Chapter 4 - Human Destiny - "THE RESTITUTION OF ALL THINGS."

Chapter 4

"THE RESTITUTION OF ALL THINGS"

EVERY step in this inquiry is discouraging. But a good cause may suffer from injudicious advocacy, and it must not he assumed that the "wider hope" is false, because its latest champions have thus discredited it. With a sense of relief we turn to another book, which both these writers have singled out for special commendation. Here at last we find ourselves in the calm atmosphere of reverent and patient study of the Scriptures, to the sacredness and authority of which the author gives a noble testimony. The volume might with fairness be adopted as a handbook in the controversy; but it may be better, while giving it the attention it so well deserves, to pass on to a discussion of the subject on a wider basis. The writer has the courage of his convictions. Taking his stand upon the great sacrifice of Calvary, he proclaims the gospel of universal restoration. Not only fallen men, but fallen angels, shall share in it. Not even Satan shall be excluded. This is truly a glorious anticipation: this is indeed to "think noble things of God." Who is there who would not crave to find a warrant for accepting it as true?

Certain points in the writer's argument are peculiar, and claim special notice. "The letter of Scripture" (he declares) "is a veil quite as much as a revelation, hiding while it reveals, and yet revealing while it hides; presenting to the eye something very different from that which is within." This naturally prepares the reader to find meanings he never thought of assigned to various passages of Scripture. And as a signal instance of this, to which continued emphasis is given throughout the volume, the author points to the law of the firstborn and the law of the firstfruits as affording "the key to one part of the apparent contradiction between mercy 'upon all' and yet 'the election' of a 'little flock.'" "The firstborn and the firstfruits are the 'few ' and 'little flock' ; but these, though first delivered from the curse, have a relation to the whole creation, which shall be saved in the appointed times by the first-born seed, that is by Christ and His body, through those appointed baptisms, whether of fire or water, which are required to bring about 'the restitution of all things.'" Passing by the extraordinary theory stated here and elsewhere in the book, that creation will be saved in part by the Church, this appeal to the types needs looking into.

It is admitted that the firstfruits included the harvest of which it was a part, and the redemption of the firstborn secured that of the families to which they belonged. If then it can be proved from Scripture that the harvest of the saved shall include the whole Adamic race, and that "the elect" are "kinsmen" to them, this type will serve to illustrate the truth. But the first-fruits had no relation save to the harvest of the favoured land, and the redemption of the firstborn was side by side with judgment on the Egyptians, the tribes of the wilderness and the nations of Canaan. Therefore while these types are a real difficulty in the way of those who would limit redemption to "the Church of the firstborn," they seem no less inconsistent with the author's own position. If types can be thus used at all, they establish the views of those who hold a place between these two extremes. The sheaf of the firstfruits, the wave-loaves of Pentecost, and the great festival of harvest will have their dispensational fulfilment in the ever-widening circle of blessing upon earth; but if the final harvest will include the lost of previous dispensations, this must be established from other scriptures, for there is nothing in the type to correspond with it.

But further: our author here avers that the whole creation shall be saved through the appointed baptisms, whether of fire or water. So elsewhere he says the fearful and unbelieving must reach the new creation through the lake of fire. This is no flourish of rhetoric, but the sober statement of a doctrine repeated again and again throughout the book, and vital to the writer's argument, that death is the only way to life, judgment the only means of deliverance.  Not, be it observed, the death of the Sin-bearer, the judgment which He bore; but death and judgment absolutely. Death and judgment lead to life and deliverance, so that the sinner's doom becomes a pledge and means of his ultimate salvation. And this he assumes as an axiom of theology! Let us notwithstanding, refusing to be prejudiced against a cause which seems to need such arguments, turn with open mind to pursue the inquiry.

No candid person will dispute that the revelation of Divine love creates a presumption against the possibility of eternal punishment. On the other hand, it is still more dishonest to deny - and in fact it is admitted - that certain passages of Scripture support the doctrine. The fairest mode, therefore, in which this inquiry can possibly be entered on is to dismiss for the moment both the presumption against, and the texts in favour of, the "orthodox" belief, and to consider without any bias the passages which are used to prove universal reconciliation. If these should be found to teach that doctrine unequivocally, the question is at an end, for in a seeming conflict of texts the presumption against endless misery must turn the scale. But more than this: even should these Scriptures seem of doubtful meaning, we shall be prepared to lean towards the broader interpretation, provided only that such a rendering will neither disturb foundation truths, nor land us in difficulties akin to those we seek escape from.

We may at once dismiss from notice three classes of texts which are much in vogue with writers on this question. The first consists of passages which testify to the boundlessness of Divine mercy and love. It is impossible to estimate too highly the love and grace of God; but it is the merest trifling to suppose that creatures like ourselves, with minds so limited in capacity, and moreover so warped by sin, can decide what measure of punishment is inconsistent with infinite love.[1]  Then again, we must entirely ignore the numberless predictions of a reign of righteousness and peace on earth in days to come. These, though freely used in this controversy, have no bearing on it whatever, unless indeed it be to indicate that at the last great harvest-home, the proportion of the blessed to the lost of earth may prove, perchance, to be vastly greater than a narrow theology supposes.[2] And this suggests the third class of texts above referred to - namely, those which speak in general terms of the triumphs of redemption. A noted example will be found in the great Eden promise that the Seed of the woman should bruise the serpent's head. Does the truth of this rest on the statistics of the Judgment Day? In Christ's triumph over Satan does victory depend, as in some of the games of our childhood, upon which side has the larger following?  The suspicion is irresistible that they who argue thus have but a poor appreciation of the moral glories of redemption.

It will be found, however, that the special texts which are the very foundation of universalism really come within neither of these categories. But, it will be asked, does not Scripture speak of the restitution of all? The answer is emphatically No. The passage which is thus perverted speaks of "the times of the restitution of all things," of which every prophet testified, from Moses to Malachi.[3]  Was the burden of their prophecies the final state? The answer shall be given by one of the authors already quoted: "It is as certainly true as any such wide proposition can be, that the psalmists and prophets of old time never got more than momentary and partial glimpses of the life to come." Therefore, he argues, the Old Testament "will be of no avail to us" in considering this question; and yet he cites and relies upon a quotation from the New Testament which is expressly declared to refer to the very prophecies that foretell a reign of righteousness and peace on earth.

But does not St. Paul speak of the reconciliation of all things? Assuredly he does: not, however, as a hope to be realised in eternity to come, but as a present truth - a fact accomplished in the death of Christ.[4]  In keeping with this, and as a part of it, God has revealed Himself as the Saviour of all men; Christ has been manifested as "a ransom for all," the propitiation for the whole world."[5]  But will these teachers tell us how men can be reconciled who refuse the reconciliation; how sinners can be saved who reject the Saviour; how the lost can be restored who trample under foot the propitiation? It is these very truths which make the sinner's doom irreversible and hopeless.

It would be unpardonable to attempt to write upon this question without having formed a deliberate judgment upon every text of Scripture relied on as teaching universal restoration; and the expression of such a judgment is offered in these pages. But here arises a formidable practical difficulty. If the progress of the argument is to depend on the reader's accepting in every instance the proposed exposition, further advance must be impossible. To impose such a condition would be unreasonable and unjust. All that is essential here is to show that the passages in question bear an explanation wholly different from that which these writers put upon them; and this at least has been accomplished. Indeed, it is sufficiently established by the admitted fact that such an explanation has been given by the overwhelming majority of theologians in every age. The advocates of universalism have been content to plead that the surface teaching of these Scriptures is in favour of their views: they must go further, and oust the alternative meanings assigned to them by the scholarship of Christendom. But this they have never attempted to do.

This position is not assumed to avoid the necessity of explaining the passages referred to. The reader will find in the Appendix a full exposition of every text on which the universalist relies to prove his doctrine. This exegesis is offered in acknowledgment of the obligation to explain these Scriptures, but it is dismissed to the Appendix as a protest against the assumption that the acceptance of it is vital to the argument. It is not vital. On the contrary, having thus cleared the ground, we shall now suppose for the sake of argument,-and it is only on that ground the admission can be made, - that the meaning of these passages is doubtful, and proceed on this assumption to discuss the question in the light of great foundation truths.




[1] Do not such arguments as are here alluded to remind us of a king’s baby children in the royal nursery discussing the fate of some notorious criminal, and deciding that they knew their father so well as to be assure he could not and would not sign a death-warrant?

[2] Therefore, these passages tell against the view they are cited in support of, by weakening the popular argument based on the supposition that the saved will be an insignificant minority.

[3] Acts 3:21-24.  On this passage, see Appendix, p. 76 post.

[4] See p. 81 post.

[5] On these and other passages of a like import see Appendix, Part I, p. 76 post.