Is Hell Eternal?
Or Will God's Plan Fail
By Charles Pridgeon
Chapter Twenty-three: The Final Permanence of Character
The best-established fact in history is the fact of the rising again of Jesus Christ. Since the time that Jesus lived on the earth, the history of the world would have been utterly different but for that fact. The resurrection of Jesus Christ is the keystone of the arch of redemption; the whole arch would fall if it were not for that keystone. It is one thing to know the fact, and quite another to know the power of the fact of His resurrection. It is one thing to know an engine, and another to know its power. Likewise, we may have read of a tornado or a typhoon; but it is quite another thing to experience its power. We know something about atoms, but how little about their power. Science seems to believe that there is enough latent power in a few pounds of atoms to blow up a continent or a world. We know, as all African proverb says, how to count the apples on an apple tree; but who can count the number of apple trees in one apple seed? Who can know the power of the Seed of the Woman, who is also the Son of God? It has fallen into the ground and died and in its upspringing, resurrection life it is lifting and recreating all worlds and suns, in fact the whole universe; and if there are many universes, all the universes and creatures of God.
There are those who look at the smallness of our planet in comparison with the solar system and the universe, and can not understand why God should choose such all insignificant place as our little earth (a mere speck in comparison with others) to be the place for the enacting of His great work of redemption. In fact, the inference seems to be that redemption can not be so great when the place chosen for its chief events is comparatively so insignificant. This objection arises from the failure to discern the difference between a seed plot, where the seeds are grown and cultivated, and the wide universe in which those same seeds are afterward sown. The mistake in our thought is that this world is the end and whole theater of the great redemptive activities. It is only the place for the development of the seed. Christ is the Seed, He is the wondrous Seed-Corn that fell into the ground and died and rose again; and the elect or chosen ones are the seed with Him. By analogy the Word says, "the good seed are the children of the kingdom." The whole redemptive purpose for our age is the raising and the development of the seed.
This world was probably chosen also for the same reason that our Lord was born and laid in a manger. He condescended to the lowest, that He might lift them to the highest. This world is about the only place where beings with grossly material bodies can live with ease. Most other places in the universe, as we know it, would require beings with more spiritual bodies to endure or enjoy the natural conditions there. It is the only place in the universe where God could reach the lowest, in order to lift them to the highest. Worldliness and lack of spirituality have gotten into the Church largely because of the failure to understand this, and thereby putting the work above the worker and the seed plot above the seed. The seed plot is chosen as the best place to develop the seed, that the best seed may be sown throughout the world.
Some one has changed the figure and said something like this: "This old world is the cradle in which God is rocking the future heirs of the universe." The first-born heirs are chosen, that the others may be made beneficiaries and blessed through them; then all will share alike in God's domain. They are blessed to be made a blessing, and not for any personal or selfish reason. Everything was originally created in Christ and for Him; and the universe was more like a living body than a thing. The spiritual beings that composed it were living atoms, each a little world in itself, but all together making a glorious spiritual universe. Matter was spiritual matter then and plants and trees and animals were more like the uttered unfallen, spiritual thoughts which were creations of God in union with Him. The creation existed before it was gross and earthly, "And every plant of the field before it was in the earth" (Gen. 2:5), but it was far more spiritual.
Originally, matter, even tho it was matter, was spiritual matter. An atom of uranium* is one of the most spiritual forms of matter and is intensely active, a little universe in itself. After it has shot forth four of its particles, it falls and becomes radium. Again after five explosions, this new atom of radium falls and assumes something of the same character as an atom of lead, gross, heavy lead. Thus through sin has matter fallen. The resurrection power of Christ will take it all back to radium, back to uranium (this, of course, is a figure), and back to the likeness of the transfigured, glorified body of Christ and of God.
*E. F. Richards in Popular Science Monthly for May 1920, page 27. Also The New Knowledge by Robert Kennedy Duncan F.C.S., pages 129-178 (A. S. Barnes & Co., New York).
When sin entered, it touched only a part of this great body of God; but a part of a body can not be sick without affecting the whole. God then, to keep the infection from spreading, brought about an earthly creation, which blocked and hindered the spread of sin. The angels who had not fallen were adapted, by His creative power, to the disturbed and grossly tempered condition of things. God Himself, as far as creation could know Him, adapted Himself so that He could help the fallen. The undermost point was reached when Christ "was made flesh, and dwelt among us," and then died. But because He died He will not abide "alone." Christ was the real Head of man (1Cor. 11:3). Adam was only a typical head (Rom. 5:14). Christ was also the Head of everything, angels and all creation (Col. 1:16; 2:10).
His death, resurrection and ascension lifts the whole creation up to God and places it all, not only where is was before any fall, but also where God intended it to be. In Eph. 1:18-23, Paul prays; "The eyes of your understanding being enlightened; that ye may know what is the hope of His calling, . . . And what is the exceeding greatness of His power. . . . Which He wrought in Christ, when He raised Him from the dead, and set Him at His own right hand in the heavenly places, far above all," etc. In His resurrection not only all men and angels and all life, but even gross matter, have been glorified, perfected and restored to the highest favor of God. We take the phrase, "at His own right hand," to signify the place of highest favor and power. The glorified God-man, with a true material body glorified, is at God's right hand. This opens to us something of the meaning of the power of His resurrection.
It is unfortunate that the word, "resurrection," is given as the translation of the Greek word, ''anastasis.'' The word ''resurrection'' with its beginning re signifies "to rise back again to what one was when he died." The Greek word is the one in the Scripture written by the Apostle. Its ending signifies process. We use the Latin-derived word "resurrection" usually for but one thing; viz., the dead coming up out of their graves; whereas the word in the original Greek means the whole process of rising up and advancing until the highest heavens are reached. It is so understood in the passage already quoted in Eph. 1:18-20. The resurrection process begins as soon as we become Christians, even in this life we receive the earnest of our glorified body (2Cor. 5:5). When we die, the resurrection process continues for the Christian, and blessed activity may follow as it did with Jesus. He was "quickened in spirit" after He was "put to death in the flesh," and through this resurrection power He preached (1Pet. 3:18-20; 4:6). When He arose from the sepulchre it was still part of the process; and when He ascended, it was still by the same power; and as a man, He is still advancing.
The work of our Lord was potentially finished on the cross, but the resurrection process will continue till the end of the ages. We do not wonder that the Apostle prayed that he might "know" Christ and "the power of His resurrection," and that he might be of those who enjoyed an exceptional resurrection; for even when he does thus rise, it will be only a stage further in the whole process. He will enjoy the elect resurrection, that he may go on and in its power help others to a similar place. The elect of honor are the elect for responsibility and service.
As far as we understand "the power of the resurrection," it is the power of advancing. Were it not for the work and resurrection of Christ, there would be no such progress; but the Scriptures teach that there is a. rising again not only of the just but also of the unjust. This would not and could not be, only for the power of His resurrection; it is of grace and is of His working. This explains the words of the Apostle Paul in Acts 24:15, "And have hope toward God. . . . that there shall be a resurrection of the dead, both of the just and unjust." According to the ordinary view it would seem strange that he would say that he has "hope toward God" for a resurrection of the unjust as well as the just, because for the unjust it would be a horror and not a hope. It all becomes plain when we read the idea of process and advancement, which is the real meaning of the word in the original. Neither does it change the thought when we read that there is a resurrection of judgment (not damnation; John 5:29). In fact, the word translated "damnation," as we have seen in a previous Chapter, is the word meaning, not judgment, but literally "a judging." This word also indicates a process or a series of judgings. This harmonizes with the Judgment of the Great White Throne, which takes place at the conclusion of the Millennium. "And I saw a great white throne, and Him that sat on it, from whose face the earth and the heaven fled away; and there was found no place for them. And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened; and another book was opened, which is the book of life: and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works. And the sea gave up the dead which were in it; and death and hades delivered up the dead which were in them: and they were judged every man according to their works. And death and hades were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death. And whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire" (Rev. 20:11-15).
From this last verse we gather that only those whose names were not written in the book of life were "cast into the lake of fire"; and the implication is that probably many who were resurrected and brought before the throne were saved; the punishment of such would be ended. Their punishment in part had been to be shut out from the millennial blessing for a thousand years or more. The unrepentant are cast into the lake of fire. They are resurrected, i.e., advanced to severer discipline and punishment; but note, it is an advancement, for this lake of fire, as we have shown in its Chapter, is the place of Divine purification. They are punished there for the ''ages of the ages,'' viz., for the latter part of the millennial age and for the great final age, "the Age of the Ages." The Bible counts a part of a year or age as one age, according to the Hebrew idiom. They reckoned a child two years old if it had lived only a year and a day. We can not conceive of God, in the first instance, creating beings whom He foresaw would be in torment forever and ever; and still further, it is unthinkable also to imagine God's resurrecting them in order that He might endlessly punish them. If punishment is not only for guilt, but also for purification, then we can understand; and besides, by its original meaning, resurrection is always a progress and advancing.
"Some through the water;
Some through the flood;
Some through the fire;
But all by the blood."
Many think that when the Lord comes and we are resurrected, then there is no more advancement. Among those who are resurrected as soon as the Lord comes, we read that there is a difference in glory and perfection. "There is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars: for one star differeth from another star in glory. So also is the resurrection of the dead" (1Cor. 15:41,42). God will not be satisfied to have one of His children greater than another. He will not have to make them all exactly alike, but they will all have an equal share of His resurrection life and glory worked into them. The process of the resurrection will continue to the end of the ages. It is of this resurrection power that it is said, "According to the working whereby He is able even to subdue all things unto Himself." The ages last till the Lord's resurrection embraces and fills all in every part (Eph. 1:23). And then the Son will hand over the perfected kingdom to the Father, and God (Father, Son and Holy Ghost) will be ''all in all.''
There are many who think that nothing can be done for a resurrected sinner; but they have not noticed that the greatest work and application of the redemption and resurrection life in Christ, is to be made in the final and greatest age of all. In other ages the work is only elective and partial; in the age of the ages it is all-inclusive. In Ephesians, the first Chapter, we have the blessing on the elect (Eph. 1:3-9). Then in verse 10, we have revealed the mystery of His will for all, "That in the dispensation of the fulness of times He might head up all things in Christ" (literal). This heading up in Christ comes after the Second Coming of Christ and after the resurrection and the Millennium.
The thought generally held is that some become so hardened that they will not take the offer of salvation when given to them; but if it be true, as is usually believed by evangelical Christians, that whenever a sinner is saved, he is saved only by the grace of God, then the whole question resolves itself into God's ability to save. Lazarus is dead. It matters little to God whether it is four days or four thousand years. Lazarus is not to be raised by his own ability. Is God who created unable to re-create? There is always creative power in the Word of God. It is really not a question of how long or how dead one is; it is a question of God's power--of the power of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Nothing is too hard for God. The dead will hear His voice. The harder the case and conditions, the greater the victory for God. God has said that in the dispensation of the fulness of times He would head up all in Christ, and it shall be even as He said.
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