Is Hell Eternal?
Or Will God's Plan Fail
By Charles Pridgeon
Chapter Twenty: The Unselfishness of God
An erroneous idea of the Christian's God is abroad and has been abroad from time immemorial.
It rarely enters into the head or heart of man that we have a humble, unselfish God. Humility and unselfishness are so little associated with strength that it is hard to believe that they are among the prime attributes of the true God.
Not only the enemies of Christianity but Christians themselves, have been the propagators of many false conceptions of our God.
When we teach that God wants us always to put Him first and do everything to His glory, the natural conception would be that of an inconsiderate, lofty, earthly monarch, one who desired the best for himself and cared not how his subjects fared.
What is the true statement of the case? What is God's glory? God's glory is the outraying of Himself and His gifts, which is the giving of Himself. He bids us depend upon and trust Him, in order that He may be able to support and help us. He bids us put Him first, in order that He may give us more, and be more to us than ever. He is not satisfied with anything but our love, our very selves; because in that way alone can He give us Himself. His ideal for us is, "Son, thou art ever with Me, and all that I have is thine"; but we fail to enjoy His wealth, and are often like the elder brother in the parable of Luke 15. He stoops to us, He serves us. The earthly life of humble service and sacrifice of our Lord Jesus Christ, is a true picture of our Great God. For Christ was "the effulgence of His glory, and the express image of His substance" (Heb. 1:3, literal).
We believe in the true substitutional sacrifice and atonement of our blessed Lord; but when it is presented as if Christ had to pay the price of His own life, to win God over and to get Him propitiated, it is a wrong conception of our God and of the work on the cross. For "God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto Himself" (2Cor. 5:19). It was God who "so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son." Let no one present Christ as loving and the Father as cruel. The Son was but expressing in all His suffering and sacrifice the unselfish love of our God. When we realize that and desire to understand God, we look unto Jesus. "Philip saith unto Him, Lord, shew us the Father, and it sufficeth us. Jesus saith unto him, Have I been so long time with you, and yet hast thou not known Me, Philip? he that hath seen Me hath seen the Father" (John 14:8,9). Again, in John 1:18, the same truth is clearly set forth: "No man hath seen God at any time; the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, He hath declared Him (made Him known)." God, in the person of His Son, not only sacrificed Himself for us on the cross, but He is always giving and sacrificing Himself for us. We have a God who is on the giving hand.
If God had been selfish, He never would have created intelligent beings in His own image. He did this in order that He might give Himself and His vast resources to them.
In providence, God is following us to help us. He always does the best for us under the circumstances. We, by our self-will and unyieldedness, block His unstinted generosity toward us.
In salvation, His same grace is manifested. Grace always says, "Not according to your deserts." Law says, "Whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap." God's love always works counter to the enemy. In the parable of the tares, the enemy sowed tares among the good wheat. God 's unselfishness always sows some good in the midst of our sin; and when we inquire, "How has this come to pass?" we will hear, "A friend hath done this," our unselfish God.
In the hymn of praise to love in 1Cor. 13, we have a description of our God in His nature and character. He does not ask us to be anything, or to do anything that He is not and does not do Himself.
"Charity suffers long and is kind;
Charity envieth not;
Charity vaunteth not itself,
Is not puffed up,
Doth not behave itself unseemly,
Seeketh not her own,
Is not provoked,
Thinketh no evil;
Rejoiceth not in iniquity, but
Rejoiceth in the truth;
Beareth all things,
Believeth all things,
Hopeth all things,
Endureth all things.
Charity never faileth" (1Cor. 13:4-8).
If there is anything in the Scriptures that seems to convey a different message, or a different spirit from this unselfish love, its cause lies not in God but in the creature.
Had man and the creation remained in the state and nature in which God originally created them, there would be nothing in this world but harmony, peace, and love; but God's creatures fell out of the estate of glory in which they were created, and their fall brought about another nature--gross, bestial, with just enough of the ruins of good in it to keep it from total corruption and destruction. Nature has become the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, not only evil. God always deals with man or angel according to the laws that govern the nature in which that man or angel has his being. In the unfallen state, God dealt according to the laws of an unfallen and eternal nature. In a fallen state, He deals according to the law of a fallen and temporal nature. Morally, God can not deal in any other way, because every creature is circumscribed and determined by the laws of its own nature. In the fallen nature there is the clash of discord and the suffering of separation from God. The very approach of the light gives us pain. Every day that Divine Love tries to bless us there is judgment and conviction. There is a sense in which all this may be attributed to God, in that He is the exciting cause; but its real cause is in our own sin and waywardness from God and His nature.
All the punishment, suffering, and discipline that comes to us in this life arises from the nature we have that is sinful and corrupt; but it might have some sort of peace, if God's warmth and sunshine did not make it ferment. Thus God will turn corruption into incorruption, and bring life out of death. In nothing more than in this is His unselfishness manifested.
One might say, "Why not leave corruptible things alone?" The answer is plain, God causes the fermentation of corrupt nature to produce purity. He does not contradict, nor remove the laws of nature. Metaphorically, He turns her own guns on herself. Her own laws by God's own hand, work for the destruction of her evil and toward a new creation. He nullifies death with death. All they did in the crucifixion of Christ was to slay the body that belongs to this fallen environment; and God had His opportunity to raise up an unfallen, new creation in the Person of His risen, glorified Christ. The whole creation potentially died with Him, and a new creation rose with Him and was glorified in Him. He is the first fruits of a new creation. Its completion is absolutely certain; God's purpose waits for the faith of the creature, which He foresaw from eternity.
The unselfish love of God toils and suffers to bring us back to a glory more glorious than that which was spoiled. Through the gross medium of our fallen nature, the Person and work of our God may look distorted and cruel; but to the anointed eye there is nothing but love and unselfishness. His voice of approbation and blessing sounds to the diseased ear as the thunder of judgment. When God so spake there were some who said it thundered (John 12:29).
Hannah Whitall Smith, the author of The Christian's Secret of a Happy Life, introduces her autobiography thus:
"On the fly-leaf of my Bible, I find the following words taken from I know not where: 'This generation has rediscovered the unselfishness of God'.
"If I were called upon to state in one sentence the sum and substance of my religious experience, it is this sentence I would choose. And no words could express my thankfulness for having been born into a generation when this discovery has been comparatively easy.
"If I am not mistaken, the generation before mine knew very little of the unselfishness of God; and, even of my own generation, there are I fear many good and earnest Christians who do not know it yet. Without putting it into such words as to shock themselves or others, many Christians . . . look upon God as one of the most selfish, self-absorbed Beings in the universe, far more selfish than they could think it right to be themselves--intent only upon His own honor and glory, looking out continually that His own rights are never trampled on; and so absorbed in thoughts of Himself and of His own righteousness, as to have no love or pity to spare for the poor sinners who have offended Him.*
"I grew up believing that God was like this. I have discovered that He is exactly the opposite."
*Mrs. Hannah Whitall Smith's, A Spiritual Autobiography, named in the earlier editions, The Unselfishness of God (Fleming H. Revell Co., New York).
The author of The Anatomy of Truth adds his testimony (See notice of this author and book in note in Chapter, Eternity Is Not Time.):*
"'God is Love'. We say and re-say these words until we have lost almost all sense of their proportion and their meaning. We have grown so accustomed to the sound of the formula that it has ceased to impress upon us one thousandth part of what it contains. And in spite of the protest which the words import, we still secretly, in our heart of hearts, regard God as a kind of all-powerful Autocrat, Who governs the world and the universe, no doubt not without the welfare of His creatures, yet still with a purpose which is primarily directed to His own gratification, and on principles which arc mainly self-centered if not actually selfish.
"But what a travesty of the formula does such a conception involve! What an immeasurable distance are we straying from its meaning when we suffer ourselves to think thus of God! Think for a moment what the words import. Consider what love really is. Love, the spendthrift; love, the prodigal; love, that gives all, asking nothing in return--and yet, by some mysterious law of its being, sows the seeds of gain in loss itself, reaping harvests of waste from its own lavish waste, and garnering stores of profit out of its very profusion. Of its boundless extravagance love takes no reckoning, With a perverse economy love 'seeketh not its own.' Love keeps no profit and loss account. Love strikes no balance between mine and thine. For to love, all things are loss. And to love all loss is gain.
"But if this be so, then it is obvious that we must totally reconstruct the very basis of our conception of God. We must look upon Him now as the Supreme Altruist, Who has never known a selfish thought, and Whose whole existence is one vast expenditure--an outpouring of Himself in passionate self-sacrifice, for the welfare and happiness of His children. More than a father's affection, more than a mother's self-forgetting devotion, more than a lover's love--more a thousandfold than all these is the love of God, 'which passeth knowledge,' and which sets no bounds to its bounty save only those which our limitations supply. It was no empty figure of speech which declared 'all things are yours'."
*See notice of this author and book in note in Chapter, Eternity Is Not Time.
We add a suggestive prayer of Dr. Matheson:
"Lord let not the sun go down upon my wrath! Life is too short for quarrels. Yet it is not because life is short that I would have peace. It is because eternity is long. How strange my old quarrels look in the light of vanished years! Me thinks they will look stranger still in the light of Thine eternity. I am ambitious now, and I shall be ambitious then; but the things for which I am ambitious now are not the things for which I shall be ambitious then. Now I strive to get; then I shall strive to give. Now I seek possession; then I shall try to be dispossest. Now I covet the uppermost seat; then I shall descend the stair. Now I select the best robe; then I shall choose the servant's form. I see Paul and Barnabas standing before Thy presence and there is still a strife between them. But the cause of strife is changed--Paul wishes Barnabas to be first, and Barnabas is eager to remain second; they wonder at their old quarrel in the light of Thy throne. Reveal that light to me, O Lord! In my hour of quarrel, in he hour when I strive to he first, give me a glimpse of the soul's last judgment on itself--its reversed judgment! Let me see Cain rejoicing over the acceptance of Abel's sacrifice! Let me see Lot repudiating the richer share! Let me see Sarah making a home for Ishmael! Let me see Jacob refusing his brother's birthright! Let me see Joseph exalting his brethren in his dreams! Let me see David take Uriah's place in the battle! Let me see Jonah intent on sparing Nineveh! Let me see Herod exulting in the sustenance of the babes of Bethlehem! Then shall the light of eternity arrest the strife of time."*
*Representative Men of the New Testament, by George Matheson, D.D., page 259 (A. C. Armstrong & Son, New York).
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