Is Hell Eternal?
Or Will God's Plan Fail
By Charles Pridgeon
Chapter Twenty-one: Has God a Purpose in Death?
The only way any of us ever enters life is by a birth. Creation is also nothing more nor less than a generation. "These are the generations of the heavens and of the earth when they were created" (Gen. 2:4).
The only way we ever leave life is by a death. These two processes always go hand in hand. We die to one form of life and live to another. "Except a corn of wheat . . . die, it abideth alone, but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit" (John 12:24).
In the Old Testament, especially in God's dealing with Israel, the sanctions or punishments referred to belonged, largely, to this life. This world was to be for them the place of reward, and the death threatened was in reference to this earthly life; but there were just enough other references and inferences of another life to prepare the way for the clearer and higher unfoldings of the New Testament. It is with the New Testament truth therefore that we will have most to do.
Death is always transition. Take physical death or the death of the body, "Absent from the body, . . . present with the Lord." Take spiritual death: it is leaving the realm of light and entering the realm of darkness; leaving the realm of love and unselfishness and entering the realm of alienation, self-will and selfishness; leaving the realm of harmony with the divine will and entering the realm of discord with the divine will; leaving the spiritual and entering the realm of the worldly and grossly material.
Death never means annihilation; there is no such thing anywhere as absolute annihilation. We sympathize with our Annihilationist friends in their effort to get rid of the blot on God's name, but the Scripture has a better way than theirs.
Death does not mean life in endless torment. For death is always a transition; and there is no such thing as endless time. The phrase is self-contradictory; for time always carries with it the idea of temporary and besides there can not be an endless temporary anything. (See Chapter on Eternity Not Time.)
We read; "She that liveth in pleasure is dead while she liveth" (1Tim. 5:6). That is, a death has taken place in reference to the spiritual and serious realm of life, and she is alive on a worldly and natural plane. The reckoning of one's self "dead indeed to sin" is in order to be "alive unto God" (Rom. 6:11).
There was a real death that took place in our first parents on the day they sinned, viz., a spiritual death. They died to the spiritual, and they became alive on a new and lower plane. This spiritual death affected their whole being. Before they sinned they were glorious like the angels; but they died to that glorious state, lost their body of glory, and knew that they were naked. The death of the gross physical body they had acquired did not follow till years afterward. There are two distinct stages in their death; the spiritual and the physical. The spiritual death brought them to a natural plane; and the physical death to the natural brought them to a more spiritual plane, if not the ultimate spiritual, at least one that was on the way back to the spiritual. It is only as the plant is dying that it brings forth the seed of another life.
Death came in as an enemy. God makes death overcome itself and bring forth life. It is by death that death is rendered powerless, and there arises an upspringing, conquering life. It is by Christ's death that all death is thus overcome. God limits the influence of every enemy; and when the round is complete, He makes everything work good.
Because man died to the state in which he was originally created by a sort of a twofold death, the only way back is by a twofold death; and both of these deaths have been potentially wrought for us by Christ's death on the cross. The first is a death to the outward, the material and natural of this earthly, worldly plane, "the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, whereby the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world" (Gal. 6:14). The second death is also potentially provided for in Christ's death on the cross, "Knowing this, that our old man is crucified with Him" (Rom. 6:6). Our old selfish self in its essence died with Him on the cross.
What has been wrought for us in Christ has to be accepted by faith as a fact; but the working of it within us is a process, and a tremendous one.
When we take our stand of faith for the forgiveness of sins, for the crucifixion of our self-life, for the fulness of the Holy spirit--then alone is salvation truly begun in us. Many are tempted to think that they then have all that God has for them; but this principle of death is in order to life, and the life is in order to death on that plane that they may live on a higher and a higher plane, in which progress they will keep on not only in this life but also in the ages. It has taken the rubies and the diamonds ages to grow, is God's plan for a soul any less complex and glorious? The higher the type of being, usually the longer it takes for development. The Apostle Paul, many years after his conversion and sanctification cries out; "That I may know Him, and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being made conformable unto His death" (Phil. 3:10). The Apostle Paul is still breathing that prayer, for the special resurrection that he longed for has not yet been fulfilled; and when it is come, then it will be the power for further progress. As long as time lasts, this wondrous process will continue. The vistas of the ages before us hold for us more love and grace and heights and depths and progress than we have ever imagined. "That in the ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us through Christ Jesus" (Eph. 2:7). As long as the ages, that is, time lasts, there will be this temporal progress.
What will happen when eternity comes at the end of the ages and God is "all in all?" The creature has no essential eternity in himself, for the creature's eternity is always derived and imparted from God in Christ. The word "progress" is not proper for eternity; but God will have something else then which will transcend progress. We will never lose our identity and personality; and we make up the body of Christ and the body of God. We will then surpass angelic beings. All spiritual beings will have transcendent natures in God; and as they are God's body, so all nature now redeemed and spiritual will be their body. "Which is His body, the fulness of Him that filleth all in all" (Eph. 1:23). "That God may be all in all" (1Cor. 15:28). There will be no more death, no more sin, no more judgment, no more punishment in all God's domain; and all domains will be God's and Christ's, and we will be Christ's in God, and God will be everything in every one.
Death and sin and judgment and punishment were terrible evils. They wrought woful havoc; they shattered God's universe and broke His great heart; but omnipotent love is quenchless and has prevailed; the freedom that was given to the creature has been respected; and every evil has been made to bring forth good (Rom. 8:28); every sin has found a deeper love in God; every pain has been a birth-pang; every judgment has been "unto victory"; the ages of training and endurance have put a set to character. True permanence of character comes only after all the tests of all the ages, but it comes then to abide. Then there will be no more fall, no more sin, no more death! God made these things work His purpose. The whole span of all the Ages will be but as a moment, as we look back at it. Eternity is here. It was only a discordant note in an eternal symphony; now it is corrected, mellowed, and entrenched and held by God in His perfected harmony.
Welcome the cross and its death and hold fast to its whole process. There is no other way than the way of Christ. There is no other process than this to bring man, not only to where he was originally, but also to the place God intended him to be. There is no escape for any one. There is no such thing as "chance." Every refusal makes the way longer and harder. There is no escape, no lesson can be skipt. Man has sinned and slipt thousands and millions of times; he will have to retrace every false step. The path of progress is just the reverse of the path of the fall. It is death in order to life, and life in order to deeper deaths, ever to higher planes. The path does not stop when the starting-place has been reached, but moves on and on into "all the fulness of God."
God willeth not the death of a sinner. If one sinner die eternally, God is defeated. God can not be defeated. "God willeth all men to be saved, and to come to the full knowledge of the truth" (1Tim. 2:4, literal). But it is not in the feeble, germinal, and initial sense in which we understand the word "saved" to mean that God willeth all men to be saved; but God wills all to come also to the full knowledge of the truth, and that implies the whole process of Christ for every man. In speaking of the elect, who are the first ones to ripen in this harvest, "a kind of first-fruits," God in the Word says, "Till we all come to the unity of the faith, and of the full knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ" (Eph. 4:l3). At the end of the ages all men will have reached that goal, for He wills for them the same full knowledge. It is only as the truth becomes a part of yourselves that you really know; and when you have the fulness of the truth of Christ, then you have reached the stature of the fulness of Christ. This is a result unthinkable apart from God's own Word (Eph. 4:13). "But faithful is He that calleth you, who also will do it" (1Thes. 5:24). For God is the only One who can take us through.
"O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?" "Thanks be unto God, which always leadeth us in triumph in Christ." Eternity has come, the goal is won, God is "all in all."
In view of this wondrous law of life out of death and God's tremendous plan for us, let us not say that this life is all and when it is gone, that all is gone. Neither let us say that death ends all. Read this parable which we found, said to be written by one James Buckham. It is called
A ROBIN'S EGG
"Only think of it--love and song,
The passionate joy of the summer long
Matins and vespers, Ah! bow sweet,
A nest to be in the village street,
A redbreast flashing in happy flight,
Life's full ecstasy and delight
Thrilling God's minstrel through and through,
All of them packed in this egg of blue!
"Would you believe it, holding dumb
Lime and pigment twixt finger and thumb ?
Would you think there was love within
Walls so brittle and cold and thin?
Such a song as you heard last night,
Thrilling the grove in the sunset light?
Out of the casket in which we dwell
What may issue? Can you foretell?
"Can you say when you find outspread
Bits of eggshell, we are dead?
Can you think if this shell be crusht
All that is in it is cold and hushed?
Look once more at this hit of blue,--
Has it no message of hope for you?"
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