The Restitution of all Things
Part 4: Concluding Remarks
Such then I believe is the testimony of Scripture as to the purpose and way of God our Saviour. That it will be judged as false doctrine by those, who, like Israel of old, can see no purpose of God beyond their own dispensation, is as certain as that Israel slew the prophets, and rejected the counsel of God toward sinners of the Gentiles; that it will be hateful also to fallen spirits may be seen from the way in which proud souls in every age rebel against the gospel. Their thought is that they shall continue for ever. Very humbling is it to think that all their pride and rebellion must be overthrown. Even with true souls, who have been teaching another doctrine, there must be special difficulties in receiving a truth which proves them to have been in error. Now therefore, as of old, Samaritans know Christ as “Saviour of the world,” (S. John iv. 42.) while masters of Israel reject Him in this character. For teachers to learn is to unlearn; and this is not easy. Nor can we expect that those, who occupy the chief seats in the synagogue, will readily descend from them and humble themselves, not only to take the place of learners, but to be reproached for doing so. How can masters of Israel eat their own words? Even those who are willing to be taught are fearful. The consciousness that they are liable to err, and may be deceived, makes them cling to that which they are accustomed to.
All these things, and still more our natural hard thoughts of God, are against the spread of the doctrine set forth in these pages. But if it be God's purpose, it shall stand, and each succeeding age shall make it more manifest. God will at last surely cure all men of their mistrust in Him.
Meanwhile He says, “He that hath my word, let him speak my word faithfully. What is the chaff to the wheat? saith the Lord.” (Jer. xxiii. 28.) I do not fear therefore that the declaration of God's righteousness and love will lead men, as some suppose, to think less of Him. “We are saved by hope;” (Rom. viii. 24.) not by fear. It is the lie, that He is a destroyer and does not love us, which has kept and yet keeps souls from Him. And though some argue that the doctrine of final restitution, even supposing it to be true, ought not to be whispered, except with great reserve, because men will abuse it, I cannot but think their prudence unwise, and that the truth, when God has revealed it, may be trusted to do its own work. Of course this truth, like every other, may be abused. What good thing is there which may not be perverted? The Bible and the gospel itself may be wrested to men's destruction, and Christ Himself be made a savour of death to those He died for. But surely this is no reason for locking up the Bible or the gospel, or for keeping back or denying any truth which God has graciously revealed to us!
When I think of past objections to the gospel, that if grace is preached, men will abuse it and sin that grace may abound,--when I remember how the doctrine of justification by faith has been opposed, on the ground that it must undermine all practical godliness,--when I see how God's election, clearly as it is revealed in Holy Scripture, is denied by some, who, wiser than God, think that such a doctrine must be perilous to man and opposed to God's love and truth,--I have less faith in the supposed consequences of any doctrine, assured, that, if only it be true, its truth must in the end justify it. I rather believe that if the exactness of final retribution were understood, if men saw that so long as they continue in sin they must be under judgment, and that only by death to sin are they delivered, they could not pervert the gospel as they now do, nor abuse that preaching of the Cross which is indeed salvation.
I cannot but think too that this doctrine of final restitution would meet much of the hopeless skepticism which is abroad, and which is certainly increased by this dogma of never-ending punishment. Men turn from the gospel and from the Scriptures, not knowing what they contain, offended at the announcement, which shocks them, that God who is love consigns all but a “little flock,” the “few who find the narrow way,” to endless misery. Even true believers groan under the burden which this doctrine, as it is commonly received, must lay on all thoughtful and unselfish minds.
“For my part,” says Henry Rogers, “I fancy I should not grieve, if the whole race of mankind died in its fourth year. As far as we can see, I do not know that it would be a thing much to be lamented.” (Professor Henry Rogers, in Greyson's Letters . Letter vii. To C. Mason, Esq., vol. i. p. 34.)
“The same gospel,” says Isaac Taylor, “which penetrates our souls with warm emotions, dispersive of selfishness, brings in upon the heart a sympathy that tempts us often to wish that itself were not true, or that it had not taught us so to feel.” (Isaac Taylor's Restoration of Belief , p. 367.)
Even more affecting are the words of Albert Barnes, as a witness to the darkness of the ordinary orthodox theology:--“These and a hundred difficulties meet the mind, when we think on this great subject; and they meet us when we endeavour to urge our fellow sinners to be reconciled to God, and to put confidence in Him. I confess for one that I feel these, and feel them more sensibly and powerfully the more I look at them, and the longer I live. I do not know that I have a ray of light on this subject, which I had not when the subject first flashed across my soul. I have read to some extent what wise and good men have written. I have looked at their theories and explanations. I have endeavoured to weigh their arguments, for my whole soul pants for light and relief on these questions. But I get neither; and in the distress and anguish of my own spirit, I confess that I see no light whatever. I see not one ray to disclose to me the reason why sin came into the world, why the earth is strewed with the dying and the dead, and why man must suffer all eternity.” (Albert Barnes' Practical Sermons, p. 123.)
Such confessions are surely sad enough; but they do not and cannot express one thousandth part of the horror which the idea of never-ending misery should produce in every loving heart. As Archer Butler says, “Were it possible for man's imagination to conceive the horrors of such a doom as this, all reasoning about it would be at an end; it would scorch and wither all powers of human thought.” (Sermons, Second Series , p. 383.)
Indeed human life would be at a stand, could this doctrine of endless torments be realized. Can such doctrine then be true? If it be, let men declare it always and in every place. But if it be simply the result of a misconception of God's Word, it is high time that the Church awake to truer readings of it.
It is not for me to judge God's saints who have gone before. Their judgment is with the Lord, and their work with their God. But when I think of the words, not of the carnal and profane, but even of some of God's dear children in that long night, when “the beast” which looked “like a lamb, but spake as a dragon,” had dominion, (Rev. xiii. 11.)—when I find Augustine saying, that “though infants departing from the body without baptism will be in the mildest damnation of all, yet he greatly deceives and is deceived who preaches that they will not be in damnation,” meaning thereby unending punishment;
(NOTE: “Potest proinde recte dici, parvulos sine baptismo de corpore eruentes in damnatione omnium mitissima futuros. Multum autem fallit et fallitur, qui eos in damnatione praedicat non futuros,” &c.—De peccatorummeritis , lib. I. cap. 16, 21. Augustine constantly repeats this doctrine.)
or Thomas Aquinas, that “the bliss of the saved may please them more, and they may render more abundant thanks to God for it, that they are permitted to gaze on the punishment of the wicked;
(NOTE: “Unumquodque ex comparatione contrarii magis cognoscitur, quia contraria juxta se posita magis elucescent; et ideo ut beatitudo sanctorum eis magis complaceat, et de ea uberiores gratias Deo agant, datur eis ut poenam impiorum perfecte videant.”— Summa , Part iii. Suppl. Quaest. 94, Art. i.)
or Peter Lombard, that “the elect, while they see the unspeakable sufferings of the ungodly, shall not be affected with grief, but rather satiated with joy at the sight, and give thanks to God for their own salvation;
(NOTE: Egredientur ergo electi ad videndum impiorum cruciatus, quos videntes non dolore afficientur, sed laetitia satiabuntur, agents gratias de sua libertione, visa impiorum ineffabili calamitate,”— Sentent , lib. Iv. Distinct. 5, G.)
or Luther, that “it is the highest degree of faith to believe that God is merciful, who saves so few and damns so many; to believe Him just, who of His own will makes us necessarily damnable;”
(NOTE: Hic est fidei summus gradus, credere illum clementem, qui tam paucos salvat, tam multos damnat, credere justum, qui sua voluntate nos necessario damnabiles facit,” &c.—De servo arbitric, 23, Opp. tom. Iii. fol. 176. Jhanae, 1557.)
--when I remember that such men have said such things, and that words like these have been approved by Christians, I can only fall down and pray that such a night may not return, and that where it yet weighs on men's hearts the Lord may scatter it.
For it is not unbelievers only that are hurt by such teaching. Those who believe it are even more injured. For our views of God re-act upon ourselves. By an eternal law, we must more or less be changed into the likeness of the God we worship. If we think Him hard, we become hard. If we think Him careless of men's bodies and souls, we shall be careless also. If we think Him love, we shall reflect something of His loving-kindness. God therefore gave us His image in His Only-Begotten Son, that “we with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, might be changed into the same image.” (2 Cor. iii. 18.) What that image was the Gospels tell. In word and deed they shew that “God is love;” “bearing all things, believing all things, hoping all things, enduring all things; never failing,” (1 S. John iv. 8, 16; 1 Cor. xiii. 7.) when all around Him failed; to the end, as at the beginning, the life and hope of lost sinners. Oh blessed gospel—“He who was rich yet became poor, that we by His poverty might be rich.” (2 Cor. viii. 9.) He “who was in the form of God, and thought it not robbery to be equal with God, yet made Himself of no reputation, and took on Him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men.” (Phil. ii. 6, 7.) He came from life to death, from heaven to earth; “because we were in the flesh, He came in the flesh,” (Heb. ii. 14; 1 S. John iv. 3.) to bear our burden for us; to take our shame and curse and death, that He might break our bonds, and bring us back, in, and with, and for, Himself, to God's right hand for ever. How He did it, with what pity, truth, patience, tenderness, and love, no eye by God's yet sees fully. Our unlikeness to Him proves how little we have seen Him; for “we shall be like Him when we see Him as He is.” (1 S. John iii. 2.) Yet what some have seen has made them new creatures. Men who lived for self have “laid down their lives,” (1 S. John iii. 16.) yea have “wished themselves accursed for their brethren,” (Rom. ix. 3.) because His spirit possessed them, and therefore they could not but spend and be spent, like Him they loved, to save lost ones.
Will the coming glory change all this? Will Christ there be another Christ from what He was here? Can He there look on ruined souls without the will to save; or is it that in glory, though the will is there, the power to save is taken from Him? And will the glory change His members too,--change them back to love their neighbour as themselves no longer? Shall a glimpse of Christ now make us long to live and die for others; and when, by seeing Him as He is, we are made like Him, shall our willingness to die and suffer for the lost, be taken from us?
Will this be being made like Him? If what is so generally taught is the truth,--and I can scarcely write it,--Christ there will be unlike Christ here: He will, if not unwilling, be yet unable, to save to the uttermost. Nay more,--so we are taught,--instead of weeping over the lost, as He wept here, He will feel no pang, while myriads of His creatures, if not His children, are in endless torment. Then at least He will not be “Jesus Christ, the same yesterday, to-day, and for ever.” (Heb. xiii. 8.)
Is this blasphemy? Then who teaches it? Surely men cannot know what they are doing when they teach such doctrine. Do they not see how, because it is a lie, it hardens, and must harden, even converted souls who really believe it? For if with Christ in heaven it will be right to look on the torments of the lost unmoved, and to rest in our own joy, and thank God that we are not as other men, the same conduct and spirit cannot be evil now. Many shew they think so. The world is lost, and they are saved; but they can live now, as they hope one day to live with Christ, so rejoicing in their own salvation, that they have no pity for the crowds, who, if not yet in hell, are going thither all around them.
Even true believers are injured more than they are aware, just in proportion as they really believe in never-ending torments. If not almost hopeless about the removal of any very subtle or persistent form of error, they shew that they have little faith in the power of unwearying love to overcome it. Why should they not allow some evil to remain if the Lord of all permits it for ever in His universe; or how should they expect to overcome evil with good, when, according to their creed, God Himself either cannot or will not do so through ages of ages? Why should they not therefore after a few brief efforts leave the willful and erring to their fate, since the God of patience Himself, according to their gospel, will leave souls unchanged, unsaved, and unforgiven for ever? With their views they can only judge the evil: they do not believe that it can be overcome by good, or that those now captive to it can and must be delivered by unfailing love and truth and patience.
Even the very preaching of the gospel is affected by this view; for men are hurried by it into crude and hasty work and souls,--unlike Him who “stands at the door and knocks,” (Rev. iii. 20.)—by which they often prematurely excite and thus permanently injure the proper growth of that “new man,” whom they desire to bring forth. Blessed be God, His grace is over all; and He is better than His most loving children think Him; and our mistakes about Him, though they hurt His people and the world, can never change His blessed purpose. And His Word,--and men would see this if they searched it more,--in the “law of the first-fruits,” in the “purpose of the ages,” and in salvation through “the cross,” that is through dissolution; above all in the face of Jesus Christ, tells out the truth which solves the great riddle, and shews why man must suffer while he is in sin, that through such suffering and death he may be brought back in Christ to God, and be re-made in His likeness.
I conclude as I began. The question is, What saith the Scripture? If these hard views of God, which so many accept, are indeed the truth, let men not only believe them, but proclaim them ceaselessly. If they are, as I believe, only misconceptions of the truth, idols of man's mind, as false and contrary to the revelation God has made of Himself in Christ as the idols of stone and wood and gold and silver were to the law of Moses, may the Spirit of our God utterly destroy them everywhere, and change our darkness into perfect day. No question can be of greater moment, nor can any theology which blinks the question meet the cravings which are abroad, and which I cannot but believe are the work of God's Spirit.
The question is in fact, whether God, is for us or against us; and whether, being for us, He is stronger than our enemies. To this question I have given what I believe is God's answer. And my conviction is that the special opening of this truth, as it is now being opened by God Himself, everywhere, is an evident sign and witness of the passing away of present things, and of the very near and imminent judgment of apostate Christendom. A time of trial and conflict plainly is coming, between a godless spiritualism on the one hand, and on the other a so-called faith, which has lost all real experience of spirit-teaching and spirit-manifestations, whose professors therefore have nothing to fall back on but a letter of tradition, which, however true, will in carnal hands be a poor defence against a host of lying spirits. Alas for those who in such a trial, while calling themselves the Lord's, know nothing of hearing His inward voice or of being taught by His Spirit. But He yet says, “He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith,” His grace, if sought, is still sufficient for us. May He more fully guide us into His own truth, and as a means open to us yet more of His Holy Scriptures, which, like the world around, contain unknown and undiscovered treasures, even the unsearchable riches of Christ, which are laid up for lost creatures.
Yours most truly,
NEXT--Part 5: Postscript