Chapter 3 - Human Destiny - "SALVATOR MUNDI"

Chapter 3

"SALVATOR MUNDI"

THE author referred to in the preceding chapter has publicly acknowledged that while preparing the sermons which form the basis of his book, he was "largely indebted" to an earlier work on this same subject. The volume alluded to is from the pen of a noted expositor of Scripture, and it has obtained such a wide circulation, and is held in such high authority in the controversy, that it is impossible to pass it by unnoticed.

"The Question Raised" is the title of the opening chapter. If, the writer asks, Tyre and Sidon and the cities of the plain would have repented had they seen the mighty works of Christ, are they never to see Him? Are they to be damned for not having seen Him? Must there not be a "place of repentance" for such in the underworld? Suffice it here to say that this question is altogether wide of the real issue in this controversy, which is not whether the destiny of all mankind is fixed at death, but whether all mankind shall yet be saved, including those who have rejected the full revelation of the Gospel.

The author then proceeds to fix the "limits of the argument." The appeal is to the Bible; but before he will open the Bible he must insist that reason and conscience are also to have a voice. That is to say, the question is what the lawgiver has decreed against the criminal, and the criminal himself is practically to formulate the answer. The next point is that the Old Testament, the Book of Revelation, and the parables of our Lord, are all to be eliminated from the inquiry. No one has a right to insist on such conditions, but yet they might be accepted without endangering the issue, provided always, first, that it is only the symbolic visions of the Apocalypse which are to be excluded and, secondly, that the Scriptures themselves, and not the critic, shall decide what is "parable" and what is not.[1]

Next comes the inevitable protest against the use of the words “damnation," ''hell,'' and ''everlasting.'' Much of what is said about the first of these words is true, and would be helpful if written in any other connection. As for the second, he argues that whereas Hades and Gehenna both refer to the intermediate state, "our word 'hell' denotes the final and everlasting torment of the wicked," and therefore it should be banished from our language altogether.  The fact is, that so far from this being the only meaning of "hell," it is a meaning which the word scarcely possesses at all in classical English. It is only they who believe that Gehenna indicates the final state who have any right to object that "hell" is a mistranslation.

A word about this Gehenna. The writer tells us how the beautiful valley of Hinnom, under the south-western wall of Jerusalem, in time "became the common cesspool of the city, into which offal was cast, and the carcases of animals, and even the bodies of great criminals who had lived a life so vile as to be judged unworthy of decent burial. Worms preyed on their corrupting flesh, and fires were kept burning lest the pestilential infection should rise from the valley and float through the streets of Jerusalem." Such is the author's own description. And what is the moral he would draw from it? That the offal and the carcases were thrown there to purify and fit them for some high and noble use! It is amazing how any one can be so blind as not to see in this a figure the most graphic and terrible of utter and hopeless destruction.

Two more chapters being thus accounted for, in the fifth and sixth the author takes up the words which are variously rendered in our English Bible to express infinite duration. "If (he pleads) these words really carried in themselves the sense of eternity or everlastingness, they could not possibly have been applied," as, in fact, they were applied, to what was material or transitory. Will the author specify any words which carry in themselves this meaning, or indeed any meaning whatsoever?

What is true of most words is true in a special degree of these; chameleon-like, they take a colour from what they touch, and their significance must in every case be settled by the subject-matter and the context. "Words are the counters of wise men, the money of fools:" these teachers one and all seem to take them for more than counters. Every tyro in philology is aware that it is the use of a word which decides its meaning; and to be guided only by its derivation is as unwise as it would be to accept a man of sixty on a character given to him when a schoolboy. But yes, the author tells us there is a word "which unquestionably means 'for ever.'" This word, however, occurs only twice in the New Testament, and in one of these two passages, as he himself notices, it unquestionably does not mean "for ever."[2]

But the author's disquisition upon the "Greek word αών (aiōn)  and its derivative αἰώνιος (aiōnios), must by no means be dismissed thus lightly. With other writers such a discussion is mere skirmishing; here it is vital to his scheme.  “These words”, he declares, "so far from denoting either that which is above time, or that which will outlast time, are saturated through and through with the thought and element of time." This needs looking into. The heathen philosophers and poets had probably no thought of "Eternity" as distinguished from time.[3]  Their conception was limited to the æon which includes all time, but that these words were used to express that conception is admitted. It is further admitted that the New Testament unfolds an "economy of times and seasons," many "ages" heading up in one great "age" within which all the manifold purposes of God in relation to earth shall be fulfilled. Here again these same words are applicable and are used.

But revelation has taught men a higher conception of eternity than the heathen ever grasped.  How then could such a conception be expressed in the language of ancient Greece, a language formed upon and moulded by the thoughts of a heathen nation? To invent a word is impossible, and yet words are but counters.  Therefore when translating the sacred Hebrew into Greek the Rabbis could only take up some of the counters ready to their hand, and, as it were, restamp them to mark a higher value than they had formerly possessed. Thus, when they came on statements such as that of the 90th Psalm, "From everlasting to everlasting, thou art God," they could but fall back on this very word αών (aiōn) [4]

Now the New Testament is written in the language of the Septuagint version of the Old; not in the language of heathen Greece, but in that language as moulded and elevated by contact with the God-breathed Scriptures. Many a word had thus gained a fuller or a higher meaning than ordinarily pertained to it. The question here, therefore, is not what is the meaning of αών (aiōn) and αἰώνιος (aiōnios) in the classics, but what was the thought of the inspired writers in such passages as that above quoted. The "æonian" scholarship of Christendom has recognised that they are used to express eternity in the fullest sense, and this conclusion is wholly unaffected by our author's bold denial of it.

But let us for the moment accept the author's theory, and see what it will lead to. Brushing aside all other considerations, let us come at once to the foundations of our faith, and see how they will bear this new "doctrine of the æons." If it be true, the sacrifice of Calvary is no longer what we dreamed it was, the climax of a Divine purpose formed in a bygone eternity when the Word was alone with God, and the supreme and final display for all eternity to come of God's great love to man. The author will tell us that "the historical cross of Christ was but a manifestation within the bounds of time and space of the eternal passion of the Father" - a passion which "must continue to manifest itself in appropriate forms through all the ages and changes of time." And lest charity should put an innocent interpretation on this language, and thus destroy his argument, he repeats his thought in still plainer words: "If God has once shown that He will make any sacrifice for the salvation of the guilty, must not that be always true of Him? Must He not continue to manifest His blended severity and mercy in the ages to come?"

As we hear the Cross of Christ thus lowered and degraded, we cannot but demand, What part then can it have in man's redemption? and as far as the author can enlighten us the answer must be, practically none. He shall speak for himself. Here is his new Gospel of "the larger hope."

"The Scriptures, then, have much to teach us of the future, though not much of the final, estate of men. And what they teach, in so far at least as we have been able to gather it up, comes to this. No man is wholly good, no man wholly bad. Still some men may fairly be called good on the whole, although much sin and imperfection still cleaves to them and others may fairly be called bad on the whole, although there is still much in them that is good, and still more which is capable of becoming good. When we die, we shall all receive the due recompense of our deeds, of all our deeds, whether they have been good or whether they have been bad. If by the grace of God we have been good on the whole, we may hope to rise into a large and happy spiritual kingdom, in which all that is pure and noble and kind in us will develop into new vigour and clothe itself with new beauty; in which also we shall find the very discipline we need in order that we may be wholly purged from sin and imperfection ; in which we may undo much that we have done wrongly, do again and with perfect grace that which we have done imperfectly, become what we have wished and aimed to be, achieve what we have longed to achieve, attain the wisdom, the gifts and powers and graces to which we have aspired; in which, above all, we may be engaged in errands of usefulness and compassion, by which the purpose of the Divine love and grace will be fully accomplished. If we have been bad on the whole we may hope - and we ought to hope for it - to pass into a painful discipline so keen and searching that we shall become conscious of our sins and feel that we are only receiving the due reward of them; but since there has been some good in us, and this good is capable of being drawn out and disentangled from the evil which clouded and marred it, we may also hope, by the very discipline and torment of our spirits, to be led to repentance, and, through repentance, unto life; we may hope that the disclosures of the spiritual world will take a spiritual effect upon us, gradually raising and renewing us till we too are prepared to enter the Paradise of God and behold the presence of the Lord and the glory of His power: we may hope that our friends who have already been redeemed will pity us and minister to us, bringing us not simply a cup of cold water to cool our tongue, but words of instruction and life. And as for the great mass of our fellow-men, we may hope and believe that those who have had no chance of salvation here will have one there; that those who have had a poor chance will get a better one; that those who have had a good chance and lost it will get a new but a severer chance, and even as they suffer the inevitable results of their folly and sin will feel 'the hands that reach through darkness, moulding men.'

"This, on the whole, I take to be the teaching of Scripture concerning the lot of men in the age to come,-a teaching which enables us to see 'beneath the abyss of hell a bottomless abyss of love.' And if it clash with some dogmas that we have held and some interpretations which are familiar to us, it nevertheless accords, not with 'the mind of Christ' only, but also with the dictates of Reason and Conscience, the voices of God within the soul. It presents no such sudden break in our life as, in the teeth of all probability, we have been wont to conceive; no heaven for which we feel that even the best of us must be unfit, no hell which is a monstrous offence to our sense of justice. It promises to every man the mercy of justice, of a due reward for all he has been and done; and, while it impresses on us the utter hatefulness and misery of sin, it holds out to every one of us the prospect of being redeemed from all sin and uncleanness by that just God Who is also a Saviour. Nor does it less accord with the demands of Science than with the dictates of Reason and the Moral Sense; for it carries on the evolution of the human race through all the ages to come. And, therefore, let others think as they will, and cherish what trust they will: but as for us, with the Apostle of the Gentiles, our own Apostle, 'we trust in the living God Who is the Saviour of all men.' "[5]

This is not an isolated paragraph snatched from its context; it is the author's recapitulation, the closing passage of his book. We read it again and again, and study it with bewildered wonder. The question here is no longer of the doom of the lost, but of the truth of Christianity. Of the vital and characteristic truths of our religion there is not so much as one which it does not ignore or deny. The righteousness of God, the grace of God, man's ruin, redemption through the blood of Christ, the forgiveness of sins, the justification of the believer by grace through redemption, eternal life as the free gift of God, the resurrection of the just in the image of the heavenly, and of the unjust to appear at the last great judgment - not a trace of one of these foundation doctrines of our faith remains. And what is offered us instead? The weakness of an easy-going deity who will strike an average between good and evil, sending those who are "good on the whole" to a purgatorial paradise, and those who are "bad on the whole" to a purgatorial hell. A redemption "to be achieved in due time" for men with the aid of "the æonial fire, which alone could burn out their sins," and "the æonial Spirit," who "will still be at work for the regeneration of the race." Instead of eternal life, we have "the spiritual life distinctive of the Christian æons"; and eternal punishment is but "the punishment which those inflict on themselves who adjudge themselves unworthy of that life."[6]

"This, on the whole," he takes to be "the teaching of Scripture concerning the lot of men in the age to come." "The teaching of Scripture!" It was not thus the Church's million martyrs read the mingled warnings and promises of God. Such views are utterly opposed to the great creeds of the Reformation and the older creeds of Christendom. The author's scheme renders due homage doubtless to that miserable bantling of modern science, evolution; but whether it accords with "the dictates of reason" we are not concerned to discuss. It is enough to be assured that it is not Christianity[7] - it is not even a bastard Judaism; it is the most utter heathenism, concealed by the thinnest possible veneer of Christian phraseology.




[1] He has no warrant for including in the category the closing passage of Matt. 25. And the latter half of Luke 16.

[2]  άϊδίος  Rom. 1:20, and Jude 6, where the “everlasting chains” are only “until the day of judgment.”

[3] I do not stop to inquire whether such a conception be possible apart from revelation.  The inquiry would be most appropriate if my subject were the Kantian philosophy and not the destiny of mankind.

 

[4] π το αἰῶνος ως το αἰῶνος σ ε , Psalm 90:2 (LXX), the Hebrew being Meolάm adolάm

[5] Throughout the quotation the italics are my own.  I have reluctantly quoted at such length that the reader may be enabled to judge what this doctrine implies. To refute the errors, expressed and implied, of this book, would involve a treatise upon each one of the fundamental truths of Christianity. If any can read the above extract unshocked by the heathen darkness and contemptuous unbelief which characterise it, it is idle to discuss the matter with them within the limits of the present volume. If any one thinks this language too strong, let him turn back upon the quotation and seek to find where there is room for redemption in the writer's scheme. It is a deliberate and systematic denial of Christianity.

 

[6] The words in inverted commas in the above paragraph are quoted from other parts of the book.

[7] Finding, perhaps, that even in this infidel age the unchristianity of his book was too pronounced, the author has published "a sequel," in which he attempts to restate the question "as a part of the Christian doctrine of atonement." But the "sequel" restates with increased definiteness his dogma of retribution, which denies "the Christian doctrine of atonement" altogether. It then offers as "a new argument" for his views, the theory that there is a "surface current" and a "deeper current" in Scripture, the former of which is false, as Israel's hope of the promised messianic kingdom! Next comes a disquisition on 1 Cor. 5:5 (as proving that "destruction may be a condition of salvation"), and on demoniacal possession in connection therewith. As the result, the veneer is somewhat strengthened perhaps, but the heathenism remains.