Is Hell Eternal?
Or Will God's Plan Fail
By Charles Pridgeon
Chapter Twelve: The Problem of Evil
We know that God is good and we know that everything that God does is good; but the fact is, in this universe created by God, we find evil. We read in the Word of God that "A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit." How then could evil ever enter if God is good and if God made everything? It does not fully answer the question by saying, "An enemy hath done this," for then the natural question arises, "Who made the enemy?"
There are those who hold that there was a necessity of evil's entering for the developing and perfecting of free moral agents, that unless there is such a contest there would be no developing of strength. If evil is absolutely necessary, then evil must have had an eternal beginning; and evil would be necessary in God, so that He could be His best and His unfallen creatures become their very best. In consequence of this line of reasoning, some of the old divines held the necessity of both good and evil ever existing and contending. Augustine, before he was thoroughly converted, held such a conception and some of it seemed to cling to him afterward. Some of the pagan religions go further and have two gods, a good god and a bad god as their explanation of the problem of good and evil.
There are Christians who reason from the blessings that accrue from the overcoming of evil that evil is a necessity.
We thoroughly recognize the fact that there has to be the exercise of the power of choice for the development of moral agents, and to exercise such power of choice there must be two objects that may be chosen. All moral progress is produced by such exercise. God could have made man as a mere machine, but he would not have been created in the image and after the likeness of God. He never would nor could have morally and spiritually developed. God can create moral and spiritual agents, but such agents can be perfected only by the exercise of the power of choice in fellowship with God's will and choice. We emphatically declare that, altho all this is true, it was not and is not God's plan and highest will that any of His free agents should ever go into sin to develop. In other words, sin is not a necessity for the highest development of God's creatures. If it were necessary, then the highest type of free moral agents would have had to sin and then conquer it. If it had been necessary to sin in order to reach the highest moral and spiritual development, then the Lord Jesus Christ would of necessity have had to sin. The highest development of humanity is found in the Lord Jesus Christ when He was made man. Likewise, if sin were necessary for the highest development, all the angels who have never fallen, ought to fall in order to perfection. In these two cases we certainly see that sin was not a necessity for the perfection of the creature, nor was it God's highest plan.
Speaking of the Lord Jesus Christ, one objects and says, "But He was tempted and how could a person who was truly righteous and holy be tempted?"' It is true that He was tempted, but He never yielded to temptation. We need to have it written in our hearts, and realized in our experience, that temptation is not sin. The harboring and yielding to it are sins. Often the enemy says when we are tempted, "Now you have thought about a certain sin, you may as well do it." Say, "Get thee behind me, Satan, I will not yield one inch." It may not be possible at times to prevent thoughts of sin from being hurled into our mind, but we can refuse them, and we will become a stronger man or a stronger woman immediately. Temptation is not sin.
This raises another question: How could we be tempted if there was no evil in the world? Sup- pose there were just God and you in the universe and you were good and, we know, God is good; how could there be two things to choose? There certainly could be, and both of them seem pretty good too. You could choose God and that certainly would be good; and, on the other hand, you could choose yourself, and that usually seems good and might not seem so very bad before there was a sinful fall. When God created the angels and all the glorious beings that He originally created, everything was good; but they could not develop as moral beings unless they had the power of choice. There was no evil in the universe of God, but they could choose God or themselves first. The instant they chose themselves that was selfishness and self-will, because the highest good was promoted by the choice of God and sin entered by the choice of self. Selfishness is the root of all sin, it is in every sin that there is. You can not name one that does not have selfishness as a root, and yet it looks so innocent to choose one's self. There can be a selfish and hence a sinful ambition to attain even great spirituality. Evil is always mixed with some element of good, and that is why it is so deceitful.
There is not the slightest doubt that the first temptation that was accepted had, in a most subtle way, a large proportion of good mingled with disguised selfishness. There was no Satan, originally; but God's plan was in effect: "I will give them the power of choice, I will give them spiritual discernment, but they will have to choose. They are pure, but not perfected yet." One can be born with the finest heritage, he can inherit from the most noble ancestors, he can have the germ of great ability as a statesman, or an architect, or a poet, or a mathematician--he can inherit the germ of that ability, and yet he needs to develop it. Our moral nature amounts to nothing without development through the exercise of choice. There is no necessity of committing sin for our development. There is no necessity of evil in the universe for development, else there would have to be evil in eternity. That is absolutely unthinkable, that is blasphemous, if we were thinking it with seriousness. We reason from the terms of a fallen world. We do not say that God does not give strength and blessing from the overcoming of evil after we have gone into it. Praise God, He can do that! God is so great that, notwithstanding his highest plan has not yet been accomplished, when there has been a perversion of His plan (that is what sin is, that is what wrong is, something getting twisted, something being perverted), notwithstanding that, God can work and overrule all evil for good to those who trust Him. He can take all the drunkards and outcasts and every sinner that has not been won, and God is so great He can bring good out of their sin; but that is not God's highest method.
God desires to teach us through communion and the power of choice along every line every time. Another objects and says, "Then there would be many things about sin that you would not know." There might be some things about sin that you would not know. For this you can be thankful. Such things have to be forgotten, blotted out, displaced by good; but whatever about sin would make for your moral development, that would be known. We have some conviction of sin when we are young Christians; but it is not until we receive the fulness of the Holy Spirit, greater light, that we get our deepest conviction of sin, that we really see sin as it is. We may have committed sins before and asked God to forgive; but we did not know what sin was. After we yielded fully to God and let Him come in and fill us with His Spirit, then the heinousness of sin and the consequences of sin became so real to us that we were broken down before God. We knew then through the teaching of the Holy Spirit more about sin than through any experience that any of us ever had.
God teaches us of sin not only in reference to ourselves but also in reference to others. Many a parent or loved one learns much about sin through endeavoring to hold and help another who is bent on following that devious path. Such a one often realizes the terribleness of sin more than the one who indulges in sin.
It is not necessary for a physician to have every disease he treats. Pity the physician if he had to suffer every disease he treats! He never would have any time to practise his profession, he would always be in the hospital. We are sure that he would die before he finished the category of diseases. However, a man who is a wise physician knows more about the disease than the patient does. He has learned it another way.
People who go into sin have become mesmerized by Satan's wiles and have committed the worst sins without a full realization of their guilt. The deepest conviction of sin is that which comes through the teaching of God's Holy Spirit, revealing the pure white light of the Lord Jesus Christ. We know what black is when we see the white. God's method is by communion. He says, "I will guide thee with mine eye". "Be ye not as the horse, or as the mule, which have no understanding, whose mouth must be held in with bit and bridle, lest they come near unto thee" (Ps. 32:8,9). "Why do you always want to have a terribly hard time to learn the lessons? I want to teach you, I will teach you the lessons without having to put on the bit and bridle, if you will trust Me, but if you will not, you will have to learn by a sadder method."
Let us consider the angels, all created equal. What would develop them morally and spiritually? Exercising the power of choice was one of the methods. What would they have to choose? Choose God and realize to some extent what it would be if they refused God and chose themselves. As they continued in this path their lessons would become more complex. All would progress, some more than others (errors of judgment are not sins), and those who made the greatest progress became the greatest angels, and those who made the least progress were the smaller angels. God is no respecter of persons, and He made them all equal at first. Those that appropriated more of God became stronger and stronger. In this way some of the angelic beings became greater than others and had positions nearer to God. They continued by communion and the power of choice, just as the Lord Jesus Christ was developed when He came down here--and how wonderful He became! One of the greatest was a good angel, he was not called "Satan" then, for Satan means "adversary." When Satan advanced he began feeling how great he was, he chose himself before God; and all those he influenced fell with him. God foresaw that--the disruption of His plan and the entrance of evil; and His marvelous power and wisdom were sufficient, and so He had the redemption prepared in the Lord Jesus Christ. We have seen something of Sin and its Cause and we know something of its Consequences, and the Cure is the Lord Jesus Christ.
Evil in its nature was not eternal in the past, therefore it can not possibly be eternal in the future.
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