[The following is a discourse that was given by Pastor Charles T. Russell of Allegheny, Pa, delivered at the Florida Chautauqua Assembly, Defuniak Springs, Florida, March 4, 1900, as reported by the Associated Press and reprinted in Z.W.T. page 2593.]No apology seems necessary for our subject --Which is the true Gospel of which the Apostle was not ashamed? If time and thought may be profitably expended in the study of earthly sciences - sociology, finance, etc., etc., built largely upon human inferences and conjectures - surely, none could dispute the propriety to investigate the physical diseases of mankind and their causes, and the laws of medicine and of sanitation for the offset of these, it surely cannot be disputed that the Gospel which God has presented as the antidote for soul-sickness and soul death, and as the science pertaining to life eternal, is worthy of still greater and more profound consideration.
The greatest minds, the noblest specimens of our race, have admitted our topic to be the one above all others in importance; and have weighed it carefully - whether as a result they accepted or rejected it. We are not now discussing the weight of mental acumen enlisted for and against the Gospel: We are merely noting the fact that all men of ability have recognized that the subject is worthy of their careful consideration, and as having claims upon their attention paramount to any others. Indeed, it may be set down as a fact that whoever has given the subject of religion no consideration is one of three things, - a novice in mental exercise, or a near relative to "the fool who hath said in his heart, There is no God," [Psalms 14:1] or a coward, preyed upon by fears instigated by Satan to hinder honest investigation of the Divine message of love and mercy. Even a hasty glance into the intelligent faces of this large audience assures me that you all have given some thought to our theme; - though experience assures me that comparatively few of you have ever reached conclusions on this subject fully satisfactory to yourselves. Hence your faith and love and zeal toward God and your zeal for the Gospel are less strong than you could desire. Let us hope that as we reason together on this great subject today, we may, by God's grace, see more clearly than ever before which is the true Gospel - the one which the Apostle was not ashamed, - the Gospel, of which none of us need feel ashamed, the Gospel, therefore, which should more and more move and energize us as the power of God unto salvation.
No one of intelligence will dispute the meaning of the word "Gospel"; it signifies "good tidings", "good news", "a good message". Nevertheless, in some unaccountable manner, by common consent, "a real Gospel sermon" is almost universally understood to signify bad tidings - tidings of eternal misery to the great mass of our race - to all except the little flock of God's faithful people. As a consequence, the preacher of a "Gospel sermon" is expected to shake the congregation over an abyss of everlasting torture, making as strong an effort as possible to intimidate them thereby to a thorough reformation of life, in hope of, thus, escaping an awful eternity. True, this that we might term "the gospel(?) of damnation", is not so generally preached as it once was, because more enlightened minds of cultured people repudiate it as a fetich of the past. Yet, this perversion of the Gospel is still to be heard in country places, at camp meetings, occasionally in the city pulpit, and universally in Salvation Army meetings. Nothing is further from our intention than a criticism of the consciences and honesty of persons and motives, but, "With malice toward none and with charity toward all", we consider it not only our privilege but our duty to criticize doctrines, that, thereby, the truth may be more freely established, and error brought into disrepute.
Before we proceed to the consideration of the Gospel of which the Apostle was not ashamed - the Gospel set forth in the Scriptures - it will be expedient for us to take a glance at the different gospels set forth by the various denominations of Christendom. It is not our thought that each denomination represents a different gospel, for the differences, in many instances, are chiefly respecting ceremonies, forms, methods of government, name, etc., and not in respect to the message or gospel held forth. Nevertheless, there are three distinct lines of faith, or doctrine - three distinct gospels set forth in Christendom, all recognized as "orthodox", because they all contain, as their fundamental, the doctrine of the eternal torment of all mankind, except the comparatively few "saved". Each of these three gospels has millions of supporters, divided into numerous denominations. these in point of numbers are:
(1) The Roman Catholic faith, or gospel, in which concur the Greek Catholics and Arminian Catholics, and some of the high-church Episcopalians.It may not be possible for us to handle our subject properly and thoroughly without offering some criticism of these three gospels which for centuries have entrenched themselves in Christian minds, each fortified by the decisions of its own councils, backed by voluminous opinions from their several theological seminaries, but we can and assuredly will strenuously avoid saying one solitary word in criticism of those who we believe conscientiously uphold these several conflicting Gospels. We call you to witness that we are all Scripturally enjoined to "Contend earnestly for the faith once delivered to the saints" [Jude 3] (the true Gospel), at the same time that we are enjoined by the same authority to "Speak evil of no man." [Titus 3:2] We shall endeavor to keep strictly within these admittedly proper lines, and, additionally, as the Apostle admonishes, "Speak the truth in love." [Ephesians 4:15]
(2) The Calvinistic gospel, which is held by the various Presbyterian denominations, the Congregationalist, Baptists, and many Lutherans and Episcopalians.
(3) The Arminian gospel, held and chiefly represented by the Methodists of various names and connections, and by the Free-will Baptists: However, many of the denominations at heart accept the Arminian gospel, while their church connections identify them with the Calvinistic gospel. Hence, we may say, so far as Protestantism is concerned, that the Arminian and the Calvinist gospels are about equally supported.
Let us next look at the great Protestant doctrine represented in the word "Calvinism" - the doctrine of the election of the Church and the reprobation of all others.
And what does this mean - "passed by" or "non-elect"? It means, according to Calvinism, that God, Who knew the end from the beginning, before creating this world and mankind upon it, determined that He would "pass by" and not elect those forty-seven thousand millions of His creatures to life and happiness, but, would predestine them to an eternity of torture, and that carrying out this diabolical plan, He prepared a great place large enough to hold forty-seven thousand millions, and fuel sufficient to produce the necessary combustion there to all eternity - did all this with a full appreciation of all the awful facts and circumstances of the case.
Moreover, we remember the statement of Calvinism, which many of us learned in our youth, to the effect, that God's favor toward the elect is not because of any worthiness on their part, nor because of any works which they had done, but "of his own sovereign grace" He saves them from all the horrible conditions which He has predestined shall be upon the others. Now if the salvation of the elect is not because of their works or worthiness, but because of God's sovereign grace only, the simplest mind can see that God might, without any violation of principle, have extended that sovereign grace to others - to all, since it was not because of worthiness nor because of works, but merely of His own volition that any are saved, - according to Calvinism.
The celebrated Jonathan Edwards, when preaching upon this subject in New England years ago, after picturing the awful torment of the non- elect, was asked the question, "Would not the thought of the anguish of the lost mar the bliss of God's people in glory?" His answer in substance was, No: you will be so changed that such matters will not affect you; you will look over the battlements of heaven and see in torment your neighbors and friends, yea, your own parents and children, brothers and sisters, and turning round will praise God the louder because His justice is made manifest.
Now, my dear friends, I do not charge any who are here present with having so false a view of the Divine character and plan as this. Indeed, I am glad to note that our Calvinistic friends in general are repudiating this doctrine, realizing that there is in it a serious lack, not only as respects Divine love, but also as respects Divine justice. I was glad, some years ago, to note that some of our Presbyterian friends were so moved by higher and nobler conceptions of the Almighty that they wished to rid themselves of any part in so blasphemous a statement respecting His character and His plan. I was sorry, however, that when the matter of "the revision of the Presbyterian standards" was taken up, it was found that only a minority was in favor of revision, and I was still more sorry to note that the minority of intelligent, godly people was willing to continue to confess to such a horrible misstatement of their true views - willing, shall I say, to continue to "blaspheme that Holy name" because a majority of their brethren were unwilling that such blasphemous misrepresentations should be discontinued.
I am glad to believe that if this matter were brought to the intelligent attention of Presbyterians in general, a large majority would be found willing, nay, anxious, to undo the wrong and to make such reparation as would be within their power, by way of honoring the great Jehovah and attesting their appreciation of His love and His justice, as well as of His wisdom and of His power. This is just the point: Calvinism, in its anxiety to establish the wisdom and power of God, His foreknowledge and His ability to carry out His plan, has conceived of a plan which is far from the correct one, lacking both in justice and in love.
It may be argued that love is a grace and that its exercise is not incumbent upon Jehovah: that all that could be asked or expected of Him would be simple justice, and some might be ready to claim that for God to eternally torment these forty-seven thousand millions "passed by" would be in strict accord with justice. This we deny! We claim that having the power to create mankind would not justify their creation if the Creator saw that the result would be the everlasting torture of a single creature. Justice would say that power is not to be exercised to the injury of another, and that to exercise the creative power under such foreknown conditions would be injustice. And wisdom attuned to justice would say, Better a thousand times never to have created anybody than to have created one being to suffer unjustly eternally.
This statement, dear friends, is a fair, impartial statement of the gospel according to our beloved brother, John Calvin, and those who subscribe to the Westminster Confession, and their allies. This surely is not the gospel of which the Apostle Paul, in our text, declared, "I am not ashamed of the Gospel of Christ". [Romans 1:16] Paul would assuredly have been ashamed of such a Gospel, and so are all true Christians, who have the true spirit of love and justice, - none more so, perhaps, than those who unfortunately, through circumstances of birth, etc., and hitherto without realizing what it meant, have been lending their name and influence to this great blasphemy against the Divine character.
For instance, while it sounds nice theoretically to say that God is doing all that He can do to save the whole world at the present time, everybody knows that this is not true; that on the contrary you or I or any other intelligent human being if possessed of the one- thousandth part of the Divine power and wisdom would speedily accomplish the evangelization of the whole world. Nor will it do to say that God has committed Himself to a certain mode of procedure through His Church, and that if the Church fails to contribute with sufficient liberality, both money and evangelists, the heathen will not hear "for there is none other name under heaven or amongst men whereby we must be saved", [Acts 4:12] but will go to eternal torment, etc. Neither will it do to say that God is doing all that He can do and is hampered by the lack of interest in the Church; because His wisdom and foreknowledge foresaw all these conditions as they are, and He could not justly be excused from the real responsibility of the matter, since He is the Creator, and in Him is vested the all-power as well as the all-wisdom. Such a claim as this would be tantamount to saying that God has erred in wisdom when He thought to leave the conversion of the world to the Church, seeing that the Church has not accomplished this. Such a claim would be merely excusing God from doing all that He can do, instead of showing that He is doing all that He can do.
But let us look more critically into this matter. If this view we are criticizing is correct, if God is doing all that He can to save the world, and if He has been doing this during all the past ages, then without question the world's conversion is a hopeless thing, and we can never expect to see better results that at the present. This theory presupposes a race or battle between the Almighty and Satan, each seeking to capture the human family, and to the discredit of the theory, it shows Satan the victor thus far. starting out with one pair, both on the Lord's side, the first 1656 years ended with a flood in which the whole world of mankind was blotted out because of wickedness, and only eight persons reckoned sufficiently righteous to be preserved. Starting again with those eight persons counted sufficiently righteous for preservation, we find that there are in the world today sixteen hundred millions, and that out of that whole number, there are about one hundred millions nominal Roman Catholics and one hundred millions nominal Protestants and a very much smaller number of true "saints of God".
What would be the lesson from this if the Arminian theory be correct, that God is doing all that He can do to save the world? The lesson would be that with all His good intentions of love and mercy, our God is thoroughly incapable of the work He undertook to do. And if these are the results in six thousand years, what could we hope for in the future? How many hundreds of millions of years would it be before the whole world would be converted? We answer that according to statistics, it would never be, for statistics show that the natural increase of population throughout the world is far, far beyond the proportion of even nominal reckonings, the percentage of Christians every year is decreasing, the births of heathen lands so far outnumbering the births of Christian lands - even counting all the children born in Christendom as Christians.
Is any Christian, in view of these facts, prepared to claim that our God has been doing all that He could do for the conversion of the world? If so, that Christian may as well write upon his hopes at once the word "Ichabod". If we saw that the Calvinistic view magnifies the wisdom and power of God at the expense of His justice and love, we find, on the other hand, that the Arminian view magnifies the love of God at the expense of His wisdom and power. The true Gospel must show Divine wisdom and power in full accord with Divine justice and love; of any other, we must needs be ashamed.
All surely agree as respects these two theories of Gospels held out to the world by Protestant Christendom that it would make no difference to the forty-seven thousand millions, whether they go into that awful state of hopeless woe by Divine predestination and lack of love and justice, or by Divine incapacity and lack of foreknowledge and proper arrangements. We believe that no true Christian will be ready after examining the subject thus far to say that he full approves either of these theories, and that he is not ashamed of both of them.
When occasionally we come across some one who gives evidence of being a Christian, and who still entertains such horribly blasphemous views respecting the Heavenly Father's character, we feel like quoting him the Lord's words through the Prophet, "My ways are not as your ways, nor my thoughts as your thoughts, for as the heavens are higher than the earth so are my ways higher than your ways and my plans higher than your plans." [Isaiah 55:8,9] And part of our object in this discourse, dear friends, is to have those, whose eyes are anointed of the Lord, that they may see spiritual things, discern some of the Lord's higher ways and higher plans which He presents to us in His Word under the name "Gospel" - good tidings.
When our Lord Jesus was born into the world, the Heavenly Father sent a message respecting Him, and the angels who bore that message declared that it was a Gospel message. Let us hearken to what the angels said about the eternal torment of the vast majority of our race. They said to the shepherds, "Behold we bring you good tidings [gospel] of great joy, which shall be unto all people." [Luke 2:10] Let it be distinctly noted that the Gospel of the angels, like the Gospel communicated to Abraham, contains no reference to the damnation and eternal misery of any of the Lord's creatures, and that consequently our friends of the Salvation Army and others who in ignorance preach damnation and call it the Gospel, are doing so in utter violation of the meaning of the word and of the uses of that word throughout the Scriptures. However well they may mean, they are in this certainly committing a wrong, a grievous wrong, and we long to see the light of the knowledge of the goodness of God shine into their hearts and relieve them of this blindness which comes not from God nor from His Word, but from the prince of darkness. [2 Corinthians 4:4]
It will require all the Millennial age (which is to follow this Gospel age in which we live) to bless all the families of the earth with the joyful knowledge of Divine grace in Christ. Just so surely as the forty-seven thousand millions went down unto death without hearing of the Savior, without coming to a clear knowledge of the truth, without the good tidings of great joy reaching their ears, - just so surely must they all come forth from the grave that this very Gospel message of "good tidings" may be declared to them, and that they may be tested thereby and either be accepted to eternal life or destroyed, as unworthy of life, in the second death. We say just so surely, for three reasons:
(1) The announcement of the Gospel to Abraham says, "In thy seed shall all the families of the earth be blessed," and all of these forty-seven thousand millions belong to this class specified, the families of the earth - and they have not yet been blessed with this knowledge of the only name wherein is the blessing.
(2) The same is true of the message by the angels, - the good tidings of great joy is for all people, and these forty-seven thousand millions of humanity are surely the great bulk of all people.
(3) We are sure that this testimony must be given to them in the future because the Scriptural declaration is that "Christ died for the ungodly"; " He tasted death for every man", and as a consequence every man must have an opportunity granted him for benefiting by that death, and of availing himself of the privilege of eternal life which was secured by our Lord's ransom sacrifice.
What could be plainer than this? If the price for the sins of the whole world has been paid to Justice, we may rest well assured that Justice will furnish opportunity through the Redeemer whereby all these whose sins were atoned for may come to a knowledge of Christ, and to an opportunity of accepting Divine grace through Him.
But someone will say, Why should God adopt a plan which would necessitate a resurrection of the dead, and a post- resurrection trial for eternal life except for all the elect Church of this Gospel age? We answer:
(1) It is not for us to inquire why the Lord adopts certain plans which differ from those which our poor finite minds might arrange for Him: Rather it is for us to acknowledge that our wisdom is insufficient on such a subject and that we should come humbly to the Lord to hear from His Word whatever He may be pleased to inform us respecting His purposes.God has been pleased, however, to reveal to us some of His reasons for arranging His plan as we see it. He assures us of His full wisdom and power to manage every feature of His own work according to His own good pleasure, assuring us that He knows the end from the beginning, and that the end will fully justify every step that He has taken. His Word, no less than observation, shows us that during all these six thousand years the world has been getting a lesson respecting the exceeding sinfulness of sin and its wages of sorrow and death. His Word assures us, also, that during the next age, the Millennium, the whole world will be brought to a knowledge of the way of righteousness and love and peace, and will see the Divine law in practical operation, and witness its beneficent results in all those who will come into harmony with the great Mediator.
(2) As a matter of fact only those who approach the question from this standpoint need expect to see the truth or to "comprehend with all the saints the lengths and breadths and heights and depths of the love of God." [Ephesians 3:18; 1 Corinthians 2:12]
Thus mankind learns the lesson of evil and its consequences first in the present life, and the lesson of righteousness and its blessed results under Divine providence, in the Millennium; and when thus fully equipped with knowledge on both sides of the question and instructed by the Royal Priesthood, (the completed and glorified elect Gospel Church), mankind will be ready for the tests, that will be applied by the Lord Jesus, under which the obedient and faithful will be granted full perfection and eternal life, and the disobedient and incorrigible will "be destroyed from amongst the people." [Acts 3:22,23]
This Gospel age intervening between the time of the great sin offering and the time when the blessing of earth's billions will commence, God has set apart for the work of selecting or electing the body of Christ, the Church, the Bride, the "little flock", the royal priesthood", the joint heirs with Christ in His Kingdom. These, like their Head, are called with a "high calling", a "heavenly calling", and the salvation provided for them is higher than that which God purposes for the world in general. He is selecting this "little flock" and trying them and proving them, fitting them and polishing them for the Heavenly Kingdom, and it is to these, as the Apostle Peter declares, God has given "exceeding great and precious promises [far beyond any promises given to any other of His creatures] that by these [promises] we might become partakers of the Divine nature" [2 Peter 1:4], and joint-heirs with His Son. This is denominated a "heavenly calling" in contrast with the earthly salvation intended for whosoever will "in due time". This true view of the calling and election of the Church is another feature of the Gospel. If it is splendid, good news, to know that ultimately all families of the earth are to be blessed with opportunities for salvation through the Christ, it is still an additional feature to the good news to know that God has invited us to become members of the Christ company, "members in particular of the body of Christ". [Ephesians 5:30] No wonder the Apostle calls this our "high calling", [Philippians 3:14] or "heavenly calling": It is to the attainment of this great prize that the Apostle exhorts all the faithful to lay aside every weight and every besetment and to run with patience the race set before us in the Gospel, looking unto Jesus, the author, until He shall have become the finisher of our faith.
This is the true Gospel, dear friends, the one we find set forth in the Scriptures, set forth by Paul himself, and of which he was not ashamed. This Gospel shows the character of our Creator in a most wonderful light, - His wisdom, able to discern the end from the beginning; His power, able to accomplish that which He pleases; His justice, squaring every feature of the plan from first to last, according to the most absolute features of righteousness; His love, whose lengths and breadths and heights and depths we have not yet been able to explore; a love which sympathizes with His creatures in their fallen estate; a love which provided a Savior, and a great one; a love which prompted that Savior to give His life as our ransom price; a love which met all the requirements of Divine justice for us; a love which still pursues mankind, and in this Gospel age calls us to joint heirship with His Son in a nature and kingdom far above angels, principalities and powers, of which the Apostle says; "Behold what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us that we should be called the sons of God." [1 John 1:1] This Divine love, still pursuing its original plan for man's salvation, will use the "elect" glorified house of sons, of which Christ Jesus is the Head, [Ephesians 1:22] in blessing all families of the earth with full opportunity of knowledge and full assistance up the highway of holiness [Acts 3:19-23] that so many as will may attain to restitution to all that was lost in Adam by coming back into harmony with God through the great Mediator.
All who will declare the true Gospel will need to be well shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace (gentleness, patience, meekness) for, strange to say, they will find bitter opposition from professed servants of the Lord who have been blinded and prejudiced by Satan's misrepresentations of the Gospel, - by which he seeks to drive from the Lord all who have a remnant of reason in their religious thinking. All who have ears to hear, and who do hear the true Gospel, will quickly distinguish it from the miserable counterfeits which for so long have passed current among God's people. Let all such remember that ability to hear is an evidence of Divine favor, and let them not be ashamed, but glorify God on this behalf. Let such remember, also, that their acceptance of truth as due, in the face of unpopularity, is a part of their testing. The Lord puts His plan, His Word, as His representative, saying - "He that is ashamed of me and my words, of him will the Son of Man be ashamed, when he cometh in the glory of his Father with his holy angels".
March 4, 1900, Z.W.T. reprints - page 2593.