Is Hell Eternal?
Or Will God's Plan Fail
By Charles Pridgeon
Chapter Thirty: The Test of Usefulness as a Divine Accrediting
The question may arise in the heart of a Christian worker, "Is it not all right to sacrifice a little frankness and truth in order to usefulness?"
The Word of God tells us to "Buy the truth, and sell it not." All truth that we really have, has cost its possessor something, and sometimes it is gained only at a great price. God bids us buy it. It is true it is "without money and without price," and yet it costs dearly; but it is always worth more than it costs. Truth to become really ours has to be held more strongly than a mere opinion or belief; beliefs have to be burned into convictions and convictions changed into life.
There is always the temptation to compromise; and when any truth is compromised or denied, it is apt to become weaker and fainter to our consciousness. God's Word says, "sell it not," for all truth is a part of Him who is the Incarnate Truth, and in selling it, to that degree, we are selling Him.
God always desires us to be tactful in the presentation of truth, but He never wants us to sacrifice it, nor to practise diplomatic falsehoods to promote His cause. There are times when one may be called upon to sacrifice greatly for some truth; but if done unto God in the spirit of joy and faith, it always yields its ''hundredfold," and that kind of truthfulness is always one of the secrets of power: we might say, a rare secret of power.
It is contrary to heavenly wisdom to prefer a present profit to a future good. In fact, he who is not looking for profit at all, but only at what will please God--that man has already the greatest profit in a more intimate fellowship with God. And he who has the most intimate fellowship with God, will have the life of greatest usefulness, whether he or the world knows it. Any other principle of life and action always sells its birthright for a mess of pottage.
We will give two illustrations from real life.
Hannah Whitall Smith is the well-known author of that book that has been helpful to hundreds of thousands, The Christian's Secret of a Happy Life. It is not so generally known, but Mrs. H.W. Smith was a strong believer in the ultimate salvation of all. We quote several extracts from her Spiritual Autobiography:
"As was to be expected in those days, my views on restitution, which of course I had speedily announced, met with a great deal of disapproval . . . And, as a fact, these very views, and the frank confession of them under rather trying circumstances, were the means of opening the way for some of our most important and successful work."
"It came about in this wise. In 1873 my husband had come over to England to hold some meetings in the interests of the Higher Life, or, what I prefer to call it, the Life of Faith. I soon followed him, and upon my arrival in London I was invited to meet a company of leading Evangelical ladies, who were to decide as to whether it would be safe for them to endorse me, and lend their influence to the work. The occasion has thus been described by Lady Mount Temple, who was one of the party, in her life of Lord Mount Temple:
"I think it was in 1873 that Mr. Pearsall Smith came to England from America, followed in a few months by his dear, beautiful wife. It was a time long to be remembered. They came full, one may say, of the new wine of the Spirit, and longed to help others onward in the Divine life. A friend asked us to lunch to meet them. I shall never forget my first sight of Hannah Smith. We called her the 'angel of Churches," and she looked like one, with her golden hair and clear beautifully cut face, in a dress distinctly her own, but simple as that of the Friends, among whom she had been brought up.
"I may mention what strongly drew' me to her that day. I must confess that I was only a seeker after truth. Hannah was sitting in a little circle of excellent orthodox friends, who had assembled to hear of the good things that she had to impart, and she was there on her examination.
"She happened to have seen a funeral in the street, and as she spoke of it, we all put on the conventional look of sadness. 'Oh,' she said, 'when I meet a funeral I always give thanks for the brother or sister delivered from the trials and pains of this mortal state.' How wonderful, I thought, and I could not help exclaiming, 'Is that possible? Do you feel this about everybody? I was indeed an enfant terrible. She stopt a moment and looked around. She was amongst a party of evangelicals at a time when the universal hope was deemed a heresy, and she was on her trial. She owns that she went through a few moments of conflict. But truth prevailed, and looking up, with her bright glance, she said, 'Yes, about everybody, for I trust in the love of God.'* I yielded my heart at once to this manifestation of trust and love and candor."
*See Chapter on the Unselfishness of God, page 202.
I remember this occasion perfectly, and the thoughts that influenced me. I knew I was on my trial, and I thought very likely the whole party would be shocked, but I felt that loyalty to God demanded that I should tell what I knew would honor Him, and that I must be willing to leave the consequences in His care. The moment I ceased speaking Lady Mount Temple, (or Mrs. Cowper Temple, as she was then), left her seat and came across to where I was sitting, and, stranger tho I was, gave me a most loving kiss, and said at once, "You must come and have some meetings at Broadlands." How the rest of the party felt I do not know, but not a word of disapproval was uttered, and they were all afterward my best friends. And the result was that in a few weeks, Broadlands, Lord and Lady Mount Temple's place in Hampshire, was thrown open to us for all the future conferences, and for our whole after-work in England and elsewhere.
When in 1874 there was to be one of these conferences at Brighton, some of the committee who were helping to organize it got frightened about my heresies lest they should hinder the work, and induced my husband, who had preceded me to England, to write over to America and tell me that unless I would promise not to let my heresies be known while I was in England, they would strongly oppose my being allowed to take part in the meetings. When looking over an old package of letters lately I came across my reply, which I quote to show how I felt about it.
"Philadelphia, April 6, 1874. Thy letters from London have arrived. Thee need not think I should be grieved not to be allowed to speak in the meetings, for nothing would really suit me better. I am not in the least anxious to preach. In fact, I consider that it is a great favor on my part to be willing to do it, and not the least of a favor in people to be willing to listen to me. And if your committee should say, 'We do not want to hear you speak at Brighton,' I should have returned them hearty thanks. Nobody need feel any delicacy whatever in this direction. But it must be thoroughly understood that I compromise for nobody, and that I believe in restitution more and more. I do not think I could endure the misery I see in this poor sad sin-stricken world without it. Our temperance work brings us into contact with such helpless misery that my heart would burst if I did not know that God loves all His creatures, and has something gracious in store for every one.
"So I wrote: and, as I would not compromise, and, as it was felt important to have me at the meetings, the committee dropt the subject, and decided to take me as I was, with all my heresies."
When my husband wrote me this, I replied as follows:
"Philadelphia. I am very glad thee has got out of thy difficulty about thy heretical preaching wife with so little trouble. But the idea of B____, with shaky views of his own, undertaking to excommunicate me! I really do not think it was honest. I do not choose to sail under false colors, and I am a thousand times stronger in my views of restitution every day I live. If they let me alone in England I shall probably not say much about it, but if there is the least hint of any compromise or underhand secrecy on my part, I shall blaze out in a perfect conflagration. For I can not endure anything like that. So you must please bear this in mind, ye Lords of Creation. Soberly however I do not feel at all drawn to preach or to teach restitution over there, and if the dear frightened orthodox friends do not make any fuss about it, I shall not be likely to. Their difficulties about me do not annoy me in the least. I believe I actually enjoy being the victim of the odium theologicum. I guess there is something of the war-horse in my composition.
"Whether the fears of the committee had been well-founded or not I can not tell, I only know that never for one single moment in all my work in England was I made to feel that my views on restitution in the slightest degree hindered the entrance of the message I had to give, or closed any door for my work. In fact, I believe they made the way for me in many places that would otherwise not have been open. The truth was that my underlying belief in the absolutely unlimited justice and love of God, enabled me to speak with a far more courageous faith in Him than I could otherwise have done, and I am convinced that without it I should have been shorn of half my power."
We desire to cite but one more example. This time the incident is from the life of that distinguished missionary who spent a long life in China, Griffith John. There are many in our land and in all lands who have come under the power of his burning words; and many souls have been won for God and many missionaries and ministers have been led by his zeal and by his teaching to a life in Christ in the fulness of the power of the Holy Spirit.
On one of the most important occasions of his life, when addressing a great gathering of missionaries in convention in Shanghai, China, he said in part*:
"Now, then, let us go on. In going up and down this country, a man comes to me sometimes and says, 'Mr. John, do you suppose that all the heathen are going to hell?' And his impression is that if they do not go to bell, he has nothing to do with the mission work. Well, that is one way of putting the question; but there is another way of putting it, and I sometimes turn round and say, 'Sir, do you suppose that they are all going to heaven?' I do not know where they are going; but one thing I am perfectly sure of, that they are not fit to go to heaven; and if I could tell you tonight that all the Chinese were launched into heaven just as they leave this world, I venture to say, my friends, that very few of you would care to go there at all, unless you went as missionaries. Another says, 'Mr. John, here is a man trying to live up to the light, feeling after God. What becomes of him?' That is a difficult question, too, but I have no hesitation in saying this, that; he who worketh righteousness, whether in China or England, is accepted by Him. But then another man tells me, 'Well, Mr. John, my theological views are changed, and I do not see that I can take any special interest in the missionary work after this.' There is an old view, which, I suppose, may be presented in this aspect--that the majority of the heathen go down into endless conscious misery on their departure from this life. Do you believe this? Do you know what you are believing? I do not say you are not right, but do you really know what you are believing? If that be true, just look at what it means in regard to China. In China it is computed that some 33,000 die daily--that the daily mortality of China would drain England of its population in two years, London in four mouths, and your Manchester in nine days. Do you believe that these millions upon millions of adults are sinking into hopeless misery as they depart this life? If you do, then I o ask, in the name of God, why don't you send missionaries out to save them? If you do, why is it that you do not go out yourselves to try and save them from such a terrible calamity?
"'Well, but I do not believe,' another man says, 'in the old view. I believe in the destruction of men after a certain period of probation or punishment; I believe that they are blotted out of existence or shrivelled up into nothing.' I have been compelled to put this question to myself, 'Granted that this is the Biblical view, what then? Do you go on with your missionary life? And I have come to the conclusion that, if this is the true view, I can draw from it sufficient motive to go on with my missionary life. Here is a soul, capable of dwelling forever with God. Here is a soul capable of eternal existence, of eternal blessedness and happiness, capable of extending into a seraph, shrivelling up into nothing, or blotted out of existence. What would the blotting out of ten thousand worlds be compared with the blotting out of one soul? I do not know how you feel, but I feel that it would be worth my while going round and round the world in order to save one from such collapse.
"Then there comes the universal restoration view. Some say. 'I do not believe in the old or the second view, but I believe that all souls shall be restored at last.' What then? I am glad to be able to tell you I have looked at that view in its face, and I have come to the conclusion that I can draw even from that view sufficient motive to go on with my missionary work. Suppose, for instance, an angel were to come to me when I lay my head upon my pillow this evening, and whisper these words in my ear, 'Brother, all souls are to be restored at last all; all the heathen are to be restored at last; the Chinese are to be restored at last. You are only just beginning your missionary work, there is a long, long missionary life before you; your work in China is a mere school in which you are preparing yourself for a grander work by and by.' What would be the effect of it upon my mind? To paralyze my hand? To prevent me going back to China? No, on the contrary, I feel that if an angel were to reveal that to me as the truth of God, the spark of missionary enthusiasm in my heart today would burst into a flame.
"I should reason in this way, 'Is it so? Can it be that the human soul is worth so much? Can it be that human souls are so dear to the heart of the Father? Can it be that that great atonement can cover all guilt, and that that mighty Spirit contains all souls?' If this be true--if it be true that all souls are to be redeemed, then I go in for the missionary life, not only for this aeon, but for aeons of aeons until the Christ of whom we have heard so much these days has put all His enemies under His feet, and presented the kingdom to God the Father."
* Griffith John, the Story of Fifty Years in China, by R. Wardlaw Thompson, page 380 (A. C. Armstrong & Son, New York).
"Them that honor Me, I will honor," and what truth so vindicates God's character and honor as this of God's wondrous plan and its complete success? Again we say, ''Buy the truth, and sell it not."
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