LOVE'S FINAL VICTORY
Ultimate Universal Salvation on the Basis of Scripture and Reason
An Orthodox Minister
"That which is incredible to thee thou shalt not, at thy soul's peril, attempt to believe. Go to Perdition if thou must, but not with a lie in thy mouth. By the Eternal Maker, no."—Carlyle.
"Is not Universal Salvation the Divine Corollary of Universal Atonement?"—Extract of a letter from the Author to an eminent Methodist minister in England.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
Fear of Punishment—Early Impressions—Men of Piety and Learning—Facts and Figures—Mental or Material Fire—The Theory of Conditional Immortality—Why Invented—Moody—Divine Failure Impossible—Future Operations of Grace—Restoration—A Plea for Charity—Other Worlds—The Heathen—Devout Use of the Imagination.
CRUELTY OF FORMER VIEWS.
Unconditional Election—Children of Believing Parents—An Arrogant Pretension—God's Own Children—The Heathen of All Time—A Baleful Shadow—Former Cruelty—Herbert Spencer—Dr. Farrar's Eternal Hope—A Lady With An Open Mind—Dr. Dawson's Larger View—The Universal Attraction.
THE CHURCH IN TRANSITION.
No Definite Note of Warning—Preachers Afraid of Discipline—Divided As to Restoration or Extinction—Plea for Liberty—Liberalism of the Episcopal Church—Advance in Christian Unity—Dr. Edward White—Conditional Immortality—Endless Torment—If True Ought to Be Preached Morning, Noon and Night—Awful Penalty of Sin—Extinction—True Religion Is Reasonable—Enlarged Conceptions.
A Strong Argument—Universal Atonement—Infinite Justice Satisfied—A Candid Methodist Minister—Can Man Commit An Infinite Sin?—Everlasting Punishment Could Not Be Rendered—Uses of Suffering—Punitive and Remedial—The Penalty Has Been Paid—Moral Effect—Mystery of Pain—Not Punishment but Chastening—Extending Our Outlook Beyond—Boundless Time and Space—Operations of Grace in the Next Life—Infinite Power—Infinite Mercy—Infinite Love—Incentive to Endless Praise.
HARMONY OF THE DIVINE ATTRIBUTES.
Our Limitations—Development—Our Capacity—Divine Foreknowledge—No Divine Failure—The Heathen—Unchangeable Dove—Union of Four Attributes—Eternal Wisdom—A Marvel of Coercion and Freedom—The Day of Divine Power—An Unfathomable Mystery—Future Revelations—Coming to Zion with Songs.
THEORY OF EQUALITY.
Abraham Tucker's View—Ingenious and Reverent—Variety of Endowment—Maximum of Happiness—Imparting and Receiving New Ideas—Compensations—Infinite Justice.
PROCESSES OF PURIFICATION.
Different Processes—The Case of Saul—Changed in a Moment—No Violence to Human Freedom—The Case of Nebuchadnezzar—Sudden or Slow—Basis of Warning—An Object Lesson—Function of Suffering.
THE INTERMEDIATE STATE.
Meagre Details—Good Reasons Why—Extent of the Universe—Future Glory—Sin in Other Worlds—No Revelation—Future Abode of the Righteous—Solid or Ethereal—Impossible Revelations—Present Duties and Interests—Our Limitations—Necessity of Purification—Preaching to the Spirits in Prison—Stages of Progress—The Law of Gradual Development.
THE SPIRITS IN PRISON.
The Descent of Jesus Into Hades—Singular Reserve of Preachers—Purgatory—Dr. Gerhardt's Book—A Bodily Resurrection—The Spirit World Requires a Spirit Body.
Infinite Being and Perfection—Grades of Being—Variety—Man's Limitations—Moral Beings—Hopeless Surroundings—All Are the Children of God—Righting the Wrongs of Time—"The Heart of the Universe Is Love"—Eternal Conscious Torment Incredible—Conquering Power of Love—Eternal Purpose Will Not Fail—Omnipotence in the Moral Realm—The Divine Expression of Love—Universal Atonement Involves Universal Salvation—Final Success of God's Designs—Will Evil Necessarily Perpetuate Itself?—Triumph of Good Over Evil—Few Stripes or Many—Reformatory Punishment—Bringing Good Out of Evil—Possibilities of Redeeming Grace—The Ransomed of the Lord—Wrath but the Shadow of Love—Former Eternity of Sinlessness—Wrath No Constituent of the Divine Character—Pity and Indignation.
Extent of the Atonement—The Dilemma of Universal Atonement and Partial Salvation—Human Systems of Truth—Methodist Theology—Tradition and Reason—Dr. Dale's View—No Divine Failure—Imperfection of All Theological Systems—"Sufficient but Not Efficient"—Undeveloped Possibilities—The Angel in the Apocalypse—Omnipotence Both in the Physical and the Moral Realm—The Short Epoch of Time—Advance of the Presbyterian Church in the United States—Individual Congregations—Hardening Effects of the Narrower View—The Softening Influence of Dreams—Divine Capacity of Suffering—Persistence of What Is Good—Good Men Who Are Not Christians—Insanity—Blind Tom.
A FEEBLE NOTE OF WARNING.
The Creed of Eternal Torment—Do Ministers Really Believe It?—If They Do, Why Not Say So?—No Decisive Note of Warning—Definite Missionary Incentive Is Wanting—The Phrase, "Eternal Death," Often Used—Does It Mean Annihilation, or Eternal Torment, or What?—Vague Reference to Punishment Fosters Unbelief—An Age of Compromise—Professor Faulkner's Testimony—The Idea of Restoration Would Fully Meet the Difficulty—Honesty and Candor—Carlyle's Scathing Warning—Ultimate Fulfilment of Prophecy—Eternal Songs.
PROPHECIES YET TO BE FULFILLED.
Enlarging Vision—Promise to Abraham—A Host of Similar Promises—Many of Them Not Merely National—Their Fulfilment—Not Limited by the Short Epoch of Time—The Present Only One Part of the Divine Administration—Why the Revelation Was Not Given Sooner—Groping in the Twilight—Growing Illumination—A Time for Everything—Dazzle or Enlighten—Discoveries in Science are Really Revelations—Our Slowness in Receiving Spiritual Truth—Limitations of Great Men.
TESTIMONY OF SCRIPTURE.
The Unrevealed—Scripture and Reason—Bishop Butler's Dictum—Reverence of Kepler—Moral Courage of Sir Oliver Lodge—Increase of Laxity—The Spirit's Almighty Power—Supreme Authority of Scripture—The Proper Sphere of Reason—Fate of the Heathen—Singular Reserve of Preachers—Sin Is Abnormal—Union of Divine Power, Wisdom, and Love—Reasonableness and Harmony—A Multitude of Scripture Promises—Discipline Instead of Eternal Torment—Dr. Funk's View—The Great Panacea for Unbelief—Ingersoll—No Divine Failure.
TESTIMONY OF REASON.
Divine Gift of Reason—Its Proper Sphere—No Dogmatism—Is Sin An Infinite Evil?—Infinite Penalty Impossible to Be Rendered—Justice Can Delay—Good Cannot Perish—Testimony of Dickens—Endless Punishment Would Increase Moral Evil—The Divine Character Never Changes—Time but a Short Epoch—Our Capacity of Development—Salvation of Infants—The Insane—Imperfect Christians—Their Destiny—Good Unchristian Men—Where Will They Go?—"All Souls Are Mine"—Worth Preserving—Fate of the Heathen—Reclaimed in the Next Life—Human Freedom Never Destroyed—Provision for All—A Dreadful Hymn—Divine Sacrifice Not in Vain—Bringing Good Out of Evil—Final Triumph of Goodness—Sin Is Abnormal—Will Therefore Cease—Law of Gradual Change—Sins of the Mind—The Race Might Easily Have Been Intercepted—Endless Torment Cannot Be Believed—The Mind's Affinity for Truth—True Punishment Is Reformatory—Alleged Divine Cruelty—Agony of Eternal—Ingersoll and His Shafts of Ridicule—Incentive to Good Works—Unfathomable Divine Love—"Joy Cometh in the Morning"
THE CASE OP SAUL.
Divine Methods of Reclaiming Men—"The Chief of Sinners"—Changed' in a Moment—No Violence Done to His Freedom—Yet Sovereign Power—The Mystery of Grace—View of McCosh—Supremacy of Conscience—Sir Isaac Newton's Wonderful Alertness of Mind—Reason and Intuition—Capturing the Most Incorrigible—Evil Environment—Suffering a Necessary Factor—Agony of Remorse—Eternal Hope.
An Everlasting Pang—David and Absalom—Strained Ideas of Late Momentary Repentance—King Solomon—King Saul—The Gracious Character of Sympathy—George Eliot's View—A Strong Argument for Restoration—Heresy of a Minister's Wife—A Minister's Orthodox View—Wonderful Goodness of a Criminal—Where Will He Finally Go?—Our Very Imperfect Friends—Glossing Over Their Faults When They Are Gone—Our Instinctive Hope for the Worst—Restoration the True Solution—A Final Era of Joy.
NOT REALLY BELIEVED.
Present Enthusiasm for Missions—Former Lassitude—The Basis of Missionary Enterprise—Supposed Damnation of the Heathen—If Really Believed Would Drive Us to Frenzy—Minister's Monday Meeting—Pretence Cuts the Nerve of Enthusiasm—Restoration the True Incentive—Effective Because Reasonable—Torment Not Really Believed—The Heart Often Truer Than the Head—Necessity for Preparatory State—Could Not Have Details Revealed—Orthodoxy of the Torment View—Trying to Believe It—Be Not Afraid of the Truth—Extreme Calvinists Signally Honored—The Reason Why—Our Innate God-given Convictions—Meagre Expenditure for Missions—Tacit Acknowledgment That Endless Suffering Is Not Believed.
WORKING MEN AND THE CHURCH.
Efforts to Attract Working Men to the Church—Restoration Would Largely Solve the Difficulty—Common Sense of Working-Men—Glorious Expansion of Truth—Recasting Traditional Views—The True Basis for Unity.
THE SEEN AND THE UNSEEN.
Beauty Evolved from Chaos—Future Capacity of Motion—Gleams of the Invisible—Changing Into the Divine Image—Crying Out for God—From Barrenness to Beauty—The Glow of the Firefly—The Effulgent Divinity—Universal Sense of Beauty—Sunset on the Prairie—Guardian Angels—Death As Seen from This Side and That—Sunset on Yellowstone River—A Drop of Dew—Reality of Heaven—The Literal and the Figurative—The Spiritual Body—Expanding Glory of Creation—Sunset in Dakota—Lights Dim and Clear—Christ's Unsullied Purity—A Rent in the Cloud—An Imprisoned Lark.
THE FINAL DAY.
Everlasting Love—Resources of Infinite Wisdom and Power—Redemption of the Whole Race—Forecast of the Final Day—The Conquest of Love —Christ Is Satisfied—He Is Singing with Joy—Ancient Prophecy Fulfilled—Adoration of the Heavenly Hosts—The Saviour Crowned.
The circumstances under which these pages came to be written are rather peculiar. I am in favor of church unity, and I had thought of writing something that would tend to bring the churches into closer harmony. I am persuaded that their unity of doctrine is greater than is usually supposed; I endeavored to make this apparent by citing a long list of doctrines on which the churches tacitly agree.
But in all faithfulness I had to recognize a striking difference of opinion when I came to speak of the doctrine of future punishment. On this profound question I had to recognize that there are honest differences of opinion. These could not be summarily dismissed by a hasty yea or nay.
There are three views that are entertained, which may be expressed thus: Extinction; Restoration; Endless Suffering. Not only do these different views prevail among different churches; they prevail also among individuals in all the churches. In fact, it would be hard to find a thoughtful church of any name in which each of these views is not represented.
While there is this diversity of view, there ought surely to be toleration. It is a profound subject; I am very conscious of that; yet I think there may be ultimate harmony if we are only candid enough to lay aside all prejudice, and give the matter our serious and impartial consideration. And surely, it is worthy of that. In my view, there is a right conception of the matter, which if generally entertained would go far to lift a dark shadow from the heart of the world.
For myself, I may say that I was brought up in an orthodox church that professes to believe in endless suffering. I had not, even at a mature age, examined that doctrine critically. In fact, I shrunk from examining it; I think most people do who professedly accept it. It is the doctrine of the church, and the easiest way is to assume that it is all right. If it was formulated by our learned and pious ancestors, the usual idea is that it's good enough for us.
A thoughtful mind, however, could not but recognize that there is a serious difference on this question in different churches that are admitted to be evangelical. Not only that, but there is a difference between thoughtful men in the same church. Hence, I was led to adopt, and to state, my own views here. The arguments that I was thus compelled to use expanded far beyond my expectation. Then I recognized that a plea for unity along with the advocacy of a contested vital doctrine, do not hang well together. Moreover, the space that I felt compelled to give to this doctrinal defense, induced me to cut it loose from my plea for unity, and present the matter separately.
* * * * *
On this most serious question I must say that I have read but very little. Even Dr. Farrar's standard work on "Eternal Hope" I have not read. But I considered this to be no serious disadvantage, on the whole. I conceived—and I think it was no undue egotism—that my own originality and naturalness would balance in a large degree the completeness which otherwise I might have attained. I think it is no small advantage to see the natural working of an open mind, not warped by other people's opinions and arguments.
But there was more than that. It is said of Christ that He is "The true Light that lighteth every man that cometh into the world." I cannot but think that I have had some illumination from that Source. Once in the night season, when I wished above all things to sleep, I was kept awake, and an idea came to me that was never in my mind before. In the morning the idea was written down. The following night the same thing would occur again, and again a new thought was written down. The same thing continued for weeks, with hardly an intermission.
It did not strike me until afterwards that this might be a special, divine illumination. Yet why should it not be, except that I was utterly unworthy? But then I remembered that it is to "every man," however unworthy he may be, that this divine Light comes. So it may come to many when they do not know it.
In this case it was not really so surprising. When we think of the Power and Grace that are so bound up with the theory of Restoration that are as yet so little recognized, might we not expect special, divine aid in making known such a glorious revelation? As I have noticed elsewhere in this treatise, neither of the two alternative theories brings anything like such glory to Christ as the theory of Restoration. Is not this an overwhelming argument that the theory is true?
At all events, there is now more toleration for such views than there was some time ago. I know that many Congregational ministers hold to the doctrine of Conditional Immortality; and there is no bar to such views in that church. Dr. Farrar's "Eternal Hope" does him no discredit to-day in the Episcopal Church. So with Dr. Edward White's doctrine of Conditional Immortality. But there are some who still hold tenaciously to the orthodox faith, and are quick to resent any departure from it.
Well do I remember a conference that was held in Dr. Parker's Tabernacle in London several years ago. The occasion was the meeting with the Rev. Henry Ward Beecher. The large church where we met was nearly filled with ministers. During Mr. Beecher's talk one of these zealots for orthodoxy flung out the inquiry, "Do you believe in everlasting punishment?" Beecher—manly man that he was—immediately responded that he did not. At once there was an uproar. The great majority, I believe, whether in sympathy with Mr. Beecher or not, would have allowed the matter to pass in respectful silence. But there was a small minority who felt bound to stand up for orthodoxy. For a time there was great confusion. I remember Parker's dignified protest. "Brethren," he said, "this is a Conference; it is not an Inquisition."
Truly, it does seem strange that men should be ostracised for not believing that the great majority of mankind is in everlasting fire! That is really the sum and substance of their offending. It seems that is an offense for which no greatness or goodness can atone. In the case referred to the man who was condemned was confessedly head and shoulders above his peers. Yet we boast of our culture and progress, and our emancipation from medieval darkness. Truly, it would be funny, if it were not sad.
* * * * *
On the occasion referred to I had no sympathy with Mr. Beecher's view, nor for several years after. But the idea took hold of me about five years ago. So far as I know, it came spontaneously; no, perhaps not spontaneously, but as a direct suggestion from the unseen. I had been reading nothing that would naturally lead up to it; I had no former leanings in that direction; nor was I in contact with any person who would suggest it. But suddenly the idea took hold of me, and pursued me night after night with new arguments. All the time there was nothing in my reach along this line that I could read; and I had read almost nothing beforehand. So I sought for nothing, realizing that it might be better to present the case solely from my own point of view.
I mention these matters in no spirit of egotism, but simply to show that the matter occurred to me at a time unlooked for, and without any extraneous help. If I had resorted to outside aids, I might perhaps have made the argument more complete; but would I have made it more convincing?
* * * * *
I am not in the habit of ventilating these views on all occasions; but in certain cases lately there were some remarkable results. For instance: I met a Presbyterian minister whom I knew, and we drifted into these ideas. I said I would give him one argument for universal salvation, and one only. When I had stated the argument he said it was absolutely conclusive, and that there could be no such thing as endless torment.
Lately, I met a Presbyterian D.D. on the train, and we drifted into these questions. He argued the case strongly from the orthodox point of view, and I defended the more liberal theory. We argued the question for two hours. When we were at the end of our journey he frankly confessed that he was quite with me, and that he "had gone through the mill." Yet that D.D. is supposed to be orthodox. I believe he is one of many who suppress their honest inner convictions.
A teacher in the Methodist body, a man of deep thought, and fine culture, during a few minutes' conversation, endorsed several of my views, and began to advance some of his own.
Lately, I visited a highly cultured Christian lady, who was once a member of my congregation, and I referred casually to some of these ideas. Thinking afterwards that I might really have done her an injury by merely mooting such a subject, I went back the next evening, and went into it fully. The result was that she expressed her hearty concurrence in such views.
Cases like these convince me that the public mind is more open than it was some time ago, and that when the matter is presented reasonably, in many instances it will be accepted. Surely, the light of God is beginning to shine into our gloom!
* * * * *
I suppose that the contracted view of divine love and power that prevailed in former times was largely due to the failure of men to see that God rules in all worlds and through all time. Because grace does not take effect in the case of every person now and here, it was concluded that this was a part of the divine decree; for could not God do as it pleased Him? But now we realize that this life is not all; that divine love and power are from everlasting to everlasting; that we see here but "parts of His ways;" that the great redemptive scheme may be completed in the ages to come.
* * * * *
In this treatise I have chiefly in view the great mass of people who believe in the plain statements of Scripture, and also in reason. And I will say this, for the sake of those who have been brought up with the idea that the Scripture teaches eternal torment, that there are many incorrect Scripture translations, and that these largely account for the long persistence of the old theory. Its origin is really due to the Roman Catholic Church, which invented it to keep its adherents in due subjection.
It is well to note that in two of the views I have referred to there is a degree of harmony. In the theory of Extinction and that of Restoration there is a tacit repudiation of endless torment. That seems to be an intuition in harmony with our highest range both of thought and feeling, when thought and feeling are not unduly warped by tradition. The old theory may sound orthodox; it may be consecrated by many tender memories; but I would ask if you have thought over it seriously, and if in your inmost soul you believe it. Then be faithful to that inner conviction. It is the light of God. It is what Carlyle calls "the direct Inspiration of the Almighty."
* * * * *
Pending the final solution of this great problem, I think there ought to be enough charity to disagree, with all good will and mutual confidence. And in all contemplated union of the churches this liberty ought to be clearly recognized. For this question, though of tremendous importance, is not a saving one by any means. Men, of whose goodness there can be no question, hold different views. Truth is greater than orthodoxy, and is sometimes to be found outside of orthodoxy. In this connection, the words of Professor Faulkner, of Toronto University, are well worth pondering. He says: "The fear of not being orthodox is, in my opinion, the reason why theology is under a cloud at the present time."
Closely related to this subject, it may be opportune to quote an article of mine that lately appeared in the "Homiletic Review" on the "Doctrinal Basis of Union in Canada."
The contemplated organic union of the Presbyterian, Methodist, and Congregational Churches in Canada has not yet been consummated. One thing that involved some delay has been the discovery of a basis of doctrine that would suit the three churches. At length such a basis has been formulated. It contains one statement, however, which I am rather surprised to see. It says that the doom of the finally impenitent will be "eternal death," Now what does that mean? Might it not be honestly taken to mean two very different things? Might it not be taken to mean "eternal torment" or "eternal extinction?" The manifest ambiguity of such a statement would seem to me highly objectionable. I quoted the phrase to two thoughtful friends, and asked them what it meant. They made a long pause, and said they did not know.
If the phrase has been adopted on purpose to make it the expression of the two views referred to, such a course is surely wanting in candor and honesty. To be sure, it is a Scriptural phrase, but inasmuch as it is taken to express two very different views, it ought not to be adopted. By all means be clear and simple and straightforward.
There has been too much vagueness on the part of preachers on this most solemn theme. Lately I heard a preacher speaking of unsaved men as "miserable failures, going out into the darkness." Now what did he mean? Either he has no definite idea himself, or he judged it unwise to express it. Does not such a statement as I have quoted pander directly to infidelity?
Surely, the time has come when we ought candidly to recognize that on this question there may be a legitimate difference of opinion. There are men whose godliness and ability are beyond all question, who hold diverse views on this matter. Whether it be the theory of eternal torment or extinction or Restoration that is held, let us concede all honor and confidence to the men who hold it. The more of that spirit we really possess, the sooner will the divine light break upon our souls.
With regard to a basis on which conscientious men can really unite, is it well to go so much into detail? Mere creeds will never conserve the truth. Men will think, whether we will or no; and men will have diverse views. Do we not put a premium on dishonesty by constructing a creed for all details, and expecting men to subscribe to that creed? Have we not had too much of that in the past? A noted official in the Methodist body told me lately that he does not believe in eternal torment, but that if it were known, he would lose his position. But eternal torment is in the Methodist creed, and he had profest his adherence to it. It is so with many Presbyterians. I have spoken privately with several, and not one profest to believe in that doctrine. But we say, "Truth is mighty and will prevail." Yes, I believe it will; but it would surely prevail faster if we were always loyal to it. Besides, is there anything that makes more directly for degeneracy of character than such evasion?
To avoid all peril of this kind, how would it do to take for a basis of doctrine this simple statement. "I believe the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments to be the Word of God?" Or, "I believe the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments to contain the Word of God?" Then, with further "light breaking from God's holy word," we would not need to expunge anything from our creed, or add anything to it.
For the present, let us be faithful to the light we have. As Canon Farrar well says: "There is but one failure; and that is, not to be true to the best one knows."
* * * * *
It will be noted that throughout this discussion I have made no attempt to indicate anything of the nature of the divine reformatory processes in the next life. That is far beyond me. The principle may be the same that operates now, but the details may be very different, and the effects produced may be quick or slow, just as in this life. We have instanced the case of Saul's conversion as exceptionally thorough and immediate. There may be somewhat similar cases in the next life; we do not know; but there is reasonable ground for hope. Then too, as now, there may be cases of incorrigibility which ages may be required to redeem.
* * * * *
Mistranslations of certain passages of Scripture on this subject are so numerous, and in some cases so utterly opposed to the original, that I made out a list of them, to be presented here. On second thought I have omitted them, for the reason that this treatise is intended more especially for plain, common sense people, who do not trouble much about translations, but who are dominated largely by reason and good sense. For those who give more attention to translations, I could wish that some competent and impartial person would compile a list of mistranslations and present them as a separate treatise.
* * * * *
I am satisfied that in the English Bible there is abundant support for every position I have taken. I do not mean merely direct, verbal support; but also the support of reason and common feeling, which come from the same divine Source.
I can well conceive, however, that some may have a conscientious fear that there may be something in the original that is opposed to the views that I have taken. It may appear very unlikely that the orthodox views that have so long prevailed should find such wide currency if they are not supported by revelation. It cannot be denied, however, that the translators of the Scriptures in many instances were strongly imbued beforehand with certain of those doctrines, and that in many cases they wrested the Scriptures to support them. So much is this the case that corrections and modifications have since been made—in some cases totally contrary to the original translations.
Along with this, let it be remembered that there is, and rightly, a strong conservative feeling against meddling with the Divine Word. Notwithstanding this, there is in all honesty a feeling that certain translations call for a radical amendment. I think this statement will be thoroughly borne out by some of the translations I will quote.
I have thus been moved to give some instances of mistranslation. Since writing the foregoing I have met with a treatise by Rev. Arthur Chambers, an English Episcopal minister, in which he quotes a great number of these. A number of them bear so directly on the matter we are treating that I feel that I cannot do better than quote some of them here. And in order to do this author justice, I will give also some of his own comments.
Mr. Chambers writes:
THE MEANING OF THE WORD "HADES."
The Greek language contains two words which are used many times in the New Testament—"Gehenna" and "Hades."
When the Greek New Testament was translated into English, one English word'—"Hell"—was, very unfortunately, made to do service for the two Greek words named above. "Hell" was used to express both the place of future punishments, and also the abode of those, who having departed the Earth-life, are existing as disembodied spirits, physically disembodied.
As was to be expected, confusion of ideas soon arose in consequence, and ordinary readers became bewildered.
Such a passage is Acts ii. 31: "His soul was not left in Hell," and the clause in the Apostles' Creed—"He descended into Hell"—instead of being understood as expressing that Christ at His crucifixion entered into Hades, seem to teach that He went into the place of punishment—Hell; where He never went.
THE EARLY-CHRISTIAN CONCEPTION OF HADES.
The foregoing conclusion is well-nigh unassailable, in view of the fact that the early Christians believed in an Intermediate State, which they, like the Jews and Greeks, called "Hades."
Justin Martyr (A.D. 147) declares that "those who say that there is no Resurrection, but that, immediately after death, their souls are taken up to Heaven, these are not to be accounted either Christians or Jews."
Tertullian (A.D. 200) states that "the souls of all men go to Hades until the Resurrection; the souls of the just being in that part of Hades called the 'Bosom of Abraham,' or 'Paradise.'"
Origen (A.D. 230) expresses the same views. Lactantius (A.D. 306) writes, "Let no one think that souls are judged immediately after death; for they are all detained in the same common place of keeping, until the time come when the Supreme Judge shall enquire into their good or evil deeds."
Our English New Testament represents the rich man as being in Hell. But the translation is a false one. In the original Greek it is, "In Hades he lifted up his eyes."
So, then, the rich man, though in another sphere than that of Lazarus, was also in Hades. I am aware that some teachers have viewed this parable as depicting the future condition of man, in happiness or misery, in Heaven or Hell. But besides the locality in which the two persons are placed being actually named, the context is against such a supposition. At the time that Lazarus and Dives are shown in their after-death experiences, this world is still in existence, and the brothers of the rich man are then living on the earth, and the Judgment is still distant. But Heaven and Hell will follow, not precede, the close of the present Dispensation and the Judgment. We conclude, therefore, that this parable distinctly affirms the truth of an Intermediate-life.
The terms "eternal judgment" and "eternal punishment," have been dinned into their ears of many from infancy, and they are unaware of the fact that "eternal" is not a correct translation of the original Greek word [Greek: aionios]; and moreover, that this word, "eternal" denotes without beginning as well as without end, and is misapplied to anything that is not beginningless. Again, there are hosts of earnest seekers after God and truth (as numbers of letters sent to me testify), whose acceptance of the Gospel of Christ is barred by this doctrine of everlasting punishment. They suppose it to be a part of the teaching of the Saviour; and they cannot embrace a religion which requires assent to something that shocks all their moral instincts. For the sake of such persons, it seems only right that we should examine this doctrine; that we should show them what it really is, and upon what foundation it has been built. Thus, and only thus, will they be brought to see that this ugly human conception is not of God.
THE FOUNDATION UPON WHICH THE DOCTRINE OF EVERLASTING PUNISHMENT HAS BEEN BUILT.
We must look for this in the mistranslation of a few words in the Greek New Testament. These words are:—(aion); (aionios); (krima); (krisis); (krinein); and (katakrinein).
We shall show that the translators have dealt most misleadingly and inconsistently with these words. They have translated them, in a number or passages of Scripture in which they appear, strictly in accordance with their true meanings, while into the words as they occur in other passages they have imported meanings not only exaggerated and awful, but such as to make Scripture contradictory of itself.
For the substantiation of this serious charge, we refer the reader to the following facts concerning each of the words instanced.
(a) The word (aion), and the adjective derived from it, (aionios).
We place these words first, because they are the terms that have been rendered by the translators—"world without end," "forever and ever," "everlasting," and "eternal;" and it is upon the basis of these false renderings that the terrible doctrine of everlasting punishment has been reared.
The word [Greek: aion], in the singular, denotes an age, a period of indefinite, but limited, duration, which may be either long or short. In the plural, the word denotes ages, or periods, that may be extended, and even vast, but still of limited duration.
The word cannot denote unendingness, commonly, but erroneously, termed "eternity" by those who forget that eternity is without beginning as well as without end. Else, how could the plural of the word be used, and how could Scripture speak of "the aions" and "the aions of the aions" (i.e., "the ages," and "the ages of the ages")? There can be no plural to "eternity," and it is surely an absurdity to talk about "the eternities" and "the eternities of the eternities." And yet the translators, in some instances have deliberately imported into the word [Greek: aion] the meaning of everlastingness, while excluding it in other instances.
Here is an example, out of many:
In Mark iii. 29, the passage, according to the Greek, is: "He that shall blaspheme against the Holy Spirit hath not forgiveness all through the aion (age), but is in danger of aionial judgment (i.e., the judgment of an age)."
The translators have rendered this: "He that shall blaspheme against the Holy Ghost hath never forgiveness (i.e., not forgiveness forever), but is in danger of eternal damnation."
In this case, it will be seen that they have imported the idea of unendingness into the word [Greek: aion] and the idea of "eternal" into its adjective, [Greek: aionios].
In Matthew xiii. 39, the passage, according to the Greek is: "The harvest is the end of the aion (age);" and in 2 Tim. iv. 10: "Demas hath forsaken me, having loved the present aion (age)."
The translators have rendered these passages: "The harvest is the end of the world." "Demas hath forsaken me, having loved this present world." In these cases, it will be seen that they have rightly excluded the idea of unendingness from the word [Greek: aion]. But why? we ask. If it was right to include it in Mark iii. 29, it was wrong to exclude it in the two last-named passages. Then why exclude it? The answer is, that it would have been too utterly foolish to translate Matthew xiii. 39, as "The harvest is the end of the forever," and 2 Tim. iv. 10, as "Demas hath forsaken me, having loved the present eternity"—and so the translators in these instances gave the word its true signification.
But can it, we ask, be right to treat language in this way—to make a word mean one thing to serve the purposes of a doctrinal idea, and to make it mean something essentially opposite, when that idea is not involved? Does anyone imagine that the translators would have introduced this contradiction, and have translated the Greek of Mark xiii. 29, as they have done, unless they had gone to this text with the preconceived idea that a certain sin can never be forgiven, and therefore that the passage must be strained and contorted to endorse the idea? It is an instance, not of founding theology upon Scripture, but of twisting Scripture to suit theology. One thing is quite certain. It cannot be right to translate a word in some passages in one sense, and to translate it in other passages in an antagonistic sense. The word [Greek: aion] cannot denote a period of limitation, and also unendingness. If it denotes the one it does not denote the other. The one definition excludes the other. No one, in his senses, dreams of defining a day as a period of twelve hours under one set of circumstances, and also as being the equivalent of all time under other circumstances. We have to determine what is the true definition of [Greek: aion]. If it can be shown that the essential meaning of the word is that of limited duration, then the case is very clear; the translators were not justified in foisting into it the idea of unendingness; and this being so, a huge superstructure of doctrine, reared upon the mistranslation, will totter and fall, and an awful nightmare will be lifted from the Christian religion.
An adjective qualifies its noun, and we cannot import into the adjective more than is contained in the noun. We may speak of the race of mankind as "humanity," and describe the existence of the race as "human life," but we should not be so absurd as to define "human" in that phrase as signifying "Divine."
And yet the translators have been guilty of committing a similar error in translating the word [Greek: aion] in the passages instanced as "world," which is equivalent to an age, and expresses limitation; while translating [Greek: aionios] as "everlasting" and "eternal;" both of which terms exclude limitation.
We ask, does this commend itself as being a fair way of dealing with a book which contains a record of Divine truth?
We pass on to the brief consideration of a few other words that have been dealt with unfairly, in order, if not to found, at all events to buttress, this doctrine of everlasting punishment.
(b) The word (krima). The word denotes judgment; the sentence pronounced. As such the translators of the Authorized Version rightly rendered it in many passages of the Gospels, the Acts, and the Epistles (e.g., Matt. vii. 2; John ix. 39; Acts xxiv. 25; and Rom. ii. 2). But here is the inconsistency. In Matt, xxiii. 14; Mark xii. 40; Luke xx. 47; Rom. in. 8; xiii. 2; I Cor. xi. 29; and I Tim. v. 12, they substituted the word "damnation" for it. We will say nothing about this word "damnation," except that it is an evil-sounding word, whose original meaning has been exaggerated and perverted; and a word that more than any other has been employed to support the awful doctrine we are opposing.
But why did the translators alter the reading? Why render [Greek: krima] as "judgment" in some places, and as "damnation" in others? The answer is—These last named passages were viewed as pointing to future punishment; the translators' idea of future punishment was that of endless suffering and misery; and the word "damnation" was considered to be better suited to the popular theological error than the proper and milder word, "judgment." Our contention is, if the word "damnation" be right in one passage, it is right in another. Why, for example, did they not translate John ix. 39, so as to represent our Lord as saying—"For damnation ([Greek: krimas]) I came into this world?" They gave the true rendering in this and other passages, because it would have been too absurd not to do so.
That these criticisms are not unjustified is seen in the fact that the New Testament revisers have discarded the word "damnation" in the above passages, and in Rom. xiii. 2 and I Cor. xi. 29, have correctly rendered [Greek: krima] as "judgment."
We are thankful to them for this service in the interests of truth.
We must briefly consider—
(c) The word (krisis).
It also denotes judgment, i.e., the process of judging; and in forty-one passages of the New Testament the translators so rendered it. But in Matt, xxiii. 33; Mark in. 29; and John v. 29, they deliberately substituted the word "damnation" for "judgment." With what object? Plainly, to add emphasis to their preconceived idea of an endless hell. But does this commend itself as being a fair and consistent way of dealing with Scripture?
Why,—except that it was too utterly foolish,—not have rendered the following passages as they did the three just instanced?
"Woe unto you, Scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye ... pass over damnation ([Greek: krisis]) and the love of God" (Luke xi. 42).
"As I hear, I judge, and My damnation ([Greek: krisis]) is just" (John v. 30).
"So opened He not His mouth; in His humiliation His damnation ([Greek: krisis])_ was taken away" (Acts viii. 32, 33).
Seeing that the Greek word is the same in every one of these passages, is it not very wrong to give it an improper and grossly exaggerated significance in three texts, while translating it correctly in forty-one other instances?
Again, it is suggestive that the revisers of the New Testament, in Matt, xxiii. 33 and John v. 29, have flung away the word "damnation," and in its place put "judgment" as the proper rendering of [Greek: krisis]. If the translators of the Authorized Version had done this, one of the supports of an ancient error would have been knocked down.
(d) The word (krinein).
The word denotes—to judge; and eighty-one times in the New Testament the translators so rendered it. And yet in regard to the same Greek word which occurs in 2 Thess. ii. 12, they made the translation run:—"That they all might be damned who believed not the truth."
But why not have been consistent? Why not have rendered 1 Cor. vi. 2, in this way; since in both passages the verb [Greek: krinein] is the same,—"Do ye not know that the saints shall damn the world? And if the world shall be damned by you, are ye unworthy to damn the smallest matters?"
I will trouble the reader with only one other word.
(e) The word (katakrinein). Its meaning is—to condemn. It is a stronger word than [Greek: krinein] to judge, but there is nothing in it that corresponds to that awful meaning supposed to reside in the word "damn." And yet the translators did not hesitate to give it that meaning.
How did they treat this verb, [Greek: katakrinein]? Just as they treated other verbs and nouns, when they wished to bolster their theological idea. In seventeen instances in the New Testament they translated it rightly as "condemn," but in Mark xvi. 16 and Rom. xiv. 23, doctrinal preconceptions prevailed, and so these two passages were rendered—"He that believeth not shall be damned." "He that doubteth is damned if he eat."
And for centuries, an everlasting hell-fire has been read unto the mistranslated word.
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I might continue in this strain at great length. The quotations I have given may be taken as samples of many more. It is surely time that the sad and sombre clouds of so-called orthodoxy should be dispelled by the rising beams of the Sun of Righteousness.
The word "for ever," taken in its rigid literal sense, is a stumbling block to many. I lately asked a very eminent man in England, the president of a theological college, how he would get over that difficulty. He replied that he believed that the word "aion" would more fully meet the case, and that that word would more exactly accord with the capacity of our finite mind, the word "forever" expressing an idea entirely beyond our comprehension. That seems to be good sense, and more in harmony with the whole trend of Revelation.
* * * * *
I have issued this treatise under an assumed name; not because I am specially careful of my reputation, but rather because I wish the work to be regarded solely on its own merits. If any reader feels disposed to write me, either briefly or more at length, and whether in criticism or commendation, I shall be glad.
HORATIO, Care Austin Publishing Co., Rochester, N. Y.
Fear of punishment—Early Impressions—Men of piety and learning—Fact and figures—Mental or material fire—The theory of conditional immortality—Why invented—Moody—Divine failure impossible—Future operations of grace—Restoration—A plea for charity—Other worlds—The heathen—Devout use of the imagination.
There is a general fear of suffering after death. Such fear may be derived in part from early impressions and education, and in part from the conscience that God has given to every man. But whatever their secondary origin, these sources of fear have been divinely ordained as means to an end. Such fear could not be divinely inspired if it were not founded on fact. And the fact is, that there is suffering in reserve for evil doers. There is no mistaking the statements of Scripture as well as the voice of conscience on that point.
What that suffering is, for what object inflicted, and how long it will continue, have been of late years much discussed, and with diverse views. Some of these views are very literal interpretations of the divine Word, and others of them are very figurative. The fact is, it is not always easy to distinguish between symbolism and reality, whether in nature or in revelation. I remember that the first time that I saw Mount Tacoma in the distance, I could not distinguish as to what was mountain and what was cloud. When I got very near, then I knew. And so in several Scripture statements it is not easy, for the present, to distinguish between what is fact and what is figure. When we get nearer no doubt we shall know. So it is with the nature and the duration of future punishment. Some take a more literal, and some a more figurative view. The result is, that the Christian world is at wide variance on the subject. And I think he would be a bold man, and not a very wise one, who could be very dogmatic in such a realm of investigation.
* * * * *
Now, with regard to the portion of the wicked in the next life, there are three main theories that are held.
First: There is the theory of everlasting conscious torment of the most terrific kind. It is not clearly defined whether the suffering is of the body or the mind, or both; but the general idea is that it is of both. The bodily suffering is usually conceived of as being inflicted by fire; but whether the fire is material or of some other kind, is not clearly defined. The mental suffering is usually represented as the most bitter remorse.
Then second: There is the theory of extinction at death or after. The idea is that there is utter destruction both of the body and the mind at some period.
Then again: Some hold that the wicked are given another opportunity after this life of obtaining salvation; that many will do so, and that the remainder will be destroyed. We may call this the theory of extinction.
DR. EDWARD WHITE'S THEORY.
Some are very definite in locating the period of a second probation as co-extensive with the Millenial reign. Others do not pretend to know when it will happen, or how long it will last; they simply believe it will happen. This idea of a second probation is very similar to Dr. Edward White's theory of Conditional Immorality. He held that life in the Scripture simply means life, and that death simply means death. He believed that those who are fit for life will live, and that the rest will perish.
I would say here that the idea of Conditional Immortality, favored by many, does not seem to me to be well conceived. Evidently the theory was invented in order to escape the doctrine of endless torment. The idea is, that if you are fit to live you are destined for a glorious immortality; otherwise you are extinguished. Such a view does not seem to comport with our highest thoughts of God, and His ways of working. In my mind, it represents God as being too dependent on circumstances. When we realize that Christ died not only for "all," but for "every man"; and when we realize that the invitations of mercy are extended to "every man," without equivocation, it does seem to me something like a failure of the divine plan if "every man" is not saved.
But since every man is evidently not saved in this life, we project our view into the next life, and we think of God's operations of grace there. No doubt that is a larger view than that which has so long prevailed. But it is not unreasonable by any means. Divine operations are surely not restricted to this short epoch of time. God's mercy is from everlasting to everlasting.
And can anything defeat His purpose? He has expressed His purpose to save all men, in the fact that He gave His Son to die for the world, and that He invites all the world to be partakers in the great salvation. That is His purpose; and "His purpose will stand, and He will do all His pleasure."
We should never forget this great truth. As Mr. Robert E. Speer well says:
"We escape much difficulty from literalistic and mechanical interpretations by remembering that both space and time are merely conceptions of our present order, and that there is neither space nor time in God."
The third theory is, that everyone will be restored. Those who hold this view do not generally define the period when this will take place, or the means that will be used to bring it about; but they believe that the wisdom, love, and power of God will somehow be effectual to that end.
I think that these are mainly the views that are entertained on this most solemn subject. And it must be said that each one of them is apparently supported by one or more passages of Scripture. Men of the most devout spirit, intellectual acumen, and profound scholarship, uphold these various theories. Such men are honest and sincere in the last degree; above all things anxious to know what God has revealed in His Word.
UNFOLDING LIGHT OF REVELATION.
Yet on this momentous question they differ. It is really no wonder. I think I may say that there is no clear deliverance in Scripture, in absolute support of either of these views; or if there is, it is offset by some other statement that seems contrary. In the unfolding light of revelation we do not seem to have come to the time when this momentous question will be made absolutely and universally plain. It may be one of those questions on which we are to exercise faith alone. "Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?" That was Abraham's consolation when he did not know what God was going to do. And it may be our consolation. The Judge of all the earth will certainly do right. Yes, and He will do more than right. He is love. We can rest on that. Uncertainty as to details may best become us now. But the eternal morning will break and the shadows flee away. Meantime, while this uncertainty prevails, surely there ought to be abounding charity of judgment.
When we come to think of it, we are not so much surprised that we have but a partial and limited revelation on this subject. There may be more divine kindness in that than at first sight appears. When we contemplate the vastness of creation, we see that there are myriads of other worlds far larger and more glorious than our own. Every one of these is likely to have a moral history—it may be more important than ours.
Now, if we had a complete revelation of the destiny of our race, possibly that would involve a history of some or many of those worlds; for the affairs of this world may be largely involved in theirs. Therefore, if God would give us such a revelation now, we can easily see that it is quite beyond us; the subject would be too vast for us now and here; we would be utterly bewildered, and rendered unfit for the ordinary duties of life. How much wiser and kinder it is to give us but a limited revelation, leaving unrevealed matters entirely to faith.
It is not remarkable, then, that so little is revealed, even of Heaven. We do not know what activities will have place there. What particular business will engage redeemed souls, we do not know. We have a sufficient revelation to stimulate hope, but not enough to pander to curiosity. Such a limited revelation as we could receive would probably only confuse us. It is not remarkable, then, that we have but a meagre account of the preparatory processes for final blessedness.
Yet, while all this is true, we can hardly help inclining more or less to one or other of the theories named, in reference to the future. But in this, as I have just said, we ought to be very charitable with each other, as to our special conviction. If it were a fundamental question, likely the Word of God would have made it plain. But it is not a fundamental question. We may take whichever view seems the most agreeable with Scripture or with reason; and for so doing we ought not to be ostracised as heretics.
On this very question of future suffering there has been far too much intolerance. The theory of eternal torment has especially been held to be the only orthodox view. Surely, it is time for more liberality. On this question I would make a special appeal for charity and good-will, on the ground that there is no positive deliverance in revelation.
If anyone claims that there is, I would ask, How comes it that men of the highest character and candor take different views? The time may come when we shall see eye to eye on this matter; or it may not come in this life.
Meantime we can agree to differ. What are we that we should arrogate to ourselves any assumption of certainty on a matter unrevealed, that takes us into the eternities, and fixes the doom of uncounted millions of our race?
THE DEPARTED MORE AMENABLE.
Explain it as we may, we have always to remember that there are myriads of human beings living now, and other myriads who have departed, who had no chance to know the way of life. Will not the God of all mercy and of all resource provide them with a chance on the other side of death? The mere accident of death makes no change in them. And who knows if the departed may not be more amenable to good influence then, than now? I have heard of heathens who heard the Gospel but once, and they received it, and were saved. It may be so with poor lost souls who had no opportunity on this side of time.
One thing I cannot understand; and that is, the liberal terms in which men at times express themselves, who yet profess the narrow orthodox view. I do not say they are insincere; but it does seem as if they deliberately ignored their own creed, and that they spoke for the time out of the conviction and sincerity of their hearts. Just now, glancing through a certain magazine, I have come on an instance of this kind. The writer is a professor in a so-called orthodox Seminary. I leave any fair-minded reader to say if his utterances are at all in harmony with his professed orthodoxy. Here are a few of his sentences, selected almost at random from a long article:
"In this swift day of unmatched opportunity, the Church is laboring, perplexed and heavy, over its message." That is true enough. And I think the secret of the Church being "perplexed and heavy" is, that preachers must have an inward, unspoken conviction that their message of a limited salvation is unworthy of God, and unsuited to the needs of the world. No wonder the Church is "perplexed and heavy!"
Again this author says: "Men want to know that all the lines of diverse human life converge into one infinite, beneficent hand." But if that "infinite, beneficent hand" has cast by far the greater part of the human race into eternal torment, it is no wonder if thoughtful men are "perplexed and heavy."
Yet the writer of this article believes in universal love. He says: "Men want to see that their single life, so lost alone, is vitally bound into the bundle of universal love." So the author's instinct is better than his creed. He professes to believe in universal love. That is surely all right. But notwithstanding that, he professes to believe that untold millions of the human race are in endless suffering.
In another place he says: "Men long to be assured that this is no universe of short, fortuitous details." He also says: "The Kingdom of God is too great for less than universal participation." Is this not universalism? Yet, if the author were asked, would not his creed require him to repudiate such an idea?
Again, this author says: "A few years ago science and human thought were accepting an account of life which let a man fall like a beast in the field, or a tree in the wood. To-day that explanation satisfies no one. It is agreed that the meaning of life can be complete only in terms of spirit and immortality." Is not the old doctrine of reprobation here utterly denied? Yet that old doctrine of reprobation stands in the creed of the orthodox church to-day.
One more quotation will suffice. Speaking of the divine plan, the author says that it is "a plan so complete that no sparrow falls beyond it, that no act falls fruitless, that there shall never be one lost good, that no living soul made in God's image can ever drift beyond His love and care." Is not this a flat contradiction of the author's orthodox creed? We believe that all he claims is absolutely true. But is he candid? Why has not the church the courage to expunge the old fatalism from her creed, and present to the world a statement that she really believes? I am persuaded that such candor is the desideratum of the world to-day.
To a thoughtful mind, the most evangelical preachers are at times unintelligible, and even contradictory, on such themes. Take this extract from a sermon by Mr. Moody, published some time ago. He says "Christ will return to the earth, for he has bought it with his own blood, and is going to have it. He has redeemed it; and the Father is going to give it to him."
Now, what does Mr. Moody mean when he says that Christ has bought the earth, and that He is going to have it? Of course, it must be the population of the earth that he means; otherwise, the words would have no sense. Then, did Christ purchase the whole population? If He did, there would be great equity in Him claiming the whole. But Mr. Moody would be one of the last men to admit that Christ will claim the whole of mankind. On the contrary, he professes to believe that the greater portion of mankind is lost beyond all recall!
Such is the confusion and contradiction in which men involve themselves, who are otherwise the excellent of the earth. There is no contradiction, however, but glorious harmony, in the idea that Christ will claim the whole of mankind for His own, because he has bought them every one, and has omnipotent power to claim them.
I feel that I ought almost to apologise for using the word "claim" at all in such a conception. It looks too much as if the Father and the Son were somewhat at variance in the glorious scheme of salvation. A thousand times No. I even doubt if in the actual suffering of Christ, the Father did not really suffer by sympathy as much as He! This is holy ground!
Consider this. We are commanded to preach the gospel to every creature. But where would be the honesty of preaching the Gospel of salvation to one for whom no salvation is-possible? For certainly, no salvation is possible for anyone for whom Christ did not atone. But it is now tacitly admitted by all evangelical churches that He died for all, notwithstanding that the doctrine of a limited atonement is still asserted in the Presbyterian Confession of Faith. Well it may; for if the atonement were acknowledged to be universal, then this difficulty would have to be faced—Why are all not saved? According to the doctrine quoted elsewhere, that God infallibly accomplishes everything at which He aims, all must infallibly be saved. For God certainly aimed at that consummation in giving His Son as a ransom for all. Here is a crux from which, it seems to me, there is no possible escape.
There is also this weakness—I might say this contradiction—in the Methodist theology. They say that Christ died for all; but they teach that all are not saved. Then He must have died in vain in regard to those that are lost. That is the inevitable corollary. Not only did He die in vain in their case; but His intention and desire was, not to die in vain in reference to any. He certainly aimed at their salvation in dying for them; but He does not accomplish it. To such horrible absurdities are we reduced by denying that He died for all, or that He will save all. The only logical, reverent, and divine solution seems to be that He intended to save all, and that He will do it. "God will infallibly accomplish everything at which He aims."
I lately heard an address—one of the best that I have heard—by a Canon of the Episcopal Church. His theme was: The work and aims of the British and Foreign Bible Society. The address was scholarly, lucid, earnest; and the language was absolutely perfect.
But like every address that I have heard on kindred subjects, it never so much as hinted at the results in the next life, if we failed in the duty the speaker so strongly recommended. Not once did he speak of eternal torment as a possible issue. What a tremendous incitement to duty is here, could it be but presented with the accent of conviction. But as a matter of fact, it is never presented at all, except in terms so vague that they actually mean nothing.
I do not know, in the case I have referred to, if the Canon believes in everlasting fire. Nor do I know that the creed of the Episcopal Church endorses it. What a glorious opportunity is here for an earnest and consistent minister in that church to publicly denounce such a doctrine as a hideous dream! So far as I know, he would not expose himself thereby, as in most other churches, to pains and penalties. I think, on the contrary, a vast number would rally around him, both in his own church and outside of it. Is not the religious world waiting for some pronounced leadership on this question? I am convinced that there are thousands of prominent ministers who do not believe in eternal torment, but who keep up a pretense of doing so, in order to avoid loss of reputation—perhaps of livelihood. Is it not time for earnest men to be honest? And many are longing to be honest, if only their way was clear.
And what an incalculable boon would then come to the world! I am convinced that honesty in this matter on the part of ministers would speedily issue in a mighty revival. For what is it that mainly keeps so many men, especially working men, from the Church? There may be many causes; but one undoubtedly is, an undefined idea that there is no eternal torment, and that ministers know it, but are not candid enough to say so. These men may not have studied the theology of the case, but they cannot think of God—when they think of Him at all—as casting innumerable people, and pretty good people—into everlasting fire. They have an idea that that doctrine is in the orthodox creed; and so many have an impression that the whole system of religion is a melancholy farce. But give them a man who has the common feelings of humanity like themselves, and interprets the true God to them as a God of love—and their whole attitude will be changed. I am convinced that nothing would have such a wide and gracious effect, as honesty on this question of future punishment.
I see that a notable Presbyterian divine has been giving a course of lectures on The Church and Men. For one thing, he seeks to account for the fact that working men do not attend church. After glancing at the progress of science, and the effect of the higher criticism, he says: "It is alleged that the church has sometimes alienated thoughtful men by her adherence to outworn creeds." The lecturer, however, makes but little of this as a real cause of working men not allying themselves with the church. I think it is along this line, however, but deeper, that the chief cause may be found. The church has, indeed, "adhered to outworn creeds" in her confessions. The dogma of reprobation, and a limited atonement, and everlasting fire, are retained. But are they preached? Are they believed?
Not long ago, in a large evangelical congregation, the preacher asked for a show of hands on the part of any who had heard a sermon on hell for the last ten years. Two hands were held up. Was that doctrine proclaimed last Sunday in any evangelical church? Was it proclaimed for a year past, or ten years past? I doubt it. But if it is believed, would it not be preached—yes, preached morning, noon, and night, with the earnestness of frenzy?
Some preachers delicately approach the idea with hints and innuendos and mild threatenings, which are really worse than utter silence. I heard a preacher speaking lately of men as "utter failures, going out into the darkness." Now, what did he mean, or did he mean anything? Again: preachers speak of "eternal death," which might mean eternal extinction, or eternal fire. And yet that vague phrase is actually proposed as one of the bases of union of the churches.
Now, how can we expect such jugglery of sacred things to commend itself to honest, hard-headed men? For such is really the character of many of the working men. They love truth, and honesty, and consistency, and abhor everything like sneaking, unmanly pietism? Give them the manliness of truth and honesty, and I venture to think they will not be so shy of the church.
Of course, that might involve the repeal of much of our creed. And there's the rub. We are afraid of pains and penalties. And then we don't like to go back on the fathers who made the creed. It looks like a reflection on their wisdom and piety. But I don't think it really is. They were faithful to their light. And they had to contend with evil traditions. It is not to be expected that any creed they could frame would be good for all time. Besides, we should not be afraid to go back on anything or anybody that is not true. Truth is too sacred for that. And our responsibility is too serious. 'Carlyle has a most scathing warning for all who strive to believe that which in their inmost soul they repudiate.
If it is thought that I am in any degree uncharitable towards ministers of so-called orthodoxy, let me here transcribe a few words from a highly honored preacher of the opposite trend of thought. I have just met with these brave and candid words. They were spoken some time after I had expressed my own views regarding the want of courage and honesty on the part of so-called orthodox preachers. If anyone is disposed to think my own words too strong, let him listen to this from an old and honored minister, but one who repudiates the doctrine of eternal torment.
He says: "It matters not that all the educated ministry to-day well know, and would not for a moment deny, their disbelief in the doctrine of eternal torment, if cross-questioned. Nevertheless, many of them hate us and oppose us, because we show the people the true interpretations of God's Word, and lift before the eyes of their understanding a God of Love, Just, Merciful, Righteous altogether, and fully capable both in wisdom and power to work out all the glorious designs which He 'purposed in Himself before the foundation of the world.'
"(1) They perceive that the doctrines of Purgatory and eternal torment have not had a sanctifying influence upon mankind in all the sixteen centuries in which they have been preached. They fear that to deny these doctrines now would make bad matter worse. They fear that if the Gospel of the Love of God and of the Bible—that it does not teach eternal torment for any—were made generally known, the effect upon the world would be to increase its wickedness, to make life and property less secure than now, and to fill the world still more than now with blasphemies.
"(2) They fear also that a certain amount of discredit would come to themselves because, knowing that the Bible does not teach eternal torment according to the Hebrew and Greek original, they secreted the knowledge from the people. They fear that this would forever discredit them with their hearers. Hence, they still outwardly lend their influence to the doctrine of eternal torture, which they do not believe, and feel angry with us because we teach the people the Truth upon the subject, which they know will bring to them hundreds of questions difficult to answer or dodge."
But it is not often that orthodox ministers emphatically present the horrors in which they profess to believe. Take, for instance, Dr. Torrey. In a late sermon, when warning sinners, he is reported to have said: "You will go out into eternity disgraced forever." Is that all? Only disgraced? Why does he not present the horrors of eternal fire in which he professes to believe?
Another minister, whom I know, spoke lately of wicked men as "going out into the darkness, miserable failures." Such trimming fails to command the respect of sensible, honest men.
Those who hold the larger view have no need for such evasions. I have just had a letter from one of the most eminent English theologians, in which he states his view thus:
"With regard to the future world, my faith and doctrine have always been that the state of anyone entering the next world is tested and determined by his relation to Christ, Whom he will then see in the fullness of all His redeeming power and glory. If he then seek by a touch to lay hold of Him, he is in Christ's Hand. If he should even then turn from Christ, he will enter into a new condition, but that condition is only an age-long condition, and he is not there fore outside the redeeming love of God; but at the end of the new age will enter upon a new state."
I have pointed out to him that, in my view, the condition he refers to may not necessarily be age-long condition, but that in certain cases it may be very brief. The case of Saul and others seem to favor this view. In any case, he endorses my main contention—that suffering is not endless. The same mail brought me also a letter from another notable English divine, in which he says candidly that he does not believe in endless suffering, and that this is common sense.
I remember well that as a child I was confused by the following problem. My saintly old minister often prayed that the earth might be filled with the knowledge of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea. That was all very well for those who would savingly know the Lord. But what about the uncounted millions in the past and the millions now, and the millions yet to be born, who would go out of this world in darkness, without knowing the Lord. The minister never said a word about that. His creed required him to believe that they would all go into endless torment; but he passed over the momentous question in silence.
Possibly he would say that the matter was not a proper one to be spoken of. But why not? If there is such a fearful possibility for anyone, why should he not be warned? The very warning might be the means of averting such a fate. Surely, the most lurid picture of eternal woe would be better than the realization of it. Yet it was seldom or never spoken of, especially as to its duration.
Here, then, is a most serious consideration. If we can think of God doing a thing, the horror of which we cannot bear to speak of, or even to think of, is there not in this a strong presumption that the theory is not true? Let this thought revolve for a while through your mind; remember the strong affinity which the mind has for truth; and then see if the thought which I am trying here to sustain is not a reasonable one. Surely, we have here a strong argument against the theory of endless torment.
There was lately a great Missionary Conference in Edinburgh. Amongst other matters, all sorts of expedients were discussed as to how the heathen of different countries could be most successfully reached. Certain doctrines of Christianity were recognized as best fitting to be presented to certain countries, as especially suited to meet the special conditions that prevail. Strange to say, so far as I saw any report, the doctrine of everlasting punishment was not once suggested as being especially appropriate. Yet if it is true, what could be more appropriate to the heathen mind of all countries? Is it really believed by Missionaries, and those who support them? If it is, why not present it? If it is not, why not expunge it from our stated confession of faith? Can we not afford to be honest on this supremely sacred question? When an intelligent heathen is converted to the Christian faith, and realizes that we profess to believe what we do not really believe, what will he think of us? Will not the Christian church lose more than it gains by this worldly wisdom, which essentially is moral cowardice?
A devout use of the imagination is of great service here. Yes, I say the imagination. I do not mean the revelling of mere fancy in the realm of the unthinkable or the impossible. I mean the vivid realization of facts that lie outside the ordinary rut of thought. So exercised, imagination is one of our noblest powers.
We need a devout, yet chastened, imagination in dealing with such themes as the one we are considering now. No wonder that Ruskin says that imagination is the greatest power of the soul. It is but reasonable to imagine, then, that God has disclosures of love, and wisdom, and power, to make in the next life, that far transcend our present thought.
CRUELTY OF FORMER VIEWS.
Unconditional Election—Children of Believing Parents—An Arrogant Pretension—God's Own Children—The Heathen of All Time—A Baleful Shadow—Former Cruelty—Herbert Spencer—Dr. Farrar's Eternal Hope—A Lady With an Open Mind—Dr. Dawson's Larger View.—The Universal Attraction.
The old doctrine of God's unconditional decrees still survives, despite our conviction that perfect impartiality is one of the attributes of the divine character. The idea seems to have taken hold of some minds that a thing is right because God is the Author of it. That is certainly beginning at the wrong end. God does a thing because it is right; His doing of it does not make it right. But we need to have faith that His future administration will rectify all the apparent wrongs of the present. It is our failure to take this larger view that has led many people of the kindest heart to adopt the most cruel conclusions.
Just now a lady has told me of a certain "eminent divine" who says that children who die in infancy are elected if they are the children of believing parents! What a revelation this "eminent divine" must have of the eternal mysteries! Since he knows so much, I would like to ask if one believing parent would not suffice, in an urgent case, or if both must infallibly be believers! A more arrogant pretension it would be difficult to conceive.
The lady who spoke to me on the subject said it would be a very comfortable thing to believe. "Yes," I said, "it might be a comfortable thing for you, but what about the other woman down street who is not a believer? Do you think that her children are not as precious in God's sight as yours?"
Away with all such hard, narrowing conceptions! Can it be imagined that God would consign infants to everlasting torment, simply because they are children of unbelieving parents? A thousand times No! Let us remember that they are His own children, whatever earthly parentage they may have. His love and power are not going to be thwarted by any considerations of evil ancestry. Any lingering doubt of that is a survival of the old, narrow, hard doctrine of absolute election.
But in support of the idea referred to, this passage may be quoted: "The promise is to you and to your children." Does not that exclude all others? Well, let us see. Read on. "And to all that are afar off." Ah! That immensely widens the circle. "All that are afar off." Who are they? Are they not the heathen of all the world, and of all time? So the children of believing parents are bound up in the same bundle with the vilest of mankind. And we are not greatly surprised. For they are God's own children, every one; and whether they are little innocent infants or others advanced in some stages of wickedness, or the most depraved of mankind, we believe they are all subject to redeeming power and grace. Different means may be required for their education or reclamation; but it is easy to believe that divine love, and power, and wisdom, will not fail of their effect.
But, then, something more is added in the passage we have quoted. "Even to as many as the Lord our God shall call." Does not that look like restriction, or selection? Well let us see. Who are they that are called? Here we have it, Listen. "Look unto me, and be saved, all the ends of the earth." Surely, that means the whole race. And equally it means the next life as well as the present; for there are millions and millions who never heard the call, and never will hear it, on this side of time.
We hope we are now leaving behind us the ferocity which was formerly considered quite appropriate to religion. Indeed, a man was hardly accounted serious, if he was not severe. And the worst of it was, that God was considered severe. Men could read over and over again that "God is love;" but somehow the great truth was not received in its fulness. The idea of God's justice seems to have cast a baleful shadow over men's hearts and lives. Certainly heaven's own light is now breaking through the gloom. Many of the highest judgment and character now entertain views which their fathers would have repudiated as rank heresy.
* * * * *
It is a most unfortunate thing that we have derived from our bloodthirsty ancestors an impression of divine cruelty that is utterly opposed to the fact. And it is not so very long ago that such traditions were handed down to us. "What we forget," says the New York Evening Post, "is the short distance of time and space that separates us from our ferocious forefathers." Dr. Johnson in his 'Journey to the Western Islands,' relates the tradition that the Macdonalds—honored name to-day—surrounded the Culloden Church on Sunday, fastened the doors, and burnt the congregation alive. The entertainment received its perfecting touch when the Macdonald piper mocked the shrieks of the perishing crowd with the notes of his bagpipes.
* * * * *
"Perhaps an even more striking illustration of the survival of savagery may be found in men's religious beliefs—say, in the conception of a God who is a cruel man endowed with omnipotence. Grave divines were telling us within a generation that a just and merciful Father, for his good pleasure, had doomed certain of the non-elect to the most hideous physical tortures for all eternity. It was in 1879, about thirty years ago, that Herbert Spencer in 'The Data of Ethics,' stated the theory quite nakedly: The belief that the sight of suffering is pleasing to the gods,' He added: 'Derived from bloodthirsty ancestors, such gods are naturally conceived as gratified by the infliction of pain; when living they delighted in torturing other beings; and witnessing torture is supposed still to give them delight. The implied conceptions long survive.'
"Some of our readers may recall the attacks upon Spencer, and even upon clergymen otherwise orthodox, like the late Frederick William Farrar, who doubted the doctrine of eternal torture."
* * * * *
We hope we are beginning to survive such false and horrible ideas. Those ferocious representations are the very contrary of the truth. To get the truest conceptions of God, we have to think of man at his highest; and even then we are as far below the reality as the earth is below the stars. We are made in the image of God, however, and are a human transcript of the divine. But we are finite at our best, while God is infinite. Beyond all human thought His love is strong, and tender, and unchangeable. He is veritably our Father, and I think He is so in a far closer relation than mere creation. If we can think of the possibility of delight in torturing our children, ten thousand times more repugnance would God have in torturing us, except for a time, and for the highest and wisest ends.
* * * * *
If we go back to medieval times we have the most revolting pictures of the agonies of hell. We are told, for instance, of a certain monk who in the course of his journeys came to the underworld, and there he found "a fiery glen 'darkened with the mists of death,' and covered with a great lid, hotter than the fires themselves. On the lid sat a huge multitude of souls, burning, 'till they were melted, like garlic in a pan with the glow thereof.' Reaching the nethermost hell, he was shown the Prince of Darkness, black as a raven from head to foot, thousand-handed and with a long thick tail covered with fiery spikes, 'lying on an iron hurdle over fiery gledes, a bellows on each side of him, and a crowd of demons blowing it.'
"As he lay there roasting, tossing from side to side, filled with rage and fury, he grasped the souls in his rough, thick hands, bruising and crushing them, as a man would crush grapes to squeeze out the wine. With his fiery, stinking breath, he scattered the souls about Hell, and as he drew in his breath again he swallowed them down with it, and those whom his hands could not reach he lashed with his tail. This, the angel explained, was Lucifer."
Unfortunately, however, medieval ages had no monopoly of such horrors. They have survived almost to our time. In some cases they are reproduced even yet. It is a painful thing to recall, but even our late beloved Spurgeon at times fell into this snare.
I have just had an interview with a lady of the highest Christian character. She was brought up in the orthodox faith, and never doubted its truth. I hesitated to launch these larger views upon her, thinking they might only disturb her, and that perhaps she was too old to recast her opinions. But I found that her mind was perfectly open; and after some discussion she firmly believed in the larger hope. I was persuaded that such would be the experience of thousands more, if they would but give their heart and mind to a devout consideration of these questions. And oh, what a pall of gloom would thus be lifted from the heart of the world!
We may well give here the noble words of Dr. Dawson, who in an address before the Royal Society of Canada, quoted this stanza:
"For a day, and a night, and a morrow, That his strength might endure for a span, With travail, and heavy sorrow, The holy spirit of man."
Then he says: "The holy spirit of man! Holy in its capacity, in its possibility: nay, more, in its ultimate destiny!"
This is no self-righteousness. It is a gleam of man's potentiality, that makes him truly sublime. There are many Scripture statements that make man pitifully little; but this is because of his present sinful condition. Bye and bye he will rise into his true condition, and then "The holy spirit of man" will be not only a possibility, but an experience. It is gratifying to notice that such a man as Dr. Dawson has this larger hope.
* * * * *
In striking antithesis to such views as we have referred to, I may here narrate an experience of my own in which I think there was revealed to me a peculiar phase of Christ's universal attractive power. One day in San Francisco I saw a funeral procession passing along the street. I joined the procession, and went with it into the church. I saw that all the company were negroes. The minister, who was also a negro, announced the Hymn:
"Safe in the arms of Jesus, Safe on His gentle breast, There by His love o'ershaded, Sweetly my soul shall rest."
It was sung with all the fervor of the negro race. As it proceeded a strange thought struck me: How could negroes find rest on the bosom of One quite another color? It was a natural thought, for the color prejudice is strong. Even when we think of Christ, we instinctively think of Him as a white man. How, then, could these worshippers find rest on His bosom, and in His arms? If He had been a negro, they might do so; but how could they do such a thing when they realized that He was of a different color from themselves?
Then suddenly, a solution same to my mind. If Christ was not black, neither was He white. In fact He was brown; about midway between white and black. So in color He was as near to the negroes as to the white race. Therefore the negroes can recline on His breast, and in His arms, as naturally as we. That seemed to me a very happy idea; perhaps even a revelation.
But then, another thought quickly followed. What if Christ took this central place, even as to color, of set purpose? He could thus appeal more directly to the whole human race, and thus more effectively draw all men to Himself. Therefore I hazard the conjecture that one reason why He chose to come of the Jewish race was, that he might be, even as to color, the central attraction of the world. Oh yes; if we only widen the horizon of our thought and our affection, we shall see that the great scheme of redemption is co-extensive with the race, and reaches forward into the eternities.
THE CHURCH IN TRANSITION.
No Definite note of Warning—Preachers Afraid of Discipline—Divided as to Restoration or Extinction—Plea of Liberty—Liberalism of the Episcopal Church—Advance in Christian Unity—Dr. Edward White—Conditional Immortality—Endless Torment—If True Ought to Be Preached Morning, Noon and Night—Awful Penalty of Sin—Extinction—True Religion is Reasonable—Enlarged Conceptions.
There can hardly be a doubt that the church in general is in a state of transition on this question. The want of a definite note of warning, to which I have referred elsewhere, is an indication of it. Some preachers have not the conviction of eternal torment and do not speak of it. Others know very well that many of their hearers would resent any such declaration. But they do not preach Restoration. They are afraid, I suppose, that they might expose themselves to the discipline of the church. Some, I believe, would very quickly espouse the Restoration theory, if they were sure that they would escape all pains and penalities. Meantime they do not examine the doctrine, for I suspect they fear they would be convinced that it is true. I believe that most ministers of the Presbyterian and Methodist Churches occupy one or other of the positions I have indicated.
A few days ago I was speaking with a mature and scholarly man who occupies a prominent position in the Methodist Church. In our conversation we drifted into the subject of Restoration, and he freely avowed his faith in it; but he said that if such a thing were known, he would lose his position.
In the Presbyterian Church there is by no means a universal loyalty to the traditional doctrine of eternal torment. There was a notable indication of this some time ago. Somehow—I do not know how—the question of eternal punishment came up among Presbyterians in the United States. A great number of letters was addressed to "The Interior," of Chicago. Some of these endorsed the doctrine of Extinction, and the others of Restoration. So far as I can remember, none were in favor of eternal punishment. At the close, the Editor summed up in favor of extinction. But he was not indicted for heresy, nor any of his correspondents, so far as I am aware.
The whole affair showed very clearly that there is a tacit and wide repudiation of the doctrine of eternal torment. It also showed that the church is divided on the theories of restoration and extinction; while I presume that many would uphold the old doctrine of torment. I claim that this division of opinion is allowable. There ought to be, and I think that on the whole there is, Christian liberty on this topic. Some day the church may see eye to eye on these matters.
Especially do I honor the Episcopal Church for always having taken this more liberal ground. It is possible to hold the most diverse views on this point, and yet be in good standing in that communion. I lately spoke with an Episcopal clergyman who believes not only in the Restoration of the entire human race, but who believes that Satan himself will ultimately be restored. I know another Episcopal clergyman who is a confirmed and advanced spiritualist; yet he believes in Restoration; and he is a very able, devout, and godly man. Witness also Archdeacon Farrar's book on "Eternal Hope;" yet that man held his position in the church, and grew in public esteem till his dying day.
OPENING OF THE PULPITS.
And there was lately a remarkable expression of Christian charity on the part of the Episcopal Church in the United States. At a triennial convention of that body held at Richmond, there was passed a resolution opening the pulpits of the Episcopal Church to clergymen of other denominations. The resolution was then referred to the House of Bishops, which passed it by a vote that was practically unanimous.
This is a marvellous advance in Christian unity, and a tacit recognition of the secondary nature of many questions that were once thought to be of primary importance. Amongst other topics, there may well be a difference of opinion on matters pertaining to the next life.
* * * * *
And I believe that the Methodist Church is really, though not avowedly, in a state of transition on the same point. I was speaking a short time ago with a noted official of that church, and one that has a wide and intimate acquaintance with the views of his brethern. He said to me, very candidly, that the ministers of the Methodist Church do not believe in eternal punishment; and he said this with such an air of satisfaction that I concluded that he himself took that position.
As for the Congregational Church, it makes no pretense of exacting such a view on the part of its ministers. Some of its ministers and members uphold that theory; but there is perfect liberty of opinion. I know that many of their ministers believe in Conditional Immortality. Dr. Edward White, of England, the apostle of that doctrine, was a highly respected minister of that church.
I think I am right in saying that there is no Universalist Church in England. There Universalism is no barrier to membership in the Congregational Church.
At all events, in either of the four churches named, there is little or no preaching of eternal torment. That is the outstanding fact. We can account for the fact only on the supposition that the doctrine is not believed. If it were really believed it would certainly be preached. If it is true it ought to be preached, morning, noon and night. One cannot conceive of believing in hell fire as the doom of sinners, and not warning men of it, even with the earnestness of frenzy.
THERE IS NO WARNING.
And here I would notice the great loss we sustain in having no emphatic note of warning. It used to be the custom of warning men of hell fire; but now there is no warning, except the very general and vague warning of wrath to come, which has really little meaning. We do not say in what it consists; therefore the vague statement has but slight significance. To this may be attributed much of the comfort and carelessness of sinners. Many there are, even of regular church goers, who hear nothing on these matters but what they hear from the pulpit; and from that they hear practically nothing. How much better it would be if they could be warned very definitely of coming suffering, if they are not now delivered from their sins. So long as there is sin there will be suffering. I am convinced that the nerve of the preacher's message is often cut by this want of a definite note of warning.