Is Hell Eternal?
Or Will God's Plan Fail
By Charles Pridgeon
Chapter Eighteen: Since God is Love
The theme of this Chapter is not "If God is Love," for in that case it might be thought that there was some doubt that love is His very nature; but the theme is "Since God is Love," and we purpose to consider a few of the consequences that follow from this momentous fact.
When Edgerton Young, a successful missionary in Northwestern British America, taught some of the Indians to read by the simple syllabic characters, he wrote on the rock for them to read the words, "God is Love." One old Indian chief looked and pronounced the characters, and as soon as he uttered them he caught their import. He arose to his great height and said, rubbing his eyes, "Has there been sand in my eyes all these years? I have seen the Great Spirit in the lightning, I have heard Him in the thunder, but I never knew till now that 'God is Love.'" How many have really learned this truth?
We realize our insufficiency in approaching this great theme and appropriate the words to ourselves, "Sir, thou hast nothing to draw with, and the well is deep." We know that it is only as He draws for us, and gives us of the living water that we can have it within us. May we trust for the water that He causes to flow from His Word and the upspringing water of life which He said "shall be in him" (John 4:14).
When we speak of God's attributes we may say, and many do, that "God is a Spirit, infinite, eternal and unchangeable in His being, wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness and truth." This is a very blessed definition; but it largely defines only God's attributes, whereas, the text, "God is Love," tells us what He is in Himself. This text reveals His very nature. For instance, in speaking of justice, we know that God has justice as one of His attributes, but He is not justice; God is Love. This fact gives us a revelation of God's very nature.
Since God is Love, there must be personality in the Godhead; for a mere thing, energy or force can not love. Further as one of the old Church Fathers said, "Love implies the Trinity; for if God is Love, there must be a Lover and a Beloved and the Spirit of love." The Son must have equality with the Father, or He is not an adequate object for the Father's love; and the Father must be equal to the Son, or the Son does not have an adequate object to love; and the Holy Spirit must be equal to Father and Son, or He could not be the Bearer of the love of the One to the Other, and Himself be the very essence of their love-life.
The word, "person" is inadequate when referring to the Godhead; Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Augustine, Calvin,* and others express their regrets at having to use so imperfect and misleading a word; but it was the best-known word they had or we have. The words "subsistence" or "hypostasis" are more accurate, but are too little understood. There are three such subsistences or hypostases in the Godhead and the Three make One. There are not three Gods, but only One God. As has been well said, "Neither is God without the others, and each with the others is God, and each has a peculiarity incommunicable to the others." Here is a tree (all illustrations fall short), it has a hidden root and the manifested tree-trunk and branches, and also the sap as the spirit of life that flows from one to the other. There is but one tree, not three. God the Father is the root, the Hidden God; God the Son is the part of the tree above ground, He is the Manifest God; and the Holy Spirit is the Life that flows from one into the other and then outward. Again, God the Father may be compared to a great Love-Fire, which eternally begets the Son, who is the Light; and the Holy Spirit is the heat and chemical rays that proceed from both.
*Institutes, I, 13:3-6.
In human relations when we say "father," we mean that he was born before the son; in eternal divine relationship, the Father would not have been Father if He existed before the Son for one is not a father without a child. The same principle applies also to the Holy Spirit who eternally proceeds from the Father and the Son. His relationship is also eternal.
The generating power in the Godhead is this great love-desire.* In man desire generates images and thoughts. In God such generations are eternal realities. On the plane of the Divine, the Only Begotten Son is the Joyous Light, which is eternally begotten of the love-desire, and in which God sees Himself. Divine love is greater than loving on the line of equality. Divine love has condescension in it and as this generating love-desire in eternity loved and loves the Son on the creaturely plane, then the true humanity, in a spiritual form and material, is created. In His deity the Son of God is uncreated; in His humanity He was created. Christ always was and always will be the God-man. He may have different manifestations, one at one time and another at another; but He is always essentially the same.
*See William Law, The Spirit of Love. Vol. III of The Works of Rev. William Law, M.A.. (G. Moreton, Canterbury).
This fact explains such texts as, the "Son of Man (note, not "Son of God") ascends up where He was before" (John 6:62). As the Son of Man, He is in the resurrection "the first-born among many brethren," but as Son of God in deity there is no other; on the plane of Deity He is the Only Begotten Son. God, through the strong love-desire, created His humanity with all angels and men in Him, as the descendants of Adam were originally in Him; and, further, the whole spiritual creation was likewise in Him. This creation was not out of nothing, that is unthinkable. The Scripture gives light on this point in Rom. 11:36, "For out of Him, and through Him, and into Him, are all things" (literal). And again, the things which He created "were not made of things which do appear"; that is, they were created out of the invisible energies and powers which streamed forth from God. These energies and powers are called His glory; they form an eternal spiritual nature. God as a God of Love would not have had perfect satisfaction unless everything of creation was created by Him in eternity. Not one whit is ever to be added to God's glory, as God: He has it all eternally.
The doctrine of the conservation of energy, which is generally accepted at the present day, proves that nothing is truly destroyed even if consumed in fire. All of its elements remain somewhere. Things may appear in new form, but their essence was created before time began. All the light and peace and joy that was in the eternal creation was caused by the birth into it of the life and light of the Son through the working of God's love-desire. When the creation fell, what it lost was the birth and manifestation of the Son within. This fact alone explains the necessity of the Son being the only one who could redeem. The love-light has been lost and Christ must be born into this fallen world to bring in again that love-light in all where it was lost.
This love of God in eternity, was not only a love on the plane of Deity; but also the divine love condescending and manifested on a creaturely plane: it was and is a sacrificial love. In the original creation it was God in Christ, giving His life to and for others. His foreknowledge, and His eternally knowing of the fall of angels and men; and also the fall of the nature in which they were created so that they fell and nature fell--all this drew no new thing from Him. The cross of self-sacrifice has always been in the heart of God. He has been, and is continually, giving His life to and for others, else there would have been no creation and no redemption. God in His own heart of love, in eternity, has met everything that is ever to happen in the universe; not only that, but further, on account of His infinitude of love, He has met everything that by any possibility could happen, and has infinite love and peace because of His victory in Himself.
In God's eternal nature there is nothing that can disturb. All the disturbances come in the nature that is separated from God. The expressions of God's wrath and hatred are of a piece with such statements that seem to regard Him as asleep, as when the Psalmist calls upon Him to "awake" (Ps. 35:23); all such expressions are speaking after the manner of men. It is true, that in our fallen nature, God seems to have wrath; but the wrath is only when there is separation from Him. In the developing of a photograph the only kind of light they use in the dark room is that which enters through a red glass window. The white sunlight shines on the room, but the red glass lets no rays enter but the red rays. So our sins and self separate us from God; and, altho He is ever the same, we receive only judgment, for we do not let the full white light enter. But even here God has not forsaken man. He will make grace ''much more abound'' where sin abounded, and more of the divine love will be manifested than ever. Adequate judgments will punish, but they will all have God's love-purpose in them. Guilt is real, punishment is real, but real only while time lasts. Love is more real for it is eternal.
God has a wayward sinner for a son, that wayward boy sprang originally from the heart of God after a creaturely manner. He was created out of the glory of God and was a radiant creature, more radiant than an angel; and that boy, dead in scarlet sins, is still God's son, but he is a prodigal son. Some fathers may disown their sons, but the father of the prodigal son never said that that wayward boy of his was not his son. The Bible says that such become children of the devil; but, nevertheless, God still has a double claim upon them: they are His by creation; and they are His by right of redemption. They are dead in trespasses and sins. They need to be saved, to be converted, regenerated. They need to repent and come home; but when they do, the sorrowing father is made glad and says, "For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found." God is a bereaved God. It brings sorrow to our heart to think that Almighty God is bereaved of His children.
Do we believe in hell? Certainly we do; but God never made it. Man so yields to the temptations of the evil one that he, by his own doing, goes to the place prepared by the devil and his angels and prepared by man's own sinful deeds.
Is God's love greater than sin; greater than death; greater than hell; greater than Satan? The sacrificial death of His Son is not for the sins of those only who believe now; but "for the sins of the whole world" (1John 2:2). How long will the Good Shepherd seek the lost? "Until He find" (Luke 15:4).
Can God do anything after we die, or is He helpless? Christ preached the Gospel to the dead, even to those who were most wicked (1Pet. 3:18-20; 1Pet. 4:6). He says that He has the keys of Hades and of death (Rev. 1:18).
The word "punished" means not only suffering for the guilt of sin, but also signifies discipline and training for improvement. (See Chapter on A Sane and Scriptural Doctrine of Punishment.)
ll believers have any opportunity of helping the lost after death? The reason of the reference to Christ's preaching was to encourage believers to be faithful, even if they suffered and died for their testimony (1Pet. 3:17-20). For when His enemies thought that they would stop Christ's work by killing Him, they only opened another sphere for His activities, larger than any in the world. The argument is, so will "He" do for you. They needed this teaching, for 1Peter was written in Nero's day of persecution and martyrdoms. Gladly would the Christians go to death, when they knew that in the life to come they were entering greater service and usefulness.
We believe that this opening of Divine Love will melt more hearts for God than any other kind of preaching. A mother may forget her child; but God says, "Yet will I not forget thee." He also says, "As one whom his mother comforteth, so will I comfort you" (Isa. 66:13). When John B. Gough, the great temperance orator, was entertained by some friends in an eastern city, the mother of the household called him aside and asked him to go to her son Edward and have a talk with him. She said that Edward had been a wayward son; in fact, had gone so far in disgracing them that the father forbade him to enter the house. She said that she had pleaded with the father and had prevailed, and that the father had consented to permit Edward to have a room where he would never have to see him. She said, "Mr. Gough, Edward came home intoxicated a couple of days ago and is still in his room. I have been caring for him. Will you not go and have a little talk with him"' Mr. Gough said, "My dear mother, if you with all your love ad patience can not do anything with him, I scarcely think that I can." With a mother's persistency she finally persuaded Mr. Gough to talk with her son. He knocked at the door and entering found Edward. Mr. Gough said, "Edward, aren't you tired of the kind of life that you are leading ?" Edward said, "Yes, Mr. Gough, I am sick and tired of it." "Then why do you not quit it?" "Quit it? I can't, Mr. Gough; I am bound hard and foot with an evil habit." "Then why do you not pray, Edward?' "Pray! I don't believe in prayer; I don't believe in God; I don't believe in anything." "Oh, yes, you do, Edward," replied Mr. Gough. "You believe in something. You believe that your mother loves you." Edward replied, "I do not believe anything about it, I know she loves me." "Then, Edward," continued Mr. Gough, "you believe that there is such a good thing in this world as love, and I am going to leave you here and I want you to promise me that after I go out, you will get down on your knees and pray to love." "Pray to what?" said Edward, "Pray to love, for that is the only thing that you say you believe in. After much persuasion Edward promised. He afterward said that he felt very foolish when he knelt down to pray to love, but he had promised, and he tried to fulfil his promise. He kneeled and cried, "Oh love, love help me"; and straight- way, as if through the cleft heaven, this text sounded as a voice in his heart, "God is Love"; and, still looking up, he said, "Oh God!" and there came to him the verse that he had learned years before, "For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life." And he cried, "Oh, Christ! "--and it was done. He rushed out of his room to find his mother, and, when he did, he threw his arms around her neck and said; "Mother, I have found the Christ."
Our poor, lisping, faltering tongues can not proclaim the Gospel as we would like; but we have God's Word that is true for the present time, and for all the times of the ages. It was and is true eternally, "God is Love"; and the great practical consequence is for you and me to respond to that God and to that Love.
Back to Is Hell Eternal? Index
Back to Scholars Corner