The Restitution of all Things
Part 3: Popular Objections to this Doctrine
I have thus stated what I see of God's purpose and way; and it is, I believe, the key to all the difficulties and apparent contradictions of Holy Scripture on this subject. There are, however, certain current objections, which have weight with those who tremble at God's Word. It is said that this doctrine is opposed to the voice of the Church, to Reason, and above all to Holy Scripture. If this last be true, the doctrine cannot stand. God's Word is the final appeal on this and every other subject. For the rest, if the Church speak with God, woe to those who disobey her. But if by reasonings or traditions she make void the Word of God, "let God be true, and every man a liar." (Rom. iii. 4.)
Let us look at these objections: --
(1) First, it is said that the Church has never held, but on the contrary has distinctly condemned, this doctrine. But is this true? Where then, I ask, and when, has the Catholic Church ever authoritatively condemned this view of restitution? At what council, or in what decrees, received by East and West, shall we find the record and the terms of this condemnation? Of course I am aware that individuals have judged the doctrine, and that since Augustine's days the Western Church, led by his great authority, has generally received his view of endless punishment. I know too that Theophilus of Alexandria, the persecutor of Chrysostom, (For details, see Neander, Church Hist . Vol. Iv. pp. 474-476.) and then Anastasius of Rome, who, according to his own confession, until called upon to judge Origen, knew little or nothing about him, (Id. Ibid . p. 472.) and later on the bishops at the "home synod" summoned by the patriarch Mennas at Constantinople, the latter acting under court influence, two hundred years after his death, condemned Origen.
(NOTE: Both Neander and Gieseler shew, that this condemnation of Origen was passed, not at the 5th General Council of Constantinople, in 553, as some have supposed, but at the "home synod" under Mennas, in 541. See Neander, Church Hist. vol. iv. p. 265; and Gieseler, Eccl. Hist. Second Period, div. ii. ch. 2, par. 109; and notes 8 and 20. And even this "home synod," though under court influence, it condemned some of Origen's views, would not consent to condemn the doctrine of Restitution, spite of the Emperor's express requirement that this doctrine should be anathematized.
But so have certain bishops in council asserted Transubstantiation, and condemned all those who on this point differed from them; and yet it would be most untrue to say that the Universal Church asserted this doctrine, or that a rejection of it involved a rejection of the Christian faith. It is so with the doctrine of endless torments. It can never be classed under "Quod semper, quod ubique, quod ab omnibus." Many have held it; but the Catholic Church has nowhere asserted it; while not a few of the greatest of the Greek Fathers distinctly dissent from it. The Creeds received by East and West at least know nothing of such a doctrine, and in their assertion of "the forgiveness and remission of sins," seem rather to point to another belief altogether.
But suppose it were otherwise,--suppose it could be shewn that the Church, instead of asserting "the forgiveness of sins," had taught the reverse, and had judged the doctrine of restitution,--grant further, what I admit, that the Church generally has seen, or at least has taught, comparatively little, especially of late, respecting universal restoration,--what does this prove, if, though yet beyond the Church's light, the doctrine is really taught in Holy Scripture? Many things have been hid in Scripture for ages. St. Paul speaks of "the revelation of the mystery, which had been hid from ages and generations;" (Rom. xvi. 25, 26; Eph. iii. 5.) some part of which at least, though hidden, had been "spoken by the mouth of all God's holy prophets since the world began." (Acts iii. 21.) There are many such treasures hidden in Scripture, open secrets like those in nature which are daily opening to us. But when have God's people as a body ever seen or received any truth beyond their dispensation? Take as an instance Israel of old, whose ways, "ensamples of us," (1 Cor. x. 6.) prefigure the Church of this age. Did they ever receive the call of the Gentiles, or see God's purpose of love outside their own election? A few all through that age spoke of blessings to the world, and were without exception judged for such a testimony:--"Which of the prophets have not your fathers slain?" Was God's purpose to the Gentiles therefore a false doctrine: or, because His people did not receive it, was it not to be found in their own Scriptures? The doctrine of "the restitution of all things" is to the Church what "the call of the Gentiles" was to Israel . And if the Church, like Israel, can see no truth beyond its own, and has judged those who have been witnesses to a purpose of love far wider than that of this age,--which is not to convert the world, as some suppose, but only "to take out of the nations a people for God's name," --is God's purpose, though declared in Scripture, to be damned as a false doctrine, simply to teach us nothing? (Acts xv. 14.. Compare S. Matt. xxiv. 14:--“This gospel shall be preached in all the world for a witness to all nations.)
Are men's traditions as to God's purpose to be preferred to His own unerring Word? When I see that if I bow to the decisions of its widest branch, I must receive not Transubstantiation only, but the Immaculate Conception also,--the last of which cuts away the whole ground of our redemption, for if the flesh which bore Christ was not ours, His Incarnation does not profit us,--I can only fall back on that Word, which in prospect of coming apostasy is commended to the man of God, as the guide of his steps and the means to perfect him.
It is indeed a solemn thing to differ with the Church, or like Paul to find oneself in a "way which they call heresy," simply by "believing," not some but, "all things which are written in the law and in the prophets." (Acts xxiv. 14.) But the path is not a new one for the sons of God. All the prophets perished in Jerusalem . (S. Luke xiii. 33, 34) And, above all, the Lord of prophets was judged as a Deceiver, (S. Matt. xxvii. 63.) by those whom God had called to be His witnesses. The Church's judgment, therefore, cannot decide a point like this, if that judgment be in opposition to the Word of God.
But is it possible that Christians should have been allowed to err on so important a point as the doctrine of future judgment? Would our Lord Himself have used, or permitted others to use, words which, if final restitution be true, might be understood as teaching the very opposite?
I say again, look at the doctrine of Transubstantiation. Has, or has not, one large section of the Church been suffered to err as to the meaning of the words, which are at the very foundation of her highest act of worship? Did not our Lord, when He said, "Take, eat, this is my body," (S. Matt. xvi. 26.) know how monstrously the words would be perverted? Yet though a single sentence would have made any mistake almost impossible, He did not add another word. Why? Because the very form in which the Word is given is part of our discipline; and because without His Spirit, let His words be what they may, we never really understand Him. Transubstantiation is a mistake built on Christ's very words; and the doctrine of endless torments is but another like misunderstanding; which not only directly contradicts many other Scriptures, but practically denies and falsifies the glorious revelation of Himself, which God has given us in the gospel, and in the face of Jesus Christ. Both shew the Church's state. And though thousands of God's children have held, not these only, but many other errors, only proves the grace of Him, who spite of such errors can yet bless and make His children a blessing.
2) It is further said that the doctrine is opposed to Reason. Several arguments are urged by those whose opinions are entitled to the most respectful attention. I confess I care little to answer these, because to me the question simply is, "What saith the Scripture;" because, too, I know that those who urge these reasons would instantly abandon them, if they believed Scripture spoke differently; for I am sure I may answer for them and say, that no reasons if opposed to Scripture would weigh with them; because, too, if it be made a question of reasoning, as much may be said against as for the doctrine of never-ending punishment. Still, as some of these reasons are perplexing simple hearts, I may notice those which are most often heard.
(i) The first is, that this doctrine militates against the atonement, for if all men shall at length be saved, God became man to redeem from that which is equally remedied without it. Surely, Christ did not die to save us from nothing. But never will any believe the redemption by Christ, who do not believe in hell also. (Pusey's Sermon on Everlasting Punishment , p. 29; and Cazenove's Essay on Universalism , p. 13.)
Now what does it say for the state of the Church, when men can argue, that if all are saved at last by Christ, they are saved as well without redemption. The objection only proves the confusion of thought which passes current for sound doctrine, and how little the nature of the fall, and the redemption by Christ, are really understood.
What the Scripture teaches is, that man by disobedience and a death to God fell from God under the power of death and darkness, where by nature he is for ever lost, as unable to quicken his soul as to raise again his dead body; that in this fall God pitied man, and sent His Son, in whom is life, to be a man in the place where man was shut up, there to raise up again God's life in man, to bear man's curse, and then through death to bring man back in God's life to God's right hand; that in His own person, Christ, the first of all the first-fruits, as man in the life of God, broke through the gates of death and hell; that those who receive Him now, through Him obtain the life by which they also shall rise as firstfruits of His creatures; that "if the firstfruits be holy, the lump is also holy," and that therefore "in Christ shall all be made alive." But how does it follow hence that those who are not firstfruits, if saved at all, are saved without Christ's redemption? Christ is and must be the one and only way, by which any have been, or are, or can be, saved. But if when we were "dead in sins" and "children of wrath, even as others," God's Word could quicken and deliver us out of the horrible pit, that we might be "firstfruits of His creatures," why should we say He cannot bring back others out of death, though they miss the glory of being "firstfruits ?" To say that if this be true, God became man to redeem us from what is equally remedied without it, and that if "in Christ all are made alive," their life is not through Christ's atonement, but independent of it, is simply misapprehension of the whole question. But the objection shews how much, or how little is understood even by masters of Israel .
The other part of the objection that "none believe in redemption who do not believe in hell," is true, and shews why some at least are only saved by being "delivered to Satan." For none are saved till they know or believe their ruin. Like the Prodigal, we must come to ourselves before we come to our Father. (S. Luke xv. 17, 20.) If therefore yet bound by the lie, "Ye shall be as Gods," men will not believe their fall, and that there is, and that their souls are in, a dark world the necessary result is they cannot believe in redemption, for till they believe their fall they will neither believe nor care for deliverance. If they will not believe it, they shall know it. And if belief in hell makes belief in redemption possible, what if the knowledge of hell should also lead those who will not believe, to the knowledge of their state and of their need of Christ's redemption?
(ii) It is further argued, that, if grace does not, judgment cannot, save man. How can damnation perfect those whom salvation has not helped ? Can hell do more for us than heaven? What more could God do for us, that He has not done for us? (Pusey's Sermon, pp. 9, 10.)
The answer to this lies simply in what has been said above, as to the reason why the way of life for us must be through judgment. We are held captive by a lie. One part of that lie is that we are as Gods. The remedy for this is to shew us that we are ruined creatures. Till we believe or know this, we cannot return to God. Judgment, therefore, to shew us what we are, is as needful as the grace which meets the other part of the serpent's lie, and shews what God is. Therefore God kills to make alive. Therefore He turns man to destruction, that He may say, Return, ye children of men. Therefore He delivers even Christians to Satan, for the destruction of their flesh, that so they may learn what grace has not taught them. If we want further examples, Nebuchadnezzar shews us how judgment does for man what goodness cannot. Loaded with gifts, through self-conceit he loses his understanding. The remedy is to make him as a beast. Then as a beast he learns what as a man he had not learnt. (Dan. iv. 29-34.) Let the nature of the fall be seen, and the reason why we are only saved through judgment is at once manifest. Grace saves none but those who are condemned; nor till we have felt "the ministry of death and condemnation" do we fully know "the ministry of life and righteousness."
The firstfruits from Christ to us are proofs, that by death, and thus alone, is our salvation perfected. Unbelievers, who will not die with Christ, are lost, because they are not judged here. God cannot do more than He has done for man. Law and Gospel are His two covenants. But why may not the Lord, seeing that He is " Jesus Christ, the same yesterday, to-day, and for the ages," by the ministry of death and condemnation in another world do for those, who have not here received it, that same work of judgment to salvation, which in the firstfruits is accomplished in this present world? Blessed be His name, we know He will subdue all things unto Himself; and though our sin can turn His blessings into curses, He can no less turn curses into blessings, by that same power which through death destroys the power of death.
(iii) But it is further objected, that this doctrine gives up God's justice; (Cazenove's Essay, pp. 22-24.) for if all are saved, there will be no difference between St. Peter and Nero, virgins and harlots, saints and sinners. (Jerome, on Jonah iii. 6, 7; quoted from Huet's Origeniana , in Pusey's Sermon, p.29.)
This again is misapprehension or worse. God's justice is given up, because He saves by judgment. The conclusion is absurd; but it arises from the common notion, that we are saved by Christ from death, instead of by it and out of it. What Scripture teaches is, that man is saved through death; that the elect, being first quickened by the word, and then judging themselves or being judged in this world, (1 Cor. xi. 31-32.) by a death to sin are freed from Satan; that others, not so dying to sin, remain in the life and therefore under the curse and power of the dark world, and are therefore delivered to Satan to be punished, to know, since they will not believe, their fall, and their need of God's salvation. But all this simply asserts the justice of God, that if men will not be judged here, they must be in the coming world.
For the rest, the statement that according to this view no distinction is made between St. Peter and Nero, virgins and harlots, saints and sinners, is not only untrue,--for is there no distinction between reigning with Christ and being cast out and shut up in hell with Satan?--but is too like the murmur of the Elder Son at his brother's return, (S. Luke xv. 29-30.) to need any answer with those who know their own hearts. It is the old objection of the Pharisee and Jew, who thought God's truth would fail if sinners of the Gentiles shared their good things; an objection deeply rooted in the natural heart, which is slow to believe that an outwardly pure and blameless life needs as much the blood of the cross as the most depraved and open sinner. The objection only shews where they are who urge it; and whatever support it may seem to have from a part of God's Word,--as a part of God's Word, taken against the rest, seemed to justify the Jew, and was indeed the very ground on which he rejected the call of the Gentiles,--more light will shew that it rests on partial views, and on a systematic disregard of all those truths of Scripture, which are beyond the dispensation. Some day we shall see, that "all have come short," (Rom. iii. 23.) that as to sin and failure "there is no difference between the Jew and Greek," (Rom. x. 12.) that the elect are "by nature children of wrath, even as others," (Eph. ii. 3.) that if saved at all, first or last we must be "saved by grace;" (Eph. ii. 8.) and this truth will justify all God's ways, "who hath concluded all in unbelief that He might have mercy upon all.'' (Rom. xi. 32.)
(iv) The last argument I notice is that from analogy. It is said that as unnumbered creatures in this world fail to attain their proper end, as a large proportion of seeds never germinate, as many buds never blossom or reach perfection, so thousands of our race may also miss their true end, and be for ever castaways. "For as the husbandman soweth much seed upon the ground, and planteth many trees, and yet the thing that is sown good in his season cometh not up, neither doth all that is planted take root; even so it is of all them that are sown in the world; they shall not all be saved." (2 Esdras viii. 41.)
Now that countless creatures in their present form fail to reach that perfection, which some of their species reach, and which seems the proper end of it, is a fact beyond all contradiction. Present nature is both the witness and mirror of man's present state. But to say that nature out of this failure or destruction cannot and does not bring forth other and often fairer forms of life,--that what here fails of its due end is therefore wholly lost, or for ever shut up in the imperfect form in which it dies and fails here,-- is opposed to fact and all philosophy. While therefore it may be fairly argued that many of our race fail to attain that perfection which is reached by some as the end of this present life, analogy will never prove that those who miss this are hopelessly destroyed, or for ever held in the ruined form or state which they have fallen into.
If this indeed were the conclusion to be drawn from the failure of some seeds, why not go further and argue that since death overcomes every form of life in this world, death and not life must be the final ruler of the universe? A sad and most partial reading this of the great mystery. The truth is, nature is a mirror of the two unseen worlds. Every form of death, all disease, decay, and failure, every fruitless seed, each ruined life, is the shadow of hell, and of the working of that spirit which destroys and mars God's handiwork. On the other hand all life and joy, every birth, all that quickens and supports and helps the creature, is a reflection of the world of light, and a witness that God is meeting the disorder. Even death itself, as seen in nature, does not declare annihilation or never ending bondage in any given form of evil. Quite the reverse. Nature says, matter cannot perish: it may seem to perish, but the apparent death is only change of form; the change, call it death or what you will, being indeed the witness of present imperfection, but not of eternal bondage in that form, nor of destruction or annihilation when that form perishes. Nature must be strangely read to draw this lesson from it; but in this argument the conclusion depends upon the extent or limit of our view, and our capacity to read the book of nature, imperfect readings of which will always lead us, as in the phenomena of sunrise and sunset, to conclusions the very opposite to reality.
Analogy, so far from proving that the lost are for ever shut up in the form of evil where they now are or may be, declares not only that all things may be changed, but that what to sense appears destroyed and worthless, may contain shut up in itself what is most beauteous and valuable. Think of the precious things which chemistry brings out of refuse,--of the flavours, scents, and colours, which are every day being extracted from what appears worthless. Who can tell what may yet be wrought by fire? Fire can free and transform what water cannot touch. All things shall be dissolved by fire. (2 Pet. iii. 12.) And even those most fair and least corruptible, as the precious stones, which are the shadows of the things of Christ's kingdom, (Exod. xxviii. 17-21; Rev. xxi. 19-21.) shall, like that kingdom, one day give up their present beauty for a higher glory, that God may be all in all.
(v) The greatest difficulty perhaps of all is that which meets us from the existence of present evil. "The real riddle of existence," says an acute thinker, "the problem which confounds all philosophy, aye, and all religion too, so far as religion is a thing of man's reason, is the fact that evil exists at all; not that it exists for a longer or a shorter duration. Is not God infinitely wise and holy and powerful now? And does not sin exist along with that infinite holiness and wisdom and power? Is God to become more holy, more wise, more powerful, hereafter; and must evil be annihilated to make room for His perfections to expand? (Mansel's Bampton Lectures , lect. vii. p. 222.)
No doubt the existence of evil is a difficulty; but surely this kind of reasoning about it proves too much; for by the same reasoning it might be shewn, that God could never have done anything. Was He not "infinitely wise and holy and powerful" when "the earth was without form and void”? Why then should this state ever have been changed by Him till "all was very good”? Why should not the darkness, which once reigned, have remained for ever? Was the change needed "to make room for God's perfections to expand”? And why, when the earth was again corrupt, should God judge it with a flood; and then again bring it forth from its destruction? Why should He work for the deliverance of His people in Egypt , or "triumph gloriously" over their oppressors? Was He not "all wise, all holy, and all powerful," even while His people were oppressed? Did He become "more holy and wise and powerful" by their deliverance? If such reasoning as this is good, why should we look either for a day of judgment or the promised times of restitution? Why, but because, mysterious as the fact is, there has been a fall. All things do not continue as they were from the beginning. And therefore the Father "worketh hitherto," (John v. 17.) nor rests till "all things are made new," (2 Cor. v. 17; Rev. xxv. 5.) and "everything is very good."
And as to evil, granting that its existence is a difficulty, is it one which is so utterly incomprehensible? Is it not plain that the knowledge of evil is essential to the knowledge and experience of some of the highest forms of good; and cannot even man's reason see that sin may be a means of bringing even into heaven a meekness and self-distrust and knowledge of God, which could be gained in no other way? Does not all nature shew that while the origin of evil is unspeakable, death and corruption may both be means to bring in better things? The seed falls into the ground, and dies, and becomes rotten; but the result is a resurrection with large increase. So the juice of grapes or corn is put into the still, and thence by decomposition and fermentation, both forms of corruption, is evolved a higher and more enduring purity and spirituality.
The existence of evil therefore is not so much the difficulty, as the question, whether, if evil be essential now, it may not be always needful for the same end. And to this question our reason as yet can give no answer. Scripture however has an answer, that, though a fall has been permitted, evil shall have an end, and the creature through God's wondrous wisdom even by its fall be raised to higher glory. Scripture distinctly teaches that "the creature was made subject to vanity, not by its own will, but through Him who subjected the same in hope; because the creature itself also shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children f God." (Rom. viii. 20, 21.) What St. Paul says too of an election of grace before the foundation of the world, according to a predetermined purpose of redemption through Christ's precious blood, (Eph. i. 4-12.) proves that God's purpose involved and could only be wrought out through a fall, for without a fall there can be no redemption. And the fact that God, with the full foreknowledge of man's sin, chose yet to encounter all this sin, with its attendant misery, out of it to bring forth and give to man His own righteousness, shews that in His judgment it was worth while to suffer the evil in order to arrive at the appointed end.
Evil therefore must subserve some good purpose-- otherwise God could never permit it, or say, "I form peace, and I create evil." (Isa. xlv. 7.) And though as yet we cannot fully see why evil is allowed, what we know of God and of His ways, that there is perfect wisdom and economy in every part of them, assures us that there can be no error or mistake, even in that which seems to cause the ruin of the creature. Meanwhile those who believe that some now bound by death by it are being brought into more perfect and secure blessedness, by such a creed practically assert that present evil need not be eternal, since in some at least it shall be done away. If in some, why not in all? Besides, even supposing we could not tell whether evil might or might not be done away,--supposing it were proved that it would exist for ever, as essential to the training of certain creatures,--this existence of evil for ever would be a very different thing from the idea of the infinite or never-ending punishment of a finite being. But, thank God, we are not left to guesses. Prophecy announces a day when there shall be no more curse or death, but all things made new. In this witness we may rest, spite of the fact and mystery of present evil.
(vi) I have thus noticed what Reason is supposed to say against the doctrine of final restitution. But to me this is a question only to be settled by the Word of God; for with our knowledge or lack of knowledge of all the mystery of our being, we are not in a position to argue this point, or to say exactly what is, or what is not, reasonable. What saith the Scripture? This is the question, and the only question I care to ask here on this subject. At the same time I confess that the restitution of all things, so far from appearing to me unlikely or unreasonable, seems, spite of the mystery of the origin and existence of evil, more consistent with what we know of God than the doctrine of never-ending punishment. To say that sin, assuming it to be opposed to God, has the power of creating a world antagonistic to God as everlasting as He is, attributes to it a power equal at least to His; since, according to this view, souls whom God willed to be saved, and for whom Christ died, are held in bondage under the power of sin for ever; and all this in opposition to the Word of God, which says that God's Son "was manifested that He might destroy the works of the devil," (1 S. John iii. 8.) who, if the so called orthodox view be right, will succeed in destroying some of the works of the Son of God for ever.
When I think too of God's justice, which it is said inflicts, not only millions of years of pain for each thought or word or act of sin during this short life of seventy years,--not even millions of ages only for every such act, but a punishment which when millions of ages of judgment have been inflicted for every moment man has lived on earth is no nearer its end than when it first commenced; and all this for twenty, forty, or seventy years of sin in a world which is itself a vale of sorrow;--when I think of this, and then of man, his nature, his weakness, all the circumstances of his brief sojourn and trial in this world; with temptations without, and a foolish heart within; with his judgment weak, his passions strong, his conscience judging, not helping him; with a tempter always near, with this world to hide a better;--when I remember that this creature, though fallen, was once God's child, and that God is not just only, but loving and long-suffering;--I cannot say my reason would conclude, that this creature, failing to avail itself of the mercy here offered by a Saviour, shall therefore find no mercy any more, but be for ever punished with never-ending torments.
Natural conscience, which with all its failings is a witness for God, protests against any such awful misrepresentation of Him. For even nature teaches that all increase of power lays its possessor under an obligation to act more generously. Shall not then the Judge of all the earth do right? (Gen. xviii. 25.) Shall we say that sinful men are selfish and guilty, if with wealth and power they neglect the poor and miserable; and yet that God, who is eternal love, shall do what even sinful men abhor and reprobate? For shall we, if one of our children fall and hurt itself, or be lost to us for years, bitterly reproach ourselves for want of care, and be tormented with the thought that with greater watchfulness we might have saved the child,--shall we if at last he is found, even among thieves, a sharer of their crimes, still love him as our own child, make every possible excuse for him, and do all we can to save him,--shall we, though he be condemned, plead for him to the end, urging the strength of those temptations with which he has been so long surrounded,--and shall not God have at least the like pity for His lost ones? Has He left any of His children in peril of being for ever stolen from Him? Can He, if through the seduction of a crafty tempter some wander for awhile, be content that they should remain miserable slaves for ever lost to Him? He would not be a wise man who risked even an estate, nor a good man who obliged any one else to do so.
Can God then ever have exposed His children to the risk of endless separation from Him? All the reason God has given me says, God could not act thus; and that if His children are for ever lost, He even more than they must be miserable. But, as I have said, we have, thank God, a better guide than our reason, even God's blessed Word, with its "more sure" promise; and because that Word declares man's final restitution, and that God will seek His lost ones "till He find them," (S. Luke xv. 4, 8.) and that therefore a day shall come when "there shall be no more curse or death," I gladly accept God's testimony, and look for life and rest, spite of present death and judgment and destruction.
(3) But it is said, certain texts of Holy Scripture are directly opposed to the doctrine of universal restitution. That they seem opposed is granted. We have already seen that, taken in the letter, text clashes with text on this subject. All those texts which speak of “destruction” and “judgment” are explained by what has been said above as to the way of our salvation, and that by death alone God destroys him that has the power of death. Those passages also which speak of the “lost,” as for example St. Paul's words at the commencement of his epistle to the Romans, that “as many as have sinned without the law shall perish without law, and as many as have sinned in the law shall be judged by the law,” (Rom. ii. 12.) are not the declaration of the final lot of any, but of the state of all by nature, till through union with Christ they are made partakers of His redemption. In this lost state some are held far longer than others, and therefore are in a special sense “the lost,” (2 Cor. iv. 3; ________ sometimes translated “them that perish,” as in 1 Cor. i. 18, and 2 Cor. ii. 15.) as compared with the firstborn, who are made partakers of the first resurrection. But all the saved have once been lost; (S. Luke xv. 24, 32.) for the Son of Man is come to seek and save that which was lost. (S. Luke xix. 10.)
The fact therefore that of these lost, some are lost for a longer or shorter period, proves nothing against their final restoration; for the Good Shepherd must “go after that which is lost, until He find it.”
There are however other passages which are relied on as unquestionably affirming never-ending punishment. That they do teach us that those who here reject the gospel do by their present rejection of Christ lose a glory, which, if now lost, is lost for ever, and do further bring upon themselves a judgment of darkness and anguish unspeakable, is, I believe, the positive teaching of the New Testament. Once let us, who hear the gospel, while we are in this life sell our birthright, and then though like Esau we may cry “with a great and exceeding bitter cry,” the glory of the first-born is for ever gone from us, and we shall find no place or means for reversing our choice, though when too late we seek to do so carefully with tears. Once lost, the birthright is for ever lost. But I do not on this account believe that even the Esaus have therefore no blessing; for I read, “By faith Isaac blessed both Jacob and Esau concerning things to come;” (Heb. xi. 20.) and will one day get a blessing, though never the blessing of the despised birthright.
Only if we here suffer with Christ shall we reign with Him; only if like Him we lose our life, shall we save it for the kingdom. Still these solemn texts, which speak of grievous loss, do not, I believe, countenance or teach the current doctrine of never-ending torments. I confess I cannot perfectly explain all these texts. The exact sense of some of them may yet be open to question. But all who are familiar with Biblical controversies know that this is not a difficulty which is peculiar to the question of eternal punishment, for there is scarcely a doctrine of our faith which at first sight does not seem to clash more or less with some other plain scripture; the proof of which is to be seen in the existence of those countless sects, which have divided and yet divide Christendom. And when I remember how the opening of God's method of salvation has already solved for me unnumbered difficulties,--when I think how the further mystery of the firstborn unveils yet deeper depths of God's purpose,--I can well believe that what yet seems contradictory will with further light be found in perfect accordance with the tenour of the gospel. And just as evil in Nature and Providence, which is inexplicable, does not shake my faith that God is love, or that Nature and Providence are the work of One Supreme Intelligence, who is overruling all apparent anomalies in accordance with an unerring scheme of perfect love and wisdom: so the yet unsolved difficulties of Scripture do not shake my faith in that purpose of God which plainly is revealed to us. One part of God's Word cannot really contradict another.
Let us then look at the texts which are chiefly relied on as teaching the doctrine of everlasting punishment. It is remarkable that they are in every case the words of our Lord Himself.
(i) There is, first, the passage respecting the sin against the Holy Ghost, which our Lord declares “shall not be forgiven, neither in this world, nor in that which is to come.”
(NOTE: Matt. xii. 32; Mark iii. 29; Luke xii. 10. The words in Mark, which our version renders, “hath never forgiveness,” in the original are, “hath not forgiveness to the age.”)
From this it is concluded that the punishment for this sin must be never-ending. But does the text say so? The whole passage is as follows:--“Wherefore I say unto you, all manner of sin and blasphemy shall be forgiven unto men; but the blasphemy against the Spirit shall not be forgiven unto men. And whosoever speaketh against the Holy Ghost, it shall not be forgiven him, neither in this age (aion), nor in the coming one.” These words, so far from proving the generally received doctrine, that sin not forgiven here can never be forgiven, distinctly assert,--first, that all manner of sin and blasphemy shall be forgiven unto men,--secondly, that some sins, those, namely, against the Son of Man, can be forgiven, apparently in this age,--and thirdly, that other sins, against the Holy Ghost cannot be forgiven either here or in the coming age; which last words surely imply that some sins not here forgiven may be forgiven in the coming age, the sin or blasphemy against the Holy Ghost not being of this number. This is what the text asserts: and it explains why God has so long withheld the general outpouring of His promised Spirit; for man cannot reject or speak against the Spirit, until the Spirit comes to act upon him. God has two ways of teaching men; first by His Word, the letter or human form of truth, that is the Son of Man, in which case a man may reject God's call without knowing that he is really doing so; the other, in and by the Spirit, which convinces the heart, which therefore cannot be opposed without leaving men consciously guilty of rejecting God. To reject this last cuts man off from the life and light of the coming world. This sin therefore is not forgiven, “neither in this age, nor in the coming one.” But the text says nothing of those “ages to come,” (Eph. ii. 7.) elsewhere revealed to us; much less does it assert that the punishment of sin not here forgiven is never-ending.
When therefore we remember how our Lord has taught us to forgive, “not until seven times, but until seventy times seven;” ( Matt. xviii. 22.) and when we see the length and breadth of this commandment, that is bidding us forgive as God forgives, not only till seven times seven, that is the “seven times seven years,” which make the Jubilee, (Lev. xxv. 8.) but “unto seventy times seven,” that is a decade of Jubilees, the mystic “seventy weeks,” which “are determined to finish transgression, and to make an end of sins, and to make reconciliation for iniquity, and to bring in everlasting righteousness, and to seal up the vision and prophecy, and to anoint the Most Holy;” (Dan. ix. 24.)—words which surely have had an inceptive fulfillment in the first coming of our Lord, but which, like so many other prophecies of His coming and kingdom, wait until another coming and another age for a yet more glorious accomplishment;--when we remember that this is the forgiveness which God approves, we may be pardoned for believing that the threatening, “It shall not be forgiven, neither in this age, nor in the coming one,” does not measure or exhaust the possibilities of God's forgiveness.
“I believe” indeed “in the Holy Catholic Church, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting;” but I also “believe in the forgiveness of sins,” even to the end, as long as God is a Saviour and there is any sin to need forgiveness.
(ii) Again we are referred to the text, “The wrath of God abideth on him,” (S. John iii. 36.) as another proof of never-ending punishment. But the words do not prove it. The context is, “He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life, and he that believeth not the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abideth on him.”
The passage speaks of man's state by nature and grace, and of the results of being possessed by faith or unbelief. Faith receives eternal life: unbelief rejects it; and man so long as he is in unbelief cannot see life, but has God's wrath still resting on him. But an unbeliever, though, while he is such, God's wrath abides upon him, may pass by faith out of the wrath to life and blessedness. If it were not so, all would be lost; for the lie of the serpent has possessed us all, and we are all “by nature children of wrath even as others.” This text therefore cannot bear the sense some put upon it. If it could, no man once an unbeliever could have any hope of life or deliverance. All gospel-preaching would be in vain, if the unbeliever could not become a believer. That this text however should be quoted on this subject is significant, and shews the measure of light which has decided this question.
(iii) Far more difficult is the very awful passage which speaks of hell, “where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched.” (S. Mark ix. 42-50.) But both the context of the passage, and the Old Testament use of the words, convince me that the ordinary interpretation cannot be the true one. As to the context, the words which are relied on as teaching the doctrine of never-ending punishment are directly connected by the conjunction “For” with a general statement as to sacrifice.
The whole passage runs thus:--“and whosoever shall offend one of these little ones that believe in me, it is better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and he were cast into the sea. And if thy hand offend thee, cut if off: it is better for thee to enter into life maimed, than having two hands to go into hell, into the fire that never shall be quenched; where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched. And if thy foot offend thee, cut it off; it is better for thee to enter halt into life, than having two feet to be cast into hell, into the fire that never shall be quenched; where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched. And if thine eye offend thee, pluck it out; it is better for thee to enter into the kingdom of God with one eye, than having two eyes to be cast into hell-fire; where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched. For every one shall be salted with fire, and every sacrifice shall be salted with salt. Salt is good, but if the salt have lost his saltness, wherewith will ye season it? Have salt in yourselves, and have peace one with another.”
Take the ordinary interpretation, and there is no connection between never-ending punishment and the law here quoted respecting salt in sacrifice. But as spoken by our Lord the fact or law respecting the Meat-offering is the reason and explanation of what is said respecting hell-fire,--“For every one must be salted with fire, and every sacrifice must be salted with salt.”
Here as elsewhere the law throws light on the gospel, nor can these words be understood until the exact nature of the offering which our Lord refers to is apprehended. Salt, in its nature sharp and biting, yet preserving from corruption, was expressly required in every Meat-offering; (Lev. ii. 13.) this Meat-offering itself being an adjunct to the Burnt-offering, and, like it, not a Sin-offering, but a “sweet savour,” and offered for acceptance; the Burnt-offering shadowing the fulfillment of man's duty toward his neighbor; both of which have been fulfilled for us in Christ, and are to be fulfilled by grace in us His members, as it is written, “That the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh but after the spirit.” (Rom. viii. 4.)
(NOTE: The offerings appointed by the Lord were (as I have already noticed,) divided into two distinct classes,--first, the sweet-savour offerings, which are all offered for acceptance; and secondly, those offerings which were not of a sweet savour, and which were required as an expiation for sin. The first-class, comprising the Burnt-offering, the Meat-offering, and the Peace-offering, were offered on the brazen altar which stood in the court of the Tabernacle. The second class, the Sin and Trespass-offerings, were not consumed on the altar, but were burnt on the earth without the camp. In the first-class the faithful Israelites gives a sweet offering to the Lord; in the other the offering is charged with the sin of the offerer. In the Burnt-offering, the Meat-offering, and the Peace-offering, the offerer came for acceptance as a worshipper. In the Sin and Trespass-offerings, he came as a sinner to pay the penalty of sin and trespass. Unless this distinction be understood, the force of our Lord's words as to the “salting with fire” will not be apprehended.)
The passage which we are considering begins with this, man's duty to his neighbour, and the peril of offending a little one. “It were better that a millstone were hanged about one's neck, and that the life which offends were even destroyed, than that we should offend or hurt one of these little ones.” Then comes the exhortation to sacrifice “hand,” or “foot,” or “eye,” lest we come into the worse judgment, which must be known by those who will not judge themselves. “For,” says our Lord, thus giving the reason for self-judgment, “every man,” whether he likes it or not, if he is ever to change his present form and rise to God, “must be salted with fire.”
This may be done as a sweet-savour to God; though even here “every sacrifice is salted with salt,”—for even in willing sacrifice and service there is something sharp and piercing as salt, namely, the correction which truth brings with it to those who will receive it. But if this be not accepted, the purgation must yet be wrought, not as a sweet-savour, but as a sin-offering, where the bodies are burnt as unclean without the camp; “where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched;” (the “worm” alluding to the consumption of those parts which were not burnt with fire;) “for” in some way “every man must be salted with fire,” even if he be not a sweet-savour “sacrifice,” which is “salted with salt.” But all this, so far from teaching never-ending punishment only points us back to the law of sacrifice, and to the means which must be used to destroy sin in the flesh, and to make us ascend in a new and more spiritual form as offerings to Jehovah.
And the Old Testament use of the words, “The fire shall not be quenched,” is still more conclusive against the common interpretation. The words occur first in the law of the Burnt-offering, where we read “The fire shall ever be burning upon the altar: it shall never go out;”—literally, “it shall not be quenched,” (Lev. vi. 13.)—the words being exactly the same as those our Lord quotes here. Here, beyond all question, the words can have nothing to do with never-ending punishment, or indeed with wrath of any kind; for the Burnt-offering was one of “sweet-savour” offerings: they speak only of the one means, namely, the “fire of God,” by which that which was offered to and accepted by Him as “a sweet savour” could be made to ascend upon His altar, in token of its acceptance by Him.
To keep this fire ever alive was one of the priest's first duties, typifying the preservation of that spiritual fire which it is Christ's work as Priest to kindle and keep alive, for by it alone can we “present our bodies a living sacrifice.” (Rom. xii. 1, and compare S. Luke xii.49.) The other places where "unquenchable fire" occurs are the following:
They are twice spoken of the overthrow of the first Jewish temple built by Solomon: (2 Kings xxii. 17, and 2 Chron. xxxiv. 25.) then of Edom ; (Isa. xxxiv. 10.) then of Jerusalem , (Jer. vii. 20, and xvii. 27.) and of the king of Judah , (Jer. xxi. 12.) and the forest of the south; (Ezek. xx. 47.) and lastly in the passage here quoted by our Lord from the prophet Isaiah, (Isa. lxvi. 24.) which speaks of the punishment of the wicked at the period of the latter-day glory. In all these cases the words express such a destruction as was figured in the Sin-offerings, which were cast out and burnt without the camp as unfit for God's altar. These are the only places in the Old Testament where the words occur, and in every instance except the last they manifestly cannot, and confessedly do not, involve the idea of endless suffering. Why in this one place only is a sense to be put upon the words, which is not only untenable in every other similar passage of the Old Testament, but would make one part of Scripture contradict another.
(iv) But the passage which is perhaps most often quoted on this question is that which speaks of the life of the righteous and the punishment of the wicked alike as “everlasting”:--“These shall go away into everlasting punishment, but the righteous into life eternal.” (S. Matt. xxv. 46.) The word used here, and which in our Version is translated “eternal” and “everlasting,” is in either case the same in the original-- aionios. Hence it is argued, that “whatever be the meaning of the word in the case of the lost, the same must be its meaning in the case of the saved; and our certainty of never-ending bliss for penitent believers is gone, if the word bears not the same signification in the case of the impenitent and unbelieving.” (Pastoral Letter of the Archbishop of Canterbury , dated March 14, 1864 , p. 7. A similar statement is to be found in the Pastoral Letter of the Archbishop of York , p. 14.)
This at first sight seems to have some weight. Yet if it can be shewn, as we have shewn, that the word here used is in other Scriptures applied to what is not eternal, we may be pardoned for thinking it cannot mean eternal here; the rather as, if it did, this text would contradict other plain statements of the same Scripture. Nor, as I have said, does this affect the true eternity of bliss of the redeemed, which is based on participation with Christ in His risen life, and is distinctly affirmed in other plain Scriptures, such as, “Neither can they die any more, but are children of God, being children of the resurrection.” (S. Luke xx. 36.) The truth is that this word describes not the quantity or duration, but the quality, of that of which it is predicated. I need not here repeat the proofs of this. But I may add that the word which in this passage we translate “punishment,” (kolasis) and which in its primary sense means simply “pruning,” is that always used for a corrective discipline, which is for the improvement of him who suffers it. Those who hold the common view of the endlessness of punishment are obliged to confess this; and this of itself proves that their doctrine is untenable; for any punishment, be it for a longer or shorter time, would not be corrective discipline, but quite another thing, if it left those who were so corrected unimproved and lost for ever.
(NOTE: Of the two words, timwria and kolasis,” (says the present Archbishop of Dublin , in his Synonyms of the New Testament, p. 30.) “in timwria, (used in Heb. x. 29.) according to its classical use, the vindictive character of the punishment is the predominant thought; it is the Latin ‘ultio'; punishment as satisfying the inflicter's sense of outraged justice, as defending his own honour, and that of the violated law; herein its meaning agrees with its etymology, the guardianship or protectorate of honour. In kolasis, on the other hand, is more the notion of punishment as it has reference to the correction and bettering of him that endures it; (see Philo, Leg. Ad. Cai . 1) it is ‘castigatio,' and has naturally for the most part a milder use than timwria . Thus we find Plato ( Protag . 323 E) joining kolasis and _______ together: and the whole passage to the end of the chapter is eminently instructive as to the distinction between the words; . . . . with all which may be compared as instructive chapter in Clement of Alexandria , ( Strom . Iv. 24; and again vii. 16,) where he defines ________ and ______. And this is Aristotle's distinction. ( Rhet . i. 10.) . . . It is to these and similar definitions that Aulus Gellius refers, &c. (Noct . Att . Vi. 14.)”
Having thus clearly stated and proved what the exact meaning of kolasis is, the Archbishop proceeds as follows:--“It would be a very serious error however to attempt to transfer this distinction in its entireness to the words as employed in the New Testament;” that is, it would be a serious error to give the word its proper sense. To such shifts are even learned and good men driven by their traditional views respecting endless punishment.
May we not then from this very passage prove, that, while they are doubly blessed who go away at the first resurrection into eternal life, they are not wholly unblessed whom the Lord yet cares to punish; (Heb. xii. 6, 7.) the rather as He has shewn us, from the first fall till now, that His changeless way is to make even the curse a blessing.
(v) Another text often quoted on this question is,--“Good were it for that man, if he had not been born.” (S. Matt. xxvi. 24.) This it is said is a proof of never-ending punishment, since it would be good to be born, if, even after ages of suffering, men could at last be restored to see God. Surely the words declare an awful doom: an awful warning too they are to those now near Christ. And yet as in the doom pronounced upon our first parents, which as far as it was addressed to them had not one ray of light or word of promise in it,--for all that God said to the woman was sorrow, pain, humiliation; all that He said to the man was curse, death, ruin, desolation; and only in His curse upon the serpent was any promise of the woman's seed given, (Gen. iii. 14-19)—this woe upon Judas, which seems as dark as night, may yet consist with purposes of mercy, of which in these words we find no intimation. The fall of Judas, even as that of our first parents, which in God's wisdom opened a way for the fulfillment of that “purpose and grace which was given us in Christ Jesus before the world began,” (2 Tim. i. 9.) spite of its attendant judgment may not only bring in higher good, but like Israel's fall, which has been “the riches of the world,” (Rom. xi. 12.) may even end in the restoration of the fallen one to more secure blessedness. It is surely significant that one and the same awful prophecy is by the inspired writers of the New Testament applied to Judas and Israel.
(NOTE: Compare Psalm lxix. 23, 25, with Rom. xi. 10, and Acts i. 19, 20. The same passage is applied by S. Paul to Israel , and by S. Peter to Judas.)
If therefore the one is not a type or figure of the other, the two are in some way connected most intimately. And yet Israel, of whom it is said, “Let their eyes be darkened that they may not see, and bow down their back always,” (words which in the Psalm immediately precede the passage which is quoted by St. Peter in reference to the traitor Judas,) though hated for awhile, and “as concerning the gospel enemies for our sakes, are yet beloved for the fathers' sakes,” (Rom. xi. 28.) and shall be restored one day, and “brought up out of their graves,” (Ezek. xxxvii. 12.) “for the gifts and calling of God are without repentance.” (Rom. xi. 29.)
And so the betrayer here, of whose “fall,” like Israel's, has been the “riches of the world,” may yet more shew the Lord's riches. It is no unreasonable inference, that, as the same prophecy applies to both, their ends shall not be wholly dissimilar. Certainly some of the threatenings upon Israel ,--such as, “I will utterly forget you, and I will forsake you;” (Jer. xxii. 39. See the yet stronger language in Deut. xxx. 18.) nay even such words as those of our Lord Himself, “If thou hadst known in this thy day the things which belong to thy peace; but now are they hid from thine eyes,” (S. Luke xix. 42.)—if less awful than the woe pronounced on Judas, are dark enough, had no other light been poured on them. And so these words to Judas might forbid all hope, were there no other words of the same Lord to make us hope for all men. It is because there are such words, that I hesitate to put a sense upon this woe on Judas, which shall make it contradict other no less true and weighty words of the same Saviour.
Let us then look again more closely at these words. While surely applying first to Judas, like all Christ's words they have a wider meaning. In the passage referred to,--“The Son of Man goeth, as it is written of Him; but woe to that man, by whom the Son of Man is betrayed: it had been good for that man if he had not been born,”—two men, and only two, are spoken of; the “Son of Man,” and “that man” by whom the Son of Man is betrayed. Are not these in substance “the old man” and “the new,” “man” and “the Son of Man,” of whom the one is always the betrayer of the other. Of these the one is the man of sin, the son of perdition, who cannot be saved, but must die and go to his own place; for flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom, neither doth corruption inherit incorruption. Good had it been for this man, if he had not been born; but better is it that he has been born, that God might bring in better things.
(NOTE: It ought not to be overlooked, too, that in the passage under consideration, “Good were it for that man if he had not been born,” the word we translate “good” is kalon , not agathos. This surely is not by chance. And I think I see an obvious reason for the choice of the word kalon here rather than agathos . The kalon may be missed, while the agathos may by Almighty grace be yet obtainable.)
Good had it been, if there had been no sin and fall, but better is it that there has been a fall, “for where sin abounded, grace did much more abound.” (Rom. v. 20) The evil shall work for good, and pass away; while the results shall be for ever glorious. For all that rose in Adam falls in Christ, even as all that fell in Adam rose again in Christ. The evil is only for awhile. “I have seen the wicked in great power, and spreading himself abroad like a green bay-tree; yet he passed away, and lo, he was not: yea, I sought him, but he could not be found.” (Psa. xxxvii. 35, 36.)
(vi) There is yet another text sometimes quoted on this subject. The words to the Rich Man in hell that “there is a great gulf fixed, so that they cannot pass who would come from thence,” (S. Luke xvi. 26.) are said to shut out all hope for a lost soul, when it has once entered into the place of torment. But is it so? Disciples have before now misunderstood the Lord. The question is, Are those, who thus interpret these words, understanding or only misunderstanding this most solemn parable? What is its aim? It is a similitude of something; for all the parables are similitudes, even though, like the parables of the Prodigal Son, and the Unjust Steward, both of which are in direct connection with this one, they are uttered, as is usual with St. Luke, like simple narratives, always beginning with, “A certain man,” or “There was a certain man.”
Of what, then, is this parable of the Rich Man a similitude? Whom does the Rich Man represent? Who is the poor neglected beggar full of sores, to whom the very dogs without shew more pity and kindness than the Rich Man? Both the connection of the parable, and its particulars throughout, shew that its awful warning is addressed, not so much to the godless world, as to those who here enjoy the greatest of privileges. Observe the particulars stated respecting the Rich Man. He was one of Abraham's seed, one who even in hell could not forget his election, but still cried, “Father Abraham.” He was “clothed in purple and fine linen,” the raiment of the kingdom, and, as a child of the kingdom, he “fared sumptuously every day,” while Lazarus, whose name means simply “ needing help ,” was lying at his door a mass of sores, loathsome, and in want, and yet uncared for and unpitied by him who enjoyed many blessings. Who are these two men? If, with Augustine and other great leaders of the early Church, we take the dispensational view, the Rich Man is the Jew; the poor beggar at his gate is the lost Gentile. In the one we see the children of the kingdom, who as such were clothed in purple and fine linen, and fared sumptuously every day, and yet cared nothing for the Gentile world, lost, full of sores, and lacking everything. The one, even in hell, yet claiming to be Abraham's seed, and of whose brethren Abraham says himself, “They have Moses and the prophets,” and “If they believe not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded though one rose from the dead;” the other, brought through death, as dead sinners, into God's rest into those very privileges of which the good fare and fine raiment of the Rich Man were but the type and figure.
Such substantially is surely the lesson of this parable, though I could never confine it, or any other parable of our Lord's to the old Jew and Gentile only, first, because “no prophecy of Scripture is of private interpretation,” and also because the Jew, as Abraham's son, is himself the type of those who by grace have now been brought into the place of children of the kingdom, while the poor Gentile beggar is yet the pattern of those, who, though full of sores, are yet the “poor” and the “mourners,” whom Christ calls “blessed,” and who “shall be comforted.” What the parable teaches therefore is just that truth, which the elect are so slow to believe, that the children of the kingdom, if unloving, shall spite of all present privileges be cast into outer darkness, while lost ones, now without, shall through death come and rest with Abraham. The Jews would not believe it in their day. How could God be faithful if they were cast out? The children of the kingdom now, those who judge their state Godwards, not by their love, that is their likeness to their Lord, but by their privileges, by the fact that God has given them such rich and precious blessings in Christ Jesus, are slow to believe, that, spite of their blessings, they may be cast out. Yet this is the solemn teaching of the parable. It is one of Abraham's seed who is in hell: one of the elect people, and not a poor outcast.
And yet “the great gulf fixed,” which severs those who once were nigh but are now cast out, though utterly impassable for man, is not so for “Him who hath the key of David, who openeth and no man shutteth, and shutteth and no man openeth, who hath the keys of death and hell;” (Rev. i. 18, and iii. 7.) and who, as He has Himself broken the bars of death for men, can yet “say to the prisoner, Go forth; to them that are in darkness, Shew yourselves.” (Isa. xlix. 9.) Who are we, to say that the gulf, impassable to man, cannot be passed by Christ, or that He cannot bring the last prisoner safely back, even out of the lowest prison? As well might we argue that because “the Ethiopian cannot change his skin, or the leopard his spots,” (Jer. xiii. 23.)—because the evil man can never by his own act make himself good,--therefore God can never change him. The firstfruits are a proof what God can do. I know what He has done for the elect, who were “by nature children of wrath, even as other men;” (Eph. ii. 3.) and He has said, “O death, I will be thy plagues; O hell, I will be thy destruction;” (Hos. xiii. 14.) and therefore this parable, awful as it is to me, as one who by grace am now called to eat of the fat things of God's house and wear the fine raiment,--because it shews how all these blessings may be abused, and only aggravate my condemnation, if I am selfish and unloving,--yet by no means prove that, awful as the judgment is, there is no hope for those who suffer it. There surely is hope for the Jews, though of them, and as a warning to them, this word was first spoken. And so surely, because God is God, there yet is hope, even for those who shall suffer the sorest judgment.
(NOTE: I subjoin what Stier, one of the most approved and spiritual of modern commentators, and himself and advocate of the doctrine of endless punishments, says respecting this parable. Having shewn that this hell and torment of the Rich Man cannot refer to “the place and condition of the eternally damned,” as it only describes the state before the resurrection, ( Words of the Lord Jesus , vol. iv. p. 222: there is more to the same effect, p. 233,) he says of Abraham's words, “The repelling answer hints at the justice and well-adjusted design of love in the torments which for the present ” (the italics are Stier's) “are rigidly fixed.” (Id. ibid . p. 209.) He then sums up the general teaching of the parable as follows:--“The enigma of the buried Rich Man, unrightly called wicked, and of Lazarus, covered with sores and with contempt, is well worth the attentive notice of all whom we too readily term worthy and estimable people . It is especially intended for them. The external riches are a figure of the internal, and the sores, by which the body is purified, signify something analogous in regard to the soul. . . . .Those who are warned in this parable . . . are the proud sitters in our most holy Christian sanctuary. How many a Menkenian,” (this would be better understood in England if he had said, “a Darbyite,”) . . . . . . “clothes himself in such priestly and royal attire, looking down upon the poor around who can go no higher than to pray for the forgiveness of sins! . . . Such people have repented once, and therefore they are Abraham's children. But they have gradually come to neglect daily repentance and contrition, till the complete old man emerges out of their regenerate state once more, and now acts his pride in the garments of a Christian. . . . . Happy the sinner whose sins break out for his spiritual healing. Thrice happy would that proud and rich sinner be if he could become in time a poor Lazarus in God's sight, before his rich garments are torn off, and his full table disfurnished for ever. Woe to the converted sinner, if the poison still remaining should break out in the disease of spiritual pride, and he too should become a rich man.” (Words of the Lord Jesus , vol. iv. p. 248.) And he adds in a note, “In the carnal-spiritual life a man lives in honour and joy, and is clothed in purple like the Rich Man. Dying to this higher life of carnality he becomes poor, hungry, full of sores and tribulations like Lazarus.” (Id. ibid . p. 249.) This witness is true. May Abraham's sons give ear to it.)
Meanwhile Abraham's words have surely a solemn lesson for those “brethren of the Rich Man who have not yet come into the place of torment.” “They have Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded though one rose from the dead.” We can apply all this to the brethren of the Jew, who would not believe or imitate God's love to Gentile sinners, whom they had condemned, rose from the dead and gathered sinners to Him. But does it not equally apply to those who at this day, though children of the kingdom, through their blind self-love are in danger of the second death, and who will not hear of any possible resurrection for any out of it? Is it not written, “They have Moses and the prophets: let them hear them?”
What do Moses and the prophets say of the redemption of the lost, and of those whose inheritance does not come back at the Sabbatic year of rest, but only at the Jubilee? What says the law in all its teaching as to the firstfruits, and in its appointments for cleansing and redemption to be wrought at different seasons? And what say the prophets as to the restoration of Sodom and her daughters, and other lost ones, who when they wrote were “aliens to the commonwealth of Israel, strangers to the covenants of promise, without hope, and without God,” who yet in due time should be visited? What is the answer when Moses now is quoted on this point, or when some promise from the prophets are so obscure that we can base no certain doctrine on them.” So the brethren of the Rich Man will not hear. But if they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither would they be persuaded though one came to them even from the second death.
(vii) But all this, it is said, is opposed to the obvious sense of Scripture; and Scripture having been given for simple and unlettered men, the simplest sense must be the true one: at all events any sense which is not obvious cannot be relied on. This objection is urged by some as though it were unanswerable. But is the so-called obvious sense of our Lord's words always the right one? Let any one consider the New Testament quotations from the Old, and say whether the passages so quoted are applied or interpreted in their obvious sense. Have we not seen also that again and again, as in our Lord's words respecting leaven, and eating His flesh, and buying a sword, and the sleep of Lazarus, and the destroying and rebuilding of the temple,--not to speak of His usual parabolic style, which was expressly used to hide even while it revealed heavenly mysteries, (S. Matt. xiii. 10-14.)—the so-called obvious or literal sense is beyond all question not the true one.
Besides the difficulty on this point, as we have seen, is that Scripture seems to bear two different testimonies, here saying that the wicked shall be condemned and perish; there declaring that all death shall be done away. God's two ministrations of law and gospel, and the reason for each, if we understand His purpose in them, explain the difficulty. But understood or not, the fact remains, that Scripture on this point contains apparent contradiction. Those therefore who speak so glibly of “the obvious sense of Scripture” forget how many texts must be ignored, before the doctrine of never-ending punishment can be shewn to be the mind of God. What, to take one instance, is the “obvious meaning” of such words as these:--“Death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over them that had not sinned after the similitude of Adam's transgression, who is a figure of Him that was to come. But not as the offence, so also is the free-gift. For if through the offence of one the many be dead, much more the grace of God, and the gift of grace, which is by one man, Jesus Christ, hath abounded unto the many.
And not as it was by one that sinned, so is the gift; for the judgment was by one to condemnation, but the free gift is of many offences to justification. For if by one man's offence death reigned by one; much more they which receive abundance of grace, and of the gift of righteousness, shall reign in life by one, Jesus Christ. Therefore as by the offence of one judgment came upon all men to condemnation; even so by the righteousness of one the free gift came upon all men unto justification of life. For as by one man's disobedience the many were made to be sinners, so by the obedience of one shall the many be made righteous. Moreover the law entered that the offence might abound: but where sin abounded, grace did much more abound: that as sin hath reigned unto death, even so might grace reign, through righteousness, unto eternal life, by Jesus Christ our Lord.” ( Rom. v. 14-21.) What, I ask, is the “obvious meaning” of these words? Can a partial salvation exhaust the fullness of the blessing which St. Paul declares so unequivocally? Must we not distort his teaching if we try to make it say that the redemption in Christ is less wide in its results than the fall of Adam? Is not the argument of the passage just the reverse? Does not the Apostle, by his repeated “much more,” (Verses 15, 17, 20.) shew again and again that the redemption and salvation is far greater than the ruin? The language seems chosen to obviate the possibility of misapprehension.
Why then not receive the teaching in its plain and obvious sense? Because other words of Holy Scripture speak just as plainly of a “wrath to come” and a “lake of fire” for “ages and ages.” And the Church's children, since her fall, having like Israel of old despised prophesyings, and lacking therefore the necessary light, which this “key of knowledge” (Luke xi. 52.) would have given them, have cut the knot they could not untie, by denying one half of Scripture to uphold the other half; choosing, as was natural, (for men under law can only know God as inflicting its penalty,) that half which spoke of condemnation. For indeed the Word alone will never open out God's mind. We may even be hardened by the letter in some wretched misapprehension. Only by His Spirit can we really understand God's thoughts. Thus, and thus only, can we be “made able ministers of the New Testament; not of the letter, but of the spirit;” able to shew how while “the letter killeth, the spirit giveth life.” (2 Cor. iii. 6.) For it is in Scripture as in the books of Nature and Providence . Sense-readings will never solve the difficulty. Who, as he looks for the first time at death, would believe, that this and this only is the way to fuller, better, life? The fact is, it is not enough to have a revelation. We need eyes also and hearts to read that revelation. And those, who have most studied any of the books which God has given us, know that so far from the obvious sense being in every case the true one, all our sense-readings are more or less fallacious and untrustworthy, and must be corrected again and again, if we would possess the real truth. Some have proved this in one field, some in another. All must prove it if they will go onward to perfection.
(viii) There is yet one other objection. It may be said,--If you go so far as to hope for the final salvation of men, irrespective of what they have done or have been here, why not go further, and say that devils may be saved, for if Old Adam can be redeemed, why not lost spirits also? Have not bad men the devil's nature in them? Are they not called “the children of the wicked one”? (S. Matt. xiii. 38.) Is not the same evil nature in all God's children, till it is slain? (Eph. ii. 3.)
Yet has not the Lord died for all, that by His death He might destroy that evil nature and deliver them? And if this nature can be slain and changed in us, why not in Satan and the fallen angels?
NOTE: Notice the language, “ perish AND be changed ,” used in reference to present nature, in Heb. i. 11, 12.)
Shall the Jews be saved, whom our Lord calls “serpents” and “vipers” (S. Matt. xxiii. 33.) and of whom he says, “Ye are of your father the devil,” (S. John viii. 44.) “How can ye escape the damnation of hell;” and shall God have no salvation for those, who, though now lost, have once been “perfect in beauty, full of wisdom”? (Ezek. xxviii. 12.) Was not Satan “the anointed cherub, which covereth, with every precious stone upon him;” and is he not, though “his heart was lifted up because of his beauty, and he has corrupted himself by reason of his brightness,” (Ezek. xxviii. 14-17.) yet a fallen son, against whom “even Michael, the archangel, durst not bring a railing accusation, but said, The Lord rebuke thee.” (S. Jude 9.) Where do we read that there can be no hope for such? Is it not rather distinctly written, that though “the Lord punish the host of the high ones which are on high, and they shall be gathered in a pit and shut up in prison, yet after many days they shall be visited”? (Isa. xxiv. 21, 22.) Are not therefore “the dragons and the deeps” called to “praise the Lord;” (Psa. cxlviii. 7.) yea, are not “the depths laid up in storehouses”? (Psa. xxxiii. 7.) And who is that king who builds the city of confusion, who has God's prophet for his servant and his teacher, who for his pride is as a beast till seven times pass over him, who yet at last regains his reason and his kingdom; (Dan. iv. 34-37.) that king of whom the Lord says, “Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon , hath devoured me, he hath crushed me, he hath made me like an empty vessel, he hath swallowed me up like a dragon, he hath filled his belly with my delicates, he hath cast me out”? (Jer. li. 34.) The “Lord shall indeed slay the dragon that is in the sea,” (Isa. xxvii. 1.) and “by death destroy him that has the power of death, that is the devil;” (Heb. ii. 14.) but who can tell but that as death is the way of life for us, so also it may be with that first great offender, who “robbed his father, and said, It is no transgression.” (Prov. xxviii. 24.)
Who but Adam and Lucifer are the two thieves crucified with Christ? And though to one only was it said, “To-day shalt thou be with me in paradise,” (S. Luke xxiii. 43.) what proof have we that the other shall never find mercy? Was not the blood of the Lamb of God shed on the cross to “take away the sin of the world”? (S. John i. 29.) If so, what is the sin of the world? When did it commence? And why is not the sin of “the prince of this world” (S. John xiv. 30.) to be included in “the sin of the world”? Is not Christ “the Head of all principality and power,” (Col. ii. 10.) as well as “Lord both of the dead and living.” (Rom. xiv. 9.) Nay more, is not even the Church called with her Head to “judge angels”? (1 Cor. vi. 3.) And if the judgment of the earth shall be its restoration, (Psa. xcvi. 10-13, and xcviii. 3-9) why should not the judgment of angels in like manner be their restoration, according to the promise, “By Him to reconcile all things unto Himself, whether they be things on earth or things in heaven”? (Col. i. 20.)
To all this, I have nothing to say in reply; nay more, I confess I cannot see that God would be dishonoured by such a conclusion of the great mystery. “For if,” as Paul says, “the ministration of condemnation be glory, much more shall the ministration of righteousness exceed in glory.” (2 Cor. iii. 9.)
And when I think of the change which can be wrought in us,--when I see that man contains all worlds, and is indeed the hieroglyphic of the universe,--that not only the seen and unseen, matter and spirit, time and eternity, but hell and heaven, and the life of each, as well as the life of earth, all are in him; when I see that Lucifer and Adam, the two first great offenders, the one in his male, the other in his female, property, are but the prototypes of the two roots of evil in us, the one of our fallen spirit, the other of our fallen soul and body, and that in the elect, who are first-fruits, this hellish life can be transformed, that the selfish, envious, proud, and wrathful spirit, which hated God, can by a death to sin be brought back to God's image, and that this vile body, after all its abominations and uncleannesses, can be changed like to Christ's glorious body, according to the power whereby He is able to subdue even all things unto Himself; when I know that He who has this power of Love, I for one cannot limit what God shall do in grace, or say that this or that lost one shall for ever be cut off from His mercy.
This at least is certain, that the seven nations of Canaan, whom Israel was called to judge, that they might possess the land beyond the Jordan, are the appointed figure in Scripture of those “wicked spirits in heavenly places,” (Eph. vi. 12.) with whom the Church's conflict is throughout this present age. Yet in a later age they shared a common mercy, and one at least of this cursed race displayed a faith not to be found in Israel . (S. Matt. xv. 22-28.) If they, so cursed, and to be judged without pity, could yet find mercy in a later age, shall not our enemies also, with whom we fight with the sword of the Spirit, in due time through judgment find mercy? (See Appendix, Note C.) And though the Church of this age, which, brought up like Jonah out of the belly of hell, may like Jonah be angry, because the judgment threatened has not fallen as expected, God will justify His mercy to that vast assembly, where there are, as He says, so many who cannot discern between their right hand and their left, not to speak of those who are as beasts before Him. (Jonah iv. 11.)
NEXT--Part 4: Concluding Remarks