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(2) It is further said that the doctrine is opposed to Reason. Several arguments are urged by those whose opinions are entitled to the most respectful attention. I confess I care little to answer these, because to me the question simply is, "What saith the Scripture;" because, too, I know that those who urge these reasons would instantly abandon them, if they believed Scripture spoke differently; for I am sure I may answer for them and say, that no reasons if opposed to Scripture would weigh with them; because, too, if it be made a question of reasoning, as much may be said against as for the doctrine of never-ending punishment. Still, as some of these reasons are perplexing simple hearts, I may notice those which are most often heard.
(i) The first is, that this doctrine militates against the atonement, for if all men shall at length be saved, God became man to redeem from that which is equally remedied without it. Surely, Christ did not die to save us from nothing. But never will any believe the redemption by Christ, who do not believe in hell also.
Now what does it say for the state of the Church, when men can argue, that if all are saved at last by Christ, they are saved as well without redemption. The objection only proves the confusion of thought which passes current for sound doctrine, and how little the nature of the fall, and the redemption by Christ, are really understood. What the Scripture teaches is, that man by disobedience and a death to God fell from God under the power of death and darkness, where by nature he is for ever lost, as unable to quicken his soul as to raise again his dead body; that in this fall God pitied man, and sent His Son, in whom is life, to be a man in the place where man was shut up, there to raise up again God's life in man, to bear man's curse, and then through death to bring man back in God's life to God's right hand; that in His own person, Christ, the first of all the first fruits, as man in the life of God, broke through the gates of death and hell; that those who receive Him now, through Him obtain the life by which they also shall rise as firstfruits of His creatures; that "if the firstfruits be holy, the lump is also holy," and that therefore "in Christ shall all be made alive." But how does it follow hence that those who are not firstfruits, if saved at all, are saved without Christ's redemption? Christ is and must be the one and only way, by which any have been, or are, or can be, saved. But if when we were "dead in sins" and "children of wrath, even as others," God's Word could quicken and deliver us out of the horrible pit, that we might be "firstfruits of His creatures," why should we say He cannot bring back others out of death, though they miss the glory of being "firstfruits ?" To say that if this be true, God became man to redeem us from what is equally remedied without it, and that if "in Christ all are made alive," their life is not through Christ's atonement, but independent of it, is simply misapprehension of the whole question. But the objection shows how much, or how little is understood even by masters of Israel.
The other part of the objection that "none believe in redemption who do not believe in hell," is trite, and shows why some at least are only saved by being "delivered to Satan." For none are saved till they know or believe their ruin. Like the Prodigal, we must come to ourselves before we come to our Father. (Luke 15:17, 20) If therefore yet bound by the lie, "Ye shall be as Gods," men will not believe their fall, and that there is, and that their souls are in, a dark world the necessary result is they cannot believe in redemption, for till they believe their fall they will neither believe nor care for deliverance. If they will not believe it, they shall know it. And if belief in hell makes belief in redemption possible, what if the knowledge of hell should also lead those who will not believe, to the knowledge of their state and of their need of Christ's redemption ?
(ii) It is further argued, that, if grace does not, judgment cannot, save man. How can damnation perfect those whom salvation has not helped ? Can hell do more for us than heaven? What more could God do for us, that He has not done for us?
The answer to this lies simply in what has been said above, as to the reason why the way of life for Its must be through judgment. We are held captive by a lie. One part of that lie is that we are as Gods. The remedy for this is to show us that we are ruined creatures. Till we believe or know this, we cannot return to God. Judgment, therefore, to show us what we are, is as needful as the grace which meets the other part of the serpent's lie, and shows what God is. Therefore God kills to make alive. Therefore He turns man to destruction, that He may say, Return, ye children of men. Therefore He delivers even Christians to Satan, for the destruction of their flesh, that so they may learn what grace has not taught them. If we want further examples, Nebuchadnezzar shows us how judgment does for man what goodness cannot. Loaded with gifts, through self-conceit he loses his understanding. The remedy is to make him as a beast. Then as a beast he learns what as a man he had not learnt. (Dan. 4:29-34) Let the nature of the fall be seen, and the reason why we are only saved through judgment is at once manifest. Grace saves none but those who are condemned; nor till we have felt "the ministry of death and condemnation" do we fully know "the ministry of life and righteousness." The firstfruits from Christ to us are proofs, that by death, and thus alone, is our salvation perfected. Unbelievers, who will not die with Christ, are lost, because they are not judged here. God cannot do more than He has done for man. Law and Gospel are His two covenants. But why may not the Lord, seeing that He is " Jesus Christ, the same yesterday, to-day, and for the ages," by the ministry of death and condemnation in another world do for those, who have not here received it, that same work of judgment to salvation, which in the firstfruits is accomplished in this present world? Blessed be His name, we know He will subdue all things unto Himself; and though our sin can turn His blessings into curses, He can no less turn curses into blessings, by that same power which through death destroys the power of death.
(iii) But it is further objected, that this doctrine gives up God's justice;' for if all are saved, there will be no difference between St. Peter and Nero, virgins and harlots, saints and sinners.
This again is misapprehension or worse. God's justice is given up, because He saves by judgment. The conclusion is absurd; but it arises from the common notion, that we are saved by Christ from death, instead of by it and out of it. What Scripture teaches is, that man is saved through death; that the elect, being first quickened by the word, and then judging themselves or being judged in this world, (1 Cor. 11:31-32) by a death to sin are freed from Satan; that others, not so dying to sin, remain in the life and therefore under the curse and power of the dark world, and are therefore delivered to Satan to be punished, to know, since they will not believe, their fall, and their need of God's salvation. But all this simply asserts the justice of God, that if men will not be judged here, they must be in the coming world.
For the rest, the statement that according to this view no distinction is made between St. Peter and Nero, virgins and harlots, saints and sinners, is not only untrue,--for is there no distinction between reigning with Christ and being oust out and shut up in hell with Satan ?--but is too like the murmur of the Elder Son at his brother's return, (Like 15:29-30) to need any answer with those who know their own hearts. It is the old objection of the Pharisee and Jew, who thought God's truth would fail if sinners of the Gentiles shared their good things; an objection deeply rooted in the natural heart, which is slow to believe that an outwardly pure and blameless life needs as much the blood of the cross as the most depraved and open sinner. The objection only shows where they are who urge it; and whatever support it may seem to have from a part of God's Word,--as a part of God's Word, taken against the rest, seemed to justify the Jew, and was indeed the very ground on which he rejected the call of the Gentiles,--more light will show that it rests on partial views, and on a systematic disregard of all those truths of Scripture, which are beyond the dispensation. Some day we shall see, that "all have come short," (Rom. 3:23) that as to sin and failure "there is no difference between the Jew and Greek," (Rom. 10:12) that the elect are "by nature children of wrath, even as others," (Eph. 2:3) that if saved at all, first or last we must be "saved by grace;" (Eph. 2:8) and this truth will justify all God's ways, "who hath concluded all in unbelief that He might have mercy upon all.'' (Rom. 11:32)
(iv) The last argument I notice is that from analogy. It is said that as unnumbered creatures in this world fail to attain their proper end, as a large proportion of seeds never germinate, as many buds never blossom or reach perfection, so thousands of our race may also miss their true end, and be for ever castaways. "For as the husbandman soweth much seed upon the ground, and planteth many trees, and yet the thing that is sown good in his season cometh not up, neither cloth all that is planted take root; even so it is of all them that are sown in the world; they shall not all be saved." (2 Esdras 8:41)
Now that countless creatures in their present form fail to reach that perfection, which some of their species reach, and which seems the proper end of it, is a fact beyond all contradiction. Present nature is both the witness and mirror of man's present state. But to say that nature out of this failure or destruction cannot and does not bring forth other and often fairer forms of life,--that what here fails of its due end is therefore wholly lost, or for ever shut up in the imperfect form in which it dies and fails here,-- is opposed to fact and all philosophy. While therefore it may be fairly argued that many of our race fail to attain that perfection which is reached by some as the end of this present life, analogy will never prove that those who miss this are hopelessly destroyed, or for ever held in the ruined form or state which they have fallen into. If this indeed were the conclusion to be drawn from the failure of some seeds, why not go further and argue that since death overcomes every form of life in this world, death and not life must be the final ruler of the universe ? A sad and most partial reading this of the great mystery. The truth is, nature is a mirror of the two unseen worlds. Every form of death, all disease, decay, and failure, every fruitless seed, each ruined life, is the shadow of hell, and of the working of that spirit which destroys and mars God's handiwork. On the other hand all life and joy, every birth, all that quickens and supports and helps the creature, is a reflection of the world of light, and a witness that God is meeting the disorder. Even death itself, as seen in nature, does not declare annihilation or never ending bondage in any given form of evil. Quite the reverse. Nature says, matter cannot perish: it may seem to perish, but the apparent death is only change of form; the change, call it death or what you will, being indeed the witness of present imperfection, but not of eternal bondage in that form, nor of destruction or annihilation when that form perishes. Nature must be strangely read to draw this lesson from it; but in this argument the conclusion depends upon the extent or limit of our view, and our capacity to read the book of nature, imperfect readings of which will always lead us, as in the phenomena of sunrise and sunset, to conclusions the very opposite to reality. Analogy, so far from proving that the lost are for ever shut up in the form of evil where they now are or may be, declares not only that all things may be changed, but that what to sense appears destroyed and worthless, may contain shut up in itself what is most beauteous and valuable. Think of the precious things which chemistry brings out of refuse,--of the flavours, scents, and colours, which are every day being extracted from what appears worthless. Who can tell what may yet be wrought by fire ? Fire can free and transform what water cannot touch. All things shall be dissolved by fire. (2 Pet. 3:12) those most fair and least corruptible, as the precious stones, which are the shadows of the things of Christ's kingdom, (Exod. 28:17-21; Rev. 21:19-21) shall, like that kingdom, one day give up their present beauty for a higher glory, that God may be all in all.
(v) The greatest difficulty perhaps of all is that which meets us from the existence of present evil. "The real riddle of existence," says an acute thinker, "the problem which confounds all philosophy, aye, and all religion too, so far as religion is a thing of man's reason, is the fact that evil exists at all; not that it exists for a longer or a shorter duration. Is not God infinitely wise and holy and powerful now ? And does not sin exist along with that infinite holiness and wisdom and power ? Is God to become more holy, more wise, more powerful, hereafter; and must evil be annihilated to make room for His perfections to expand ? " No doubt the existence of evil is a difficulty; but surely this kind of reasoning about it proves too much; for by the same reasoning it might be shown, that God could never have done anything. Was He not "infinitely wise and holy and powerful " when "the earth was without form and void" ? Why then should this state ever have been changed by Him till "all was very good " ? Why should not the darkness, which once reigned, have remained for ever ? Was the change needed "to make room for God's perfections to expand" ? And why, when the earth was again corrupt, should God judge it with a flood; and then again bring it forth from its destination ? Why should He work for the deliverance of His people in Egypt, or "triumph gloriously" over their oppressors? Was He not "all wise, all holy, and all powerful," even while His people were oppressed ? Did He become "more holy and wise and powerful " by their deliverance ? If such reasoning as this is good, why should we look either for a day of judgment or the promised times of restitution? Why, but because, mysterious as the fact is, there has been a fall. All things do not continue as they were from the beginning. And therefore the Father "worketh hitherto," (John 5:17) nor rests till "all things are made new," (2 Cor. 5:17; rev. 21:5) and "everything is very good."
And as to evil, granting that its existence is a difficulty, is it one which is so utterly incomprehensible ? Is it not plain that the knowledge of evil is essential to the knowledge and experience of some of the highest forms of good; and cannot even man's reason see that sin may be a means of bringing even into heaven a meekness and self-distrust and knowledge of God, which could be gained in no other way ? Does not all nature show that while the origin of evil is unspeakable, death and corruption may both be means to bring in better things ? The seed falls into the ground, and does, becomes rotten; but the result is a resurrection with large increase. So the juice of grapes or corn is put into the still, and thence by decomposition and fermentation, both forms of corruption, is evolved a higher and more enduring purity and spirituality. The existence of evil therefore is not so much the difficulty, as the question, whether, if evil be essential now, it may not be always needful for the same end. And to this question our reason as yet can give no answer. Scripture however has an answer, that, though a fall has been permitted, evil shall have an end, and the creature through God's wondrous wisdom even by its fall be raised to higher glory. Scripture distinctly teaches that "the creature was made subject to vanity, not by its own will, but through Him who subjected the same in hope; because the creature itself also shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children f God." (Rom. 8:20-21) What St. Paul says too of an election of grace before the foundation of the world, according to a predetermined purpose of redemption through Christ's precious blood,. proves that God's purpose involved and could only be wrought out through a fall, for without a fall there can be no redemption. And the fact that God, with the full foreknowledge of man's sin, chose. yet to encounter all this sin, with its attendant misery, out of it to bring forth and give to man His own righteousness, shows that in His judgment it was worth while to suffer the evil in order to arrive at the appointed end. Evil therefore must subserve some good purpose otherwise God could never permit it, or say, "I form peace, and I create evil." (Isa. 45:7) And though as yet we cannot fully see why evil is allowed, what we know of God and of His ways, that there is perfect wisdom and economy in every part of them, assures us that there can be no error or mistake, even in that which seems to cause the ruin of the creature. Meanwhile those who believe that some now bound by death by it are being brought into more perfect and secure blessedness, by such a creed practically assert that present evil need not be eternal, since in some at least it shall be done away. If in some, why not in all? Besides, even supposing we could not tell whether evil might or might not be done away,--supposing it were proved that it would exist for ever, as essential to the training of certain creatures,--this existence of evil for ever would be a very different thing from the idea of the infinite or never-ending punishment of a finite being. But, thank God, we are not left to guesses. Prophecy announces a day when there shall be no more curse or death, but all things made new. In this witness we may rest, spite of the fact and mystery of present evil.
(vi) I have thus noticed what Reason is supposed to say against the doctrine of final restitution. But to me this is a question only to be settled by the Word of God; for with our knowledge or lack of knowledge of all the mystery of our being, we are not in a position to argue this point, or to say exactly what is, or what is not, reasonable. What saith the Scripture ? This is the question, and the only question I care to ask here on this subject. At the same time I confess that the restitution of all things, so far from appearing to me unlikely or unreasonable, seems, spite of the mystery of the origin and existence of evil, more consistent with what we know of God than the doctrine of never-ending punishment. To say that sin, assuming it to be opposed to God has the power of creating a world antagonistic to God as everlasting as He is, attributes to it a power equal at least to His; since, according to this view, souls whom God willed to be saved, and for whom Christ died, are held in bondage under the power of sin for ever; and all this in opposition to the Word of God, which says that God's Son "was manifested that He might destroy the works of the devil," (1 John 3:8) who if the so called orthodox view be right, will succeed in destroying some of the works of the Son of God for ever.
When I think too of God's justice, which it is said inflicts, not only millions of years of pain for each thought or word or act of sin during this short life of seventy years,--not even millions of ages only for every such act, but a punishment which when millions of ages of judgment have been inflicted for every moment man has lived on earth is no nearer its end than when it first commenced; and all this for twenty, forty, or seventy years of sin in a world which is itself a vale of sorrow;--when I think of this, and then of man, his nature, his weakness, all the circumstances of his brief sojourn and trial in this world; with temptations without, and a foolish heart within; with his judgment weak, his passions strong, his conscience judging, not helping him; with a tempter always near, with this world to hide a better;--when I remember that this creature, though fallen, was once God's child, and that God is not just only, but loving and long-suffering;--I cannot say my reason would conclude, that this creature, failing to avail itself of the mercy here offered by a Saviour, shall therefore find no mercy any more, but be for ever punished with never-ending torments.
Natural conscience, which with all its failings is a witness for God, protests against any such awful misrepresentation of Him. For even nature teaches that all increase of power lays its possessor under an obligation to act more generously. Shall not then the Judge of all the earth do right? (Gen. 28:25) Shall we say that sinful men are selfish and guilty, if with wealth and power they neglect the poor and miserable; and yet that God, who is eternal love, shall do what even sinful men abhor and reprobate ? For shall we, if one of our children fall and hurt itself, or be lost to us for years, bitterly reproach ourselves for want of care, and be tormented with the thought that with greater watchfulness we might have saved the child,--shall we if at last he is found, even among thieves, a sharer of their crimes, still love him as our own child, make every possible excuse for him, and do all we can to save him,--shall we, though he be condemned, plead for him to the end, urging the strength of those temptations with which he has been so long surrounded,--and shall not God have at least the like pity for His lost ones? Has He left any of His children in peril of being for ever stolen from Him? Can He, if through the seduction of a crafty tempter some wander for awhile, be content that they should remain miserable slaves for ever lost to Him ? He would not be a wise man who risked even an estate, nor a good man who obliged any one else to do so. Can God then ever have exposed His children to the risk of endless separation from Him? All the reason God has given me says, God could not act thus; and that if His children are for ever lost, He even more than they must be miserable. But, as I have said, we have, thank God, a better guide than our reason, even God's blessed Word, with its "more sure" promise; and because that Word declares man's final restitution, and that God will seek His lost ones "till He find them," (Luke 15:4, 8) and that therefore a day shall come when "there shall be no more Curse or death," I gladly accept God's testimony, and look for life and rest, spite of present death and judgment and destruction.
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