Chapter 10 - Human Destiny - THE QUESTION RESTATED

Chapter 10


THE results recorded in preceding chapters are doubtless a surprise. What then is to be the general conclusion? It was a revolt against the dogmas of certain schools of theology which led to this inquiry: Must we at last fall back on the very position we thus abandoned? Must we be content, after all, to accept the horrors of mediaeval eschatology, which try the faith of Christians, and not only deepen but embitter the unbelief of sceptics? Before resigning ourselves to this as a last alternative, - surely it behooves us to turn back once more to Scripture, and with care and earnestness and patience to inquire how far the difficulties which here perplex us may depend upon the ignorance of finite minds; how far upon excrescences, the growth of human teaching, by which the truth has been distorted or concealed.

What are these difficulties? That God should tolerate the existence of evil for eternity. That the brief life-sin of finite creatures should lead to punishment of infinite duration. That no matter how dense and hopeless the darkness in which that life is spent, their destiny should be fixed irreversibly at death. That the overwhelming majority of the human race are doomed to exist for ever in a scene of unutterable horror. That while Christ shall have His thousands, the Devil shall boast of millions in his train. That these, the creatures of a God of love, shall be abandoned to the outer darkness, the gnashing of teeth, the torment day and night for ever and ever. That banished from love and light and peace to their awful prison home, Satan shall reign over them for evermore, and his foul demons shall revel in their anguish. And that this shall be for all without distinction. That the myriad millions of the heathen who never heard of the God of Heaven shall know Him first and only and for ever as the God of Hell. That the good and pure of earth, and little children too, in countless hosts, whose life was quenched ere ever they had fairly launched upon the sea of sin, shall be herded with the vilest and the worst of men and trampled on by devils; in time to grow like them, until at last all trace and memory of purity and good shall perish, and hell itself shall lose its power to make the damned more hateful, more corrupt, so hideous and awful shall be the depths of their depravity and guilt.

And that this shall be for ever, FOR EVER. That no moving shadow on the dial shall relieve despair by reminding the lost that every day of anguish brings them nearer to deliverance. Just as the tree is said to put forth its roots in exact proportion to its spreading branches, so we could understand if punishment in the under-world were measured by each sinner's life on earth. This would silence unbelief; all would freely own its equity. But that the doom of the lost shall be eternal punishment, this is a conception which paralyses human thought. With the great majority of Christians it is the chief, if not the only, difficulty.

As already stated, a single wave of human life comprises over fourteen hundred millions of mankind. But none will dream that even one of these shall be forgotten. When the judgment comes, it will not be only the great of earth who shall stand before the throne. "The dead, small and great" shall be there. God's great judgments in this world were awful in the suddenness with which all without distinction were engulfed in a common doom. The hoary sinner and the helpless infant perished together under the waters of the Flood. So was it again when fire from heaven consumed the Cities of the Plain. But this was just because there is a judgment to come, and another world beyond, in which perfect justice can be meted out to each. The glimpses afforded us behind the veil which hides that judgment and that world are few and partial; but this much is absolutely certain, that the lost will not be sent to their doom unheard. Twice in Scripture they are represented as parleying with their Judge.[1] Each one shall be fairly dealt with. The record of each life shall be laid bare. The books shall be opened, and the dead shall be judged, every man according to his works. Every sinner in the countless multitude to be arraigned at the great assize shall hear his indictment, and be heard in his defence. How long then shall be allowed to each? Take the estimated population of the world for this one century in which we live: suppose that for this purpose every human being is allotted less than a quarter of an hour - a brief quarter of an hour; assume that the session shall go on unceasingly, without a moment's interval, hour after hour, day after day, year after year, till all has been concluded; and the judgment of this small section of the human race will last one hundred thousand years! And were we to estimate the number of those who have lived and died during the sixty centuries already past, and of those who are still to be born upon the earth, we should be forced to the conclusion that the duration of the "day of judgment" shall be measured by millions of years!

Need a single word be added to emphasise the folly of measuring the events of that world by the calendars of time? That some fallacy underlies the problem the very statement of it proves; but wherein that fallacy consists we cannot tell. If human reason were under obligations to solve the enigma, the solution might possibly be found in the theories of Kant. In the whole range of metaphysical inquiry no more philosophical suggestion was ever offered than his, that Time is nothing more than a law of human thought. And though neither he nor any of his disciples ever dreamt of his system being turned to such account, may it not be used as the basis of an appeal to Christians to trust God for the explanation of a difficulty which is purely intellectual?[2]

To lay stress, therefore, upon eternal evil is merely to conceal the real question which, if faith is to depend on the absence of difficulties, reason is bound to give some account of. If the theories of geologists be well founded, this earth must have been the grave of an earlier creation before it became the cradle and home of existing life. And if there was death, there must also have been sin. Some have conjectured that Satan was the federal head of that earlier creation, and that his peculiar enmity to man was because this earth had once been his own domain. At all events the fact is clear that sin and death had been active in the universe of God before the Adamic age. Whether the interval since Satan's fall had been a century or a million years, the moral difficulty is just the same. Though infinite in power and goodness, God permitted a fallen being to exist, albeit the result was the ruin of Adam and his world. What possible explanation can be offered of this fact, if "the extermination of evil" be His plan and purpose? It is the existence of evil which is the real difficulty. To accept the fact of Satan's existence during all the ages of our world, and to hold it incredible that he should continue to exist when his power for evil shall have ceased for ever - this is neither faith nor philosophy, but an ad captandum appeal to human ignorance and to the awe inspired in finite minds by the attempt to realise eternity.

This last remark suggests another point in the popular travesty of truth respecting the final condition of the lost. The "everlasting fire" is not to be the Devil's kingdom. It will be his prison, not his palace. Amidst so much that is doubtful, this at least is sure. "At the name of Jesus every knee shall bow," in heaven, earth, and hell; every tongue shall own Him Lord.[3] "All things shall be subdued unto Him."[4] Not until "He shall have put down all rule and all authority and power" will He deliver up the kingdom to the Father.[5] Every creature in the universe shall be in absolute subjection to Almighty God. The underworld is not to be a scene of Satanic carnival. The word-pictures which describe the shrieks and curses of the lost of earth, as demons mock their anguish or heap fuel on their torture fires, are relieved from the charge of folly only by the graver charge of profanity. There is no spot in all the Queen's dominions in which the reign of order is so supreme as in a prison. So shall it be in hell.

To speak of this as producing an alleviation of the sinner's doom betrays the lingering influence of the error here condemned. Obedience will be their normal condition there. To speculate how it will be brought about is idle. It may be that the recognition of the perfect justice and goodness of God will lead the lost to accept their doom. Possibly, too, the poet's dream may yet be realised, that Divine love shall shine out so clearly, even amid the fires of judgment, that when the anthem rises in the palace-home of God, even the prison-house shall join in the refrain, and praise shall issue forth from hell. Speculations such as these are perfectly legitimate in poetry, but they should have no place in the sober prose of theology.

To plead that God will still own the bond which binds His creatures to Himself is to forget that the great revelation of GRACE implies that all relationships were broken, all claims lost, by the murder of the Son. To argue that "the resurrection of judgment is one part of the redeeming work of Christ," and that "the judgment of the lost is based on a present work of the Redeemer," is to confound redemption itself with the place and power which Christ has taken in connection with redemption. It was not the Cross which made Him either Son of God or Son of Man, albeit it was in view of our redemption that He was thus revealed. Yet it is as Son of God that He shall recall the dead to life. And it is "because He is the Son of Man" that all judgment is committed to Him.[6]

In considering the destiny of mankind, it is of immense importance to vindicate the Bible from the reproach which mediæval theology has brought on it. But if the statements of Scripture must needs be coloured or explained away by theories which eliminate all element of dread from the doom of the impenitent, faith is of course impossible. If the reader will pursue the inquiry to the close, he will find that those statements, unspeakably solemn and awful though they be, present no difficulty which a reverent and believing heart will refuse to leave with a God Whose justice and goodness and love are beyond all question and all doubt.

[2] I wish to guard against misrepresentation here.  I appeal to the Transcendental philosophy, not as affording the true solution of the difficulty – nothing is farther from my thought – but as a protest against allowing faith to waver in presence of a difficulty which can be so easily disposed of.

[5] Ib. ver.24

[6] John 5:25-27.  The writer specially referred to in the above paragraph seeks to establish his point by assuming that Scripture statements on this subject are marked by a contradiction (“antithesis,” he calls it), to be accounted for by the creature being view sometimes in a personal, sometimes in a federal aspect.  Such a theory is always open to suspicion:  here it seems wholly baseless.  The passages he cites to illustrate it are 1 Cor. 15:22, as compared with Rom. 2:7; and Gal. 6:2, 5.  If the exposition of 1 Cor. 15 offered at p. 77 post, be accepted, that passage may not be used as he suggests.  And the seeming contradiction in Gal. 6:2, 5, depends on the poverty of our translation.  Burden in that passage represents two words in the original.  βρος denotes the pressure of a weight which may be transferred; φορτον the load which each must carry for himself.  In this world every one as his own proper load to bear; but some are burdened, and to relieve such is to fulfill the law of Christ.