Chapter 5 - Human Destiny - "THE WIDER HOPE."

Chapter 5


THE volumes noticed in preceding pages have not been selected at random. Their respective authors are representative men, the acknowledged champions of "the wider hope"; and their books, when read together, may be taken as a full and exhaustive statement of the doctrine. The omissions therefore common to them all are ominously significant. Where, for example, do they offer us any reasonable explanation of such passages as the following? "The Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven with His mighty angels in flaming fire, taking vengeance on them that know not God, and that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ; who shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord."[1] How can such language be reconciled with the dogma of universal restoration? Is it credible that any one holding that dogma could use such words?[2]

But there are other omissions of a still more serious kind, and, for our present purpose, far more embarrassing. We may agree to exclude from view any number of "isolated texts," but how can common ground be reached save in the acknowledgment of truths such as the righteousness of God, the grace of God, the "resurrection of the dead, both of the just and of the unjust," and the great judgment which is to close the history of Adam's race?[3] It is on this ground alone we can consent to discuss the question.

It will, therefore, be taken as admitted that the many die unsaved, and that these shall be raised from the dead, and shall stand before God in judgment, and be remitted to punishment for their sins. The question here is not of what may be called the providential consequences of sin, the results which in God's moral government follow the violation of His laws. Neither is it a question of corrective discipline to purge and train the penitent. There is no need of a Day of Judgment to apportion punishment in either of these senses: the one follows the sin by unchanging law; the other belongs entirely to the Father's house. The final punishment of the lost will be the consequence of a judicial sentence.

Such punishment, therefore, must be the penalty due to their sins; else it were unrighteous to impose it. If, then, the lost are ultimately to be saved, it must be either because they shall have satisfied the penalty; or else through redemption - that is, because Christ has borne that penalty for them. But if sinners can be saved by satisfying Divine justice in enduring the penalty due to sin, Christ need not have died. If, on the other hand, the redeemed may yet be doomed, though ordained to eternal life in Christ, themselves to endure the penalty for sin, the foundations of our faith are destroyed. It is not, I repeat, the providential or disciplinary, but the penal consequences of sin, which follow the judgment. We can therefore understand how the sinner may escape his doom through his debt being paid vicariously, or we can (in theory, at all events) admit that he may be discharged on payment personally of "the uttermost farthing"; but that the sinner should be made to pay a portion of his debt, and then released because some one else had paid the whole before he was remitted to punishment at all,- this is absolutely inconsistent with both righteousness and grace.

But as the advocates of the "larger hope" seem to ignore the penal element in punishment, they would probably urge that this is satisfied by redemption, and that the sufferings of the lost will be essentially of a disciplinary kind. All who know much of the darker side of human nature would probably agree that the poetry indulged in about sinners being purified in æonian fire would not bear translation into simple prose. The idea of reformation by punishment has been generally abandoned by all who have had experience of criminals and crime. But passing that by, it may be answered, first, that such a view is incompatible with the language of Scripture. "Wrath," "vengeance," "destruction" are not words that express parental chastisement. But as these writers must be supposed to have some reasonable explanation of such Scriptures, it may be answered, secondly, that if their doctrines be sound, it is in the intermediate state that suffering would produce these results; and if a further non-penal "punishment" is to be inflicted after the resurrection and the judgment, this must be in order to coerce the sinner to submission.

It might be asked, in passing, what value can possibly attach to a repentance wrung in this way from unwilling souls? and, moreover, if hell and the lake of fire shall produce results so blessed, how can it be evil to warn men of the coming horrors? If the reality shall be so beneficial, surely the fear of its terrors can work only good; and the more appalling the description, the greater will be the effect produced.

Thirdly, the question arises whether regeneration, and the need of it, have any place in the theology of the advocates of these doctrines. Divine "chastening" may produce "the peaceable fruit of righteousness" in those who are already "sons"; but to hold that punishment is necessary either as a preparation for, or a completion of, "the new birth," is to deny the plainest teaching of Scripture.

Again, it may be asked still more definitely, what room is there in this scheme for the day of judgment? The believer "cometh not into judgment,” just because, for him, the penalty of sin has been borne, the judicial question settled, in the death of Christ; and if this be true for all, the judgment of "the great assize" becomes an anachronism and an impossibility.[4]
This suggests another difficulty. The sceptic who demands, "How are the dead raised up, and with what body do they come?" is branded as a fool. But is it folly to inquire, How shall the lost be translated, and with what body shall they come? And let it be kept prominently in view that the resurrection precedes the judgment. They who have part in the "resurrection of life" shall bear "the image of the heavenly." "When He shall appear we shall be like Him," is the amazing statement of the Scripture. But in contrast with the "resurrection of life" there is also the "resurrection of judgment." Why then call up the evil body at all, unless it be the final condition of the lost? It is not the body that repents, or believes, or turns to God; and, as already urged, if torment could be remedial, it is in the intermediate state it would be efficacious. The conclusion is inevitable that the body is reunited to the soul in order that the sinner may in the body in which he sinned endure the punishment his sins deserve.

And this is the plain teaching of Scripture. But when we are asked to believe that, after the ages of his torment shall have passed, the sinner will be translated in a new and heavenly body[5], to share the peace and blessedness of the redeemed, we part company with Scripture altogether. It is not a question here of "isolated texts," but of the great foundation truths of Christianity. If these torments be necessary, where are the triumphs of redemption through the Cross? If unnecessary, what becomes of the love of God? If sinners can reach heaven through the lake of fire, redemption is but "a short cut" to the same goal to which the broad way ultimately leads. Christ need not have died, or, at all events, far too much has been said about His death. Will they who thus reach heaven through "æonian torments" have much appreciation of the brief agonies of Calvary?[6]

To recapitulate. The question is not whether the destiny of all be fixed at death, but whether the judgment of the great day be irreversible and final. Not whether God be a Saviour to all men, but whether all men shall be saved, including those who reject the Saviour. Not whether Christ be a propitiation for the whole world, but whether the whole world shall share the pardon, including those who despise the propitiation. There is not a single text of Scripture which unequivocally teaches that all men shall in fact be saved; there are many which declare in the plainest terms that the judgment-doom of the lost is final. The dogma of universalism depends solely on the assumption that the love of God is incompatible with the perdition of ungodly men - an assumption which may rest entirely on our ignorance, and which, moreover, when worked out to its legitimate results, undermines Christianity altogether.  It is blind folly to abandon the doctrine of eternal punishment because of difficulties which surround it, and then to take refuge in a belief which is beset with difficulties far more hopeless. If, then, there be no other escape, we fall back unhesitatingly upon the faith of the Church in all ages. But another alternative remains: punishment may be final, and yet it may not be endless.

[1] 2 Thess. 1:7-9

[2] The author last referred to, with the candour which characterizes him, says, “I confess I cannot perfectly explain all these texts.”

[3] The respective schemes of the first two writers seem inconsistent with belief in the "resurrection of judgment." The third writer dismisses it thus "Of the details of this resurrection, of the nature and state of the bodies of the judged, -if indeed bodies in which there is any image of a man, and therefore of God, then are given to them,- and of the scene of judgment, very little is said in Scripture." The meaning of this is clearly that the body given at the "resurrection of judgment" is merely a temporary clothing for the soul, and that the soul shall not be reunited to the heavenly and final body until after punishment shall have been endured.

[4] The language of John 5:24 is explicit. It is not that the believer "shall not come into condemnation" as the A. V. renders it, but that he "cometh into judgment" (ες κρσιν οκ ρχεται). This statement must not be made to clash with Rom. 14:10, and 2 Cor. 5:10, which relate to the judgment of the saved. At the resurrection the believer shall appear in "the image of the heavenly," - "we shall be like Him." That is to say, his destiny is not only fixed but declared at the resurrection. For him, therefore, the judgment will be on that basis: it will be a matter of reward or loss, not of life or death.  As Heb. 9:27, 28 teaches, the cross of Christ and His glorious advent are, for the believer, the correlatives of death and judgment.

Matt. 25:31-46 describes a session of judgment for living nations on earth, and has no bearing on the special point here raised.

[5] See note, p. 39 ante.

[6] I have already shown that of the books quoted supra two practically ignore redemption. I desire to be perfectly fair, and I have searched the volume last noticed (which was the first written, and inspired the other two) to find a warrant for clearing the author from this reproach; but I cannot. And if such an one as he is betrayed into such language as the following, it may be taken as certain that the views he advocates are inconsistent with Christian doctrine. "What does he say here" (he writes, quoting Rev. 21:5-8), "but that all things shall be made new, though in the way to this the fearful and unbelieving must pass the lake of fire? . . . The saints have died with Christ, not only to the elements of this world, but also to sin, that is the dark spirit world. . . . The ungodly have not so died to sin. At the death of the body, therefore, and still more when they are raised to judgment, because their spirit yet lives, they are still within the limits of that dark and fiery world, the life of which has been and is the life of their spirit. To get out of this world there is but one way, death. Not the first, for that is passed, but the second death."

The italics are my own. The extraordinary mysticism which pervades this makes it difficult to fix its meaning, but I am unable to understand it if it does not teach that the lake of fire (the second death) is to the impenitent what the cross of Christ is to the believer.