, as it surely is, militates in the least against the doctrine that the eternity of punishment is based upon this eternity of a sinful state. Mr. Constable seems never to have considered indeed this view of it. He must distinguish between sin and a sinful state. The everlasting fire is correlative to the undying worm. And here, if we consider a little, there is no opposition between the eternity of the punishment being linked with the abiding of the sinful condition, and the measure of the suffering being apportioned to the actually committed sins.
For the works and the words according to which men will be judged are of course the manifestation of the sinner himself And such is the actual phrase used in Scripture. "We shall all appear before the judgment seat of Christ"* is more literally" we shall all be manifested." Our work will bring out our characters, - will exhibit us. If it were not so, such a judgment would be necessarily partial. Inasmuch then as mens works exhibit their character, and that a character which abides forever, they are judged according to their works, and yet with "eternal judgment"
*2 Cor. v. 10.
(4.) Thus the punishment is not indiscriminate, because in each case eternal. "Few stripes," as compared with "many," may have (and will have) their counterpart in the wrath inflicted, and yet. that wrath "abide" on each who has chosen it for his future portion. Mr. Greg urges strongly the objection indeed of any such "broad, bold line of demarcation," as this infers,
"separating, through all future ages, and by boundless distances, those whose measure of sin or virtue while on earth was scarcely distinguishable by the finest and most delicate moral electrometer. On one side is endless happiness, the sight of God. . . for those whom one frailty more, one added weakness, one hairs breadth further transgression, would have justly condemned to dwell forever with the devil and his angels, an outcast from hope, chained to his iniquity forever, alone with the irreparable! On the other side is hell, the scene of torture, of weeping and gnashing of teeth; of the ceaseless flame and the undying worm; where he that is filthy must be filthy still; torment, not for a period, but FOREVER; for Him for whom one effort more, one ounce of guilt the less, might have turned the trembling balance, and opened the gates of an eternal paradise! Human feeling and human reason CANNOT believe this, though they may admit it with lip assent; and the Catholic church accordingly, here as elsewhere, steps in to present them with the via media which is needed."
Enigmas of Life, p. 274.
It is curious and instructive to see with what comparative favour the infidel looks upon Popery as compared with Protestantism. The two are united in this at any rate, that they alike set aside the word of God. Opposition to this is what is everywhere working in the unrenewed heart of man. It is more noticeable even, because purgatory is no such via media as Mr. Greg believes it. It decides nothing as to the line between the lost and saved, to which alone his own language can apply. It merely rejects the full value of the blood of Christ to cleanse from sin, and the power of the Spirit to renew and fit for heaven, apart from purgatorial suffering. This partial infidelity Mr. Greg naturally accepts as a step in the right direction. But purgatory settles nothing as to eternity.
Mr. Gregs own statement does not by any means present more truly the Bible doctrine. He would represent the day of judgment as ranging men in their gradations of sin or of holiness, and then breaking the line asunder at a certain point, and sending one part to hell, the other to heaven. It is the old heathen mythology, often, indeed, attempted to be Christianized, whereby a mans future lot would be decided according as his bad deeds or his good should overbalance the other. Scripture does not allow that in this way a single sinner could be saved. Instead of any going to heaven in this way, all would be alike lost and condemned. The law as the rule of judgment pronounces, "there is none righteous, no, not one," which Christianity does not set aside, but reaffirms. Hell is the award, not of a certain overplus of sin, but of the rejection of Him in whom alone is help. Heaven is the fruit, not of a little more than semi-righteousness, but of Anothers atoning work availing for the confessedly unrighteous. Mr. Gregs picture is not even the caricature of Christianity: it is its fundamental opposite.
(5.) Mr. Greg again objects to a doctrine which represents the sufferings of a future world -
"as penal, not purgatorial, - retributive, not reformatory. It is not easy (he thinks) to conceive any object to be answered, any part in the great plan of Providence to be fulfilled, by the infliction of torments, whether temporary or perpetual, which are neither to serve for the purification of those who endure them, nor needed for the warning of those who behold them, since the inhabitants of earth do not see them, and the translated denizens of heaven do not require them. They are simply aimless and retrospective. It is true that, in the concept lee of the philosopher, they are INEVITABLE; that future suffering is the natural offspring and necessary consequence of present sin: but this is not the view of the doctrine we are considering, nor is the character of the sufferings it depicts such as would logically flow out of the sins for which they are supposed to be a chastisement."
Again Mr. Greg praises the comparative wisdom of the "Catholic" invention of purgatory, and adds
"But to believe, as Protestants are required to do, that all those fiercer torments will he inflicted when no conceivable purpose is to be answered by their infliction, when the suffering, so far as human imagination can fathom the case, is simply gratuitous, is assuredly a far harder strain upon our faith, - a strain, too, which is hardest on those whose feelings are the most human, and whose notions of the Deity are worthiest; on those, that is, who have most fully imbibed Christs sentiments and views."*
*Enigmas of Life. pp. 272. 273.
These then at least are they whose "notions of the Deity are worthiest;" and yet it has often been remarked, and it is true, that some of the most solemn denunciations of eternal judgment to be found in the whole Bible are in the discourses of our Lord Himself. Mr. Greg will perhaps believe this inconsistency; for he is himself inconsistent enough to suppose that the worthiest notions of the Deity have come down to us from One, who on his showing must. have been after all an impostor. But, beside this, in the conception of the philosopher even, - a wisdom by which all other wisdom may be fairly judged, - future suffering is inevitable as the natural offspring and necessary consequence of present sin. This we may believe, therefore, the action of those natural laws to philosophers so dear. But natural laws are blind and aimless things. We must not believe in there being wisdom in them it seems, or purpose; for wisdom implies one who has it, and purpose a Controller, and these thoughts in this connection are foreign to a true philosophy. Laws, - self-acting laws, - perchance self-made also - have decreed future suffering for present sin. That saves us thinking about purpose. The sentence of law may be held as a different thing from the judgment of a judge. We can accept the inevitable, just as that.
In point of fact, however, Mr. Greg tells us, "it is not impossible to imagine a future world of retribution in such form and coloring as shall be easy and natural to realize, as shall be not only possible to believe, but impossible to disbelieve." And he represents that " if the soul be destined for an existence after death, then (unless a miracle be worked to prevent it) that existence MUST be one of retribution to the sinful, and purgatorial suffering to the frail and feeble soul."
He believes then in the probability of retribution as distinct from purificatory suffering. He does not wait to ask whether there are to be any to behold it for whose warning it may be needed. He does not inquire whether "gratuitous" or not. He speaks of "retribution," i. e., "repayment, recompense." Perhaps he does not believe that "retribution" could ever be "gratuitous," so that be need not consider it. Perhaps he is right.
But then that is also the Scripture view. The judgment of sin is, of course, recompense, retribution. Is there, or is there not, implied in this, righteousness in exercise? If God be a Moral Governor of His creatures, can He at His option dispense with this punitive exercise of righteousness? Can He blot out penalties out of His statute book, and yet leave intact the laws which the penalties accompany? Not certainly, if Scripture be true; or where would be the meaning of its doctrine of sacrifice? "As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so MUST the Son of Man be lifted up." "It became Him for whom are all things, and by whom are all things, in bringing many sons unto glory, to make the Captain of their salvation perfect through suffering."* If retribution be not needful, if the mere benevolence of God could have dispensed with it, Christ plainly need not have died at all.
*John iii. 14; Heb. ii. 10.
This to Mr. Greg may be nothing; yet he sees and can assure us of the necessity of retribution from the nature of things. And who gave things their nature? Is it not at least evident that the God of nature and of revelation are thus far one? Apart from all purpose it may serve, can sin exist and God ignore it? Can He be indifferent? Can He let it go on and not exhibit Himself in opposition to it? not show His anger? And that is essentially the fire of hell.
God is "willing to show His wrath, and make His power known." There is, and must be, therefore, governmental necessity. In the only world of which we have experience retribution is a manifest law of His government. On the inductive principle what other can we conclude to be the universal law? And even with regard to those who suffer from it, why should it not be, - nay, will it not be, - as Mr. Birks has rightly argued (although he has gone to unscriptural lengths in carrying out the principle), mercy in measure even to them, that judgment is recompensed?
(6) Last of these objections I shall notice that relating to the tortures of hell being corporeal. "Instead of the majestic pains adapted to mans complete nature, and capable of such impressive delineation, the torments assigned by ordinary Christianity to the future life are peculiarly and exclusively those appropriate to this; they are all bodily; yet the body is laid down at death"; and "the doctrine of the resurrection of the body has been shown by Bush in his Anastasis to be neither tenable nor scriptural." So says Mr. Greg once more.* But the thought of the bodily sufferings of the lost has been one of great perplexity to many who fully believe in the doctrine of resurrection; a perplexity which has been transformed into incredulity by the pictures that have been drawn of them by vivid and sensational oratory. But, as Mr. Birks has well remarked in his paper on Canon Farrars book, "the vehement dislike of any element of sensible pain in future punishment, when the doctrine itself is received, and also that of the resurrection both of the just and unjust, has no warrant either of Scripture or reason. To believe that in the life to come some will suffer intense mental anguish and agony, through former sin, and that they will so suffer in the body after they have been raised from the dead, and still to conceive that a painless and unsuffering body will be the clothing or vessel of a spirit enduring intensest anguish and mental torment, is an opinion as plainly unreasonable as it is opposed to the natural meaning of the sacred text. . . With regard to frightful pictures of future misery, like those of Tertullian in the preface, of Henry Smith, and Jeremy Taylor I would remind the Canon of his own picture in these sermons of the horrors of delirium tremens to the unhappy drunkard. If one drunkard more can be reclaimed by such dark colouring, there may be a full warrant for the preacher. But the principle in both cases is the same. I fear that in both the indulgence in drawing pictures of intense horror is more likely to revolt some and deaden the feelings of others than effectually to reclaim. The Scriptures at least give us no pattern of such ghastly modes of impressing their warnings deeper on the consciences of men. Their warnings, those of Christ Himself, are the more impressive because the words are few and simple, severe in their calm grandeur of earnest caution: outer darkness, weeping, mourning, and gnashing of teeth."
*Enigmas of Life, pp. 268.269.
As Scripture is evidently, however, what has furnished the basis of these descriptions, it will be well to ask just what it conveys. Are these expressions, "undying worm," " unquenchable fire," literal or symbolic; and what proof have we, if we have any, as to this?
In the first place the apostles language before quoted, that "now we see through a glass in an enigma," seems clearly to indicate their symbolic character. The descriptions of heaven which are given us, few have any difficulty in admitting to be symbolic. We have none that seem of any other .kind. And this argues forcibly that the same thing should hold as to the pictures of hell.
Further, if the valley of Hinnom be taken (as must surely be done), as furnishing the images whereby the Gehenna of the future is pictured to us, - "worm" and "fire," which were literal in the first, are manifestly symbols as applied to the second, and scarcely their own symbols.
Again, if Satan be cast into the lake of fire to be tormented there, it would seem that the fire must be other than natural which should torment him. And the same must be said as to the rich man in hades.
Finally, taken as figures, these expressions have a significance and power which fail altogether when taken literally. The undying worm has indeed been commonly held to be the type of remorse of conscience, and this as bred of corruption it would very naturally represent. But then the fire unquenchable would almost of necessity be figurative also, and stand for the wrath of Him who is a consuming fire." With this would agree the title given to Gehenna of "the second death," as being complete spiritual separation, finally by divine judgment, from God the source of life; and this again would give full and terrible typical significance to that millennial judgment with which Isaiah closes, where the subjects of the worm and fire are "carcases" - the dead. This explains also why the fire can torment a spirit, and why a corporeal being may exist in it unconsumed; or why the "destruction" brought about by it need be no material destruction. Everything, in short, in this way is consistent and harmonious, as much upon the literal hypothesis seems difficult and contradictory.
This- does not indeed do away with the thought of corporeal suffering, but it leaves the manner of it unrevealed, and allows room for the difference of few and many stripes which the Lord clearly teaches, and which the conception of material fire for all seems at least. to obscure.
But this is not all the picture of the future woe which the word of God presents. "Outer darkness," as in contrast with the light of heaven, is again dearly a spiritual conception. "Weeping and gnashing of teeth," is a different thought from that of active and rebellious evil, which so many connect with the idea of hell. The anguish of seeing Abraham and Isaac and Jacob, and all the prophets, in the kingdom of God, while being themselves thrust out, is also spoken of.*
*Luke xiii. 28.
These are the descriptions given to us in the Scripture of eternal judgment. Separation from God and good, the sense of His wrath and the infliction of it, remorse of conscience, hopelessness: these are the main elements in that solemn hereafter. If Mr. Greg will ponder them, he will find the picture he has drawn anticipated in its essential features. Nay, there can be little doubt but that Scripture has, in fact, unconsciously to himself; furnished him with what appears to him the product of his natural thoughts. But I need pursue this no further. The day fast hastens, in which (to use his own words) "everything which clouded the perceptions, which dulled the vision, which drugged the conscience, while on earth, will be cleared off like a morning mist. We shall see all things as they really are, - ourselves and our sins among the number." Yes, but too late, forever too late, for those who have refused to face now the reality of what we are, and what things are, as seen by the light in mercy now held out to us. "The long-suffering of the Lord is salvation." God warns, that He may not strike. Meanwhile man may arraign His judgments and refuse His mercy. They cannot avert the one. They cannot, when once it is passed, recall the other.
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