Mercy And Judgment by Canon F.W. Farrar

Put into electronic form by Tentmaker Ministries and Publications, Inc. Copyright 200 May not be reproduced without permission.

MERCY AND JUDGMENT

CHAPTER XIV.

THE GENERAL TEACHING OF SCRIPTURE RESPECTING FUTURE RETRIBUTION.

'Deliver me, O Lord, from the narrowing influence of human lessons, from human lessons, from human systems of theology; teach me directly out of the fullness and freeness of Thine own Word. Hasten the time when, unfettered by sectarian intolerance, and unawed by the authority of men, the Bible shall make its rightful impression upon all the simple and obedient readers thereof, calling to man Master but Christ only." — CHALMERS.   

"Why should attempts at further elucidation be discouraged, as if in searching the Scriptures we ought to stop at the sense in which our fathers understood them? And, as if already possessed of all the information that could arise from a new investigation of the original, or the writings of the rabbins? These were much more accustomed than Christian commentators to dwell upon and to catch the rays of light which are reflected from the Hebrew." — BENNET, Olam Haneshamoth, p. 2.   

"To those Christians whose faith has been crystallized and frozen down in artificial systems of theology…every new truth drawn fresh from the Scriptures is an unwelcome guest, or even a suspected enemy." — REV. PROFESSOR BIRKS.   

We learn much in Scripture concerning the nature of God; concerning the efficacy, universality, and preciousness of Christian redemption; concerning the methods of God's government and the objects of His chastisements.

St. John, for instance, in the Epistle which is perhaps the latest utterance of revelation, tells us that God is righteous; that God is light; and (twice over) that God is love.

How deep is the significance of such revelations, and how awful the responsibility of not clouding their meaning by human fancies! For, as Bacon truly says, "Better to have no opinion of God at all than such an opinion as is unworthy of Him; for the one is unbelief, the other is contumely."

"God is righteous": - and therefore He hates all unrighteousness in others, and there can be no unrighteousness in Him. The notions that represent Him as a God of arbitrary caprice, treating men as though they were nothing but dead clay, to be dashed about and shattered at His will — notions which represent His justice as something alien from ours, and those things as good in Him which would be evil in us — these idols of the school are shattered on the rock of the truth that He is righteous!

"God is Light": - notions that represent Him as delighting in man's narrow dogmatism, self-satisfied security, and bitter exclusiveness, making His elect and His favoured ones of the religionists who claim each for his own sect or party a monopoly of His revelation — as though one should love the dwarfed thistles and the jagged bents better than the cedars of Lebanon; these idols of the Pharisee, are shattered by the ringing hammer-stroke of the truth that God is light!

"God is Love": - not merely loving, but love*(1); and therefore the notions which would represent Him as only living a life turned towards self, or folded within self, caring only for His own glory, caring nothing for the endless agonies of the creatures He has made, regarding even the sins of children as infinite because He is infinite — idols which have so distorted the blessed doctrine of the Atonement as to say that His wrath must have some victim, and therefore that (in the language of one writer) "He drew His sword on Calvary to smite down His only Son,"*(2) and of another, that Christ's death "wiped the red anger-spot from the brow of God"*(3) — these idols of the zealot, idols of the systematiser, idols of those who think that their remorseless systems can work the righteousness of God — these idols are dashed to pieces by the sweeping and illimitable force of the truth that God is love.

*(1) "I'm apt to think the man

That could surround the sum things, and spy

The heart of God and secrets of His empire,

Would speak but love — with him the bright result

Would change the hue of intermediate scenes,

And make one thing of all theology." — GAMBOLD.

*(2) Prof. Parkes.

*(3) Dr. Cumming

Of such a God as this — of a God who is Love, Light, Righteousness — we can think with trembling and adoring devotion. "There is mercy with Thee; therefore shalt Thou be feared." But who can "sweetly meditate" on the God of Calvin, of Jonathan Edwards, of Boston, or of Pinamonti, whom they describe as damning little children and young girls to the endless company of ferocious and uncontrolled devils, and holding "sinners like spiders over the pit of hell with one hand, while He torments them with the other"? Is this the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ? Is it the God who "declareth His almighty power most chiefly by showing mercy and pity"? or is it some Indian Shiva, some deadlier Moloch of the children of Ammon, to whom human beings are to be perpetually burnt in living sacrifice? Can any Christian who sees God in Christ hesitate to stamp such thoughts — such accretions to the just and solemn truth of a future as of a present retribution — with the abhorrence which they deserve?

No! for "God is Love." If He punishes, it is through love. If He chose a people, it was to proclaim His love. If He charges our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ to execute His just but merciful judgment against sinners, it is by the work of love. "The source of all His works is love, and the end of all His works is an end of love. Nothing can be found in Him which is not love; for He Himself is Love."*(1)

*(1) Guillaume Monod, Jugement dernier, p. 28.

Where can we see most clearly the character of God? Is it not in the life of Him who was "the brightness of His glory and the express image of His person"?

If, then, we can best judge of the nature of God in the acts of Jesus Christ, is it not in the acts of One who, while He declared, as none had ever declared, the awful breadth and grandeur and searchingness of the moral law, and who, while He was terrible to false and loveless religionists, and to them alone, yet was ever tender to sin and sorrow with an infinite tenderness and went about releasing the demoniac, giving light to the blind, cleansing the leper, preaching to the poor, eating with sinners, feeding the hungry multitude, listening to the heathen woman's cry, welcoming the outcast publican, praying for His very murderers at the moment that they drove the nails through His torn hands, standing alone with guilt and misery, suffering the weeping woman who was a sinner to wash His feet with her tears, and to wipe them with the hairs of her head?

And if the Lord Jesus thus represented God in His acts, how did He represent Him in His teachings? Was it not solely, essentially, exclusively as a Father? As our Father which art in Heaven? Was it not as endless, unweariable, universal, awful love? Was it not as the God who maketh His sun to shine on the evil and the good, and His rain to fall on the just and on the unjust? As the God who is kind even to the unthankful and the evil?*(1) as the God of little children, whose angels behold His face in Heaven? As the God of the lilies, and the ravens, and the falling sparrow, and the lost sheep? As the Father who weeps upon the necks of His lost and ragged prodigals? As the God by whom the very hairs of our heads are all numbered? If the Fatherhood of God be infinitely deeper and more tender than human fatherhood, - yea, even as He has told us, than human motherhood,*(2) — must we go to a heathen moralist to teach us that "little punishment suffices a father for even a great offence"*(3)? And who, as he reads such words — as he recalls the stern rebuke of the Almighty to those who defended in a remorseless spirit the fancied "orthodoxy" of their day — who would not cry with trembling humility —

"Dear God and Father of us all,

Forgive our faith in cruel lies,

Forgive the blindness that denies!

Forgive Thy creature when he takes

For the all-perfect Love Thou art

Some grim creation of the heart.

Cast down our idols! Overturn

Our bloody altars! Let us see

Thyself in Thy humanity!"*(4)

*(1) Luke vi. 35.

*(2) Is. xlix. 15. "Can a mother forget her sucking child, that she should not have compassion on the son of her womb? Yea, they may forget, yet will I not forget thee." Comp. Ps. ciii. 13; Jer. xxxi. 20; Mal. iii. 17; Matt. vii. II.

*(3) "Pro peccato magno paulum supplici satis est patri." — TERENT. Andria, v. iii.

*(4) "We are not at liberty to call that conduct justice or wisdom in the Almighty which we should charge with folly or cruelty in a human governor; or to silence doubts which may have arisen from our own unskillful handling of the Word of Life by a bare appeal to the Divine Sovereignty, as if the Most High were exalted above the eternal laws of justice and goodness which are binding on all the reasonable creatures He has made." — Rev. Prof. Birks.

And, indeed, whether we turn to the Old or the New Testament, there is an overwhelming mass of evidence on the side of those who think that God's highest glory is the prerogative of absolute and boundless mercy — that in the words of our collect, "His nature and property are ever to have mercy and forgive."

If we are to press to the utmost limits the meaning of the expression "for ever" and "eternal" in the half-dozen texts scattered throughout the Bible which seem at first sight to reveal for all sinners a hopeless and endless doom at the moment of death, are we to ignore, or minimize, or explain away the multitudes of such texts as these?

And the Lord passed by before him, and proclaimed, the Eternal, the Eternal, a God merciful and gracious, long-suffering and abundant in goodness and truth, keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means always leave unpunished.*(1) — EX. XXXIV. 6, 7.

*(1) The last words are specially precious, because they show that God's punishments are but a form of the love and compassion which He has thus in such manifold terms described. That for which the merciful plead is ultimate pardon for all who are recoverable, not entire impunity for any who have sinned.

His anger endureth but a moment; in His favour is life. — PS. XXX. 5.

Good and upright is the Lord: therefore will He teach sinners in the way. — PS. XXV. 8.

The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and plenteous in mercy. He will not always chide: neither will He keep His anger for ever. — PS. ciii. 8, 9.

Unto Thee, O Lord, belongeth mercy: for Thou renderest unto every man according to his work: - Ps. lxii. 12.

He is good, and His mercy endureth for ever. — Ps. cvi. I; cvii. I (and the whole of this psalm); cxviii. I-4; xcccvi. I-26.

Thou art good, and doest good. — Ps. cxix. 68.]

But there is forgiveness with Thee, that Thou mayest be feared. Let Israel hope in the Lord: for with the Lord there is mercy, and with Him is plenteous redemption — Ps. cxxx. 4, 7.

Look unto Me, and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth: for I am God, and there is none else. I have sworn by Myself, the word is gone out of My mouth in righteousness, and shall not return, that unto Me every knee shall bow, every tongue shall swear. — Is. xlv. 22, 23.

In a little wrath I hid my face from thee for a moment; but with everlasting kindness will I have mercy on thee, saith the Lord thy Redeemer….For the mountains shall depart, and the hills be removed; but My kindness shall not depart from thee, neither shall the covenant of My peace be removed, saith the Lord that hath mercy on thee. — Is. liv. 8, 10.

I will not contend for ever, neither will I be always wroth: for the spirit should fail before me, and the souls which I have made. — Is. lvii. 16.

For the Lord will not cast off for ever: but though He cause grief, yet will He have compassion according to the multitude of His mercies. For He doth not afflict willingly nor grieve the children of men. To crush under His feet all the prisoners of the earth….the Lord approveth not. — Lam. iii. 31-34.

The Lord your God…is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness, and repenteth Him of the evil. Who knoweth if He will return and repent, and leave a blessing behind Him? — Joel ii. 13, 14.

To the Lord our God belong mercies and forgiveness, though we have rebelled against Him. — Dan. ix. 9.

I, even I, am He that blotteth out thy transgressions for Mine own sake, and will not remember thy sins. — Is. xliii. 25.

They refused to obey…but Thou art a God ready to pardon, gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness, and forsookest them not. — Nehem ix. 17.

Who is a God like unto Thee, that pardoneth iniquity and passeth by the transgression of the remnant of His heritage? He retaineth not His anger for ever, because He delighteth in mercy. He will turn again, He will have compassion upon us; He will subdue our iniquities; and Thou wilt cast all their sins into the depths of the sea. — Micah vii. 18, 19.

It is needless to continue. To do so would be to fill pages. We are told again and again that His anger endureth but a moment*(1); that He, being full of compassion, forgives iniquity*(2); that in a little wrath He hides His face for a moment, but with everlasting kindness will He have mercy*(3); that He is gracious, longsuffering, plenteous in mercy, full of compassion*(4); that He is the Father of mercies*(5); that He is rich in mercy*(6); that His mercy is as great as the heaven is high*(7); that He is present even in the region of the dead*(8); that His tender mercies and lovingkindnesses have been ever of old*(9); that He is a just God and a Saviour*(10); and may not all these attributes be summed up in the grand words of the prophet Isaiah, as plain as words can be: -

*(1) Ps. xxx. 5.

*(2) Ps. lxxviii. 38.

*(3) Is. liv. 7, 8.

*(4) Ps. lxxxvi. 15.

*(5) 2 Cor. i. 3.

*(6) Eph. ii. 4.

*(7) Ps. ciii. 9.

*(8) Ps. cxxxix. 8.

*(9) Ps. xxv. 6.

*(10) Is. xlv. 21.

For I will not contend for ever, neither will I be always wroth; for the spirit should fail before me, and the souls which I have made.*(1)

*(1) Is. lvii. 16.

Or in these, no less plain, of the prophet Jeremiah: -

For the Lord will not cat off for ever: but though He cause grief, yet will He have compassion according to the multitude of His mercies. For He doth not afflict willingly, nor grieve the children of men.

Or in the equally unmistakable words of the Prophet David, of which, as of the other two passages, it may be said that they simply "could not have been written by any believer in the popular doctrine of endless torments": -

He will not always chide: neither will He retain His anger for eternity (le-olam).*(1)

*(1) Ps. ciii. 9. "Dieu aime autant chaque homme que tout le genre humain…Eternel, infini, il n'a que des amours immenses." — JOUBERT, i. 103.

These texts will have slight weight with those only whose souls are hardened into scholastic system; and with those who think that one-half of God's character is mercy and the other half is wrath, and that therefore they must set one against the other; and with those who employ one-hundredth part of the Bible to evacuate of meaning the other ninety-nine; and with those who stretch every severe anthropomorphic metaphor on the rack of literalism and inference while they minimize as "dangerous" every broad promise of mercy, and quench as "delusive" every bright gleam of final hope; and with those who go to the Bible not to find truth there, but only to snatch from it a semblance of support for their own dogmas; and with those who do despite to every text which runs counter to invincible prejudice. But those who really reverence God's Word will see from these passages, and ten times as many more, that they may trust in the lovingkindness of the Lord for their sad and suffering brethren no less than for themselves, and that if God is forced to punish it is only because He loves. No bigotry, no ignorance, no hard theology, no angry anathemas shall rob us of one inch of the breadth of hope which these words inspire. If we had no book of Scripture left us but the single book of Job we should see from that alone that for the champions of a pitiless "orthodoxy" God feels nothing but disapproval. He does not strive to silence the natural cry of the human heart. He has never reproved the natural sense of horror which, with a "God forbid!" flings from it the syllogisms of a loveless and unspiritual logic.*(1)

*(1) "If to have raised out of the womb of faultless unoffending nothing infinite myriads of en, into a condition from which, unthinking, they should unavoidably drop into eternal unutterable sorrows, be consistent with goodness, contradictions may be true, and all rational deductions but a dream." — PLAIFERE.

And if the popular view be true; if according to current theology it had been well ( kalon ) not for Judas only but the mass of the human race that they had not been born; if there is no difference between holding even this, and holding that they must suffer endless torments; if millions of years of unutterable and inconceivable agonies for millions and millions of mankind are to be the outcome of a few short miserable sinful years on earth — what, we may well ask, is the result of the Atonement? Christ died for human souls. In spite of His Cross shall the great harvest of human souls become the prey of Satan and only the gleanings be the Lord's? Shall Satan gather the clusters of the vintage, and leave for our Father in Heaven only a grape here and there upon the topmost boughs?

Of all the unworthy arguments — and they are many in number — which are urged against the hopes of suffering man, surely not one is so fantastic and dishonest as that a wider hope can only spring from deficient views of the Atonement! When one hears such arguments it is difficult to restrain a strong indignation. Christ came to seek and save the lost; He said that the publican and the harlot entered the kingdom of heaven before the Pharisee; and yet we are to be told that to believe in the fullness and efficacy and victorious infinitude of this redemption — to hope that it will have achieved, more largely than human ignorance has taught us, the very aim for the sake of which alone the mighty work was finished — is to have "deficient views of the Atonement"; or, as the phrase is sometimes varied, to have "inadequate conceptions of the heinousness of sin"! But is it the Gospel of mercy, or is it not rather the message of all-but-universal damnation, which most clouds the blessedness of the Atonement? Do not the views of many writers belie, verse by verse, all that we are told of it from Genesis to Revelation, or, at the least, explain away all the breadth and richness of its blessed significance?

Scarcely had man fallen, when to the woman came the promise that her seed "should bruise the serpent's head." How so if the vast majority of her offspring are to agonise in flames for endless millenniums?

As soon as

"E'en the great deluge, when its task was done,

Threw up a rosy arch and ebbed away," —

Noah and his children, no less than Adam — to whom it was the first command — were bidden to be fruitful and multiply and replenish the earth.*(1) Would it not have been, would it not still be, a command of awful irony and cruelty if the earth was to be replenished with whole millions of denizens of an endless hell?

*(1) Gen. ix. I; i. 28. "We wish to impress upon the champions of this dogma [the current accretions which I repudiate] that they have no business to marry; for in so doing they run the greatest risk of bringing souls into the world to be tormented for ever." — L'Alliance Liberale, December 3, 1870.

The promise of Abraham was that "in thy seed shall all the nations of earth be blessed."*(1) How could they be blessed if all but the few were destined to an unutterable doom?

*(1) Gen. xxii. 18.

Of the Divine Redeemer it was prophesied that "He should see of the travail of His soul and be satisfied." Would He be satisfied if, according to the common conception of theologians for ages, Satan was to be for ever the lord paramount of countless shuddering and tortured souls?

When Christ upon the Cross, with the one mighty word, Teletestai! — "It is finished," ended His life and His work, did that word mean only that the mass of the human race, even of those who should be called by His name, would pass from life to an unending and an unutterable doom?

What is the meaning of all those passages of the New Testament that "Christ is the Lamb of God which taketh away the sin of the world"*(1); that "God hath sent His Son into the world, not to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved"*(2); that "the Father hath given all things into His hands"*(3); that "He is the Saviour of the Universe"*(4); that "I, if I be lifted up, will draw all things unto Me"*(5); that the Son of Man came "not to destroy men's lives, but to save"*(6); that "He is the propitiation not only for our sins, but also for the whole world"*(7); that Christ died and rose, "that He might be Lord both of the dead and living"*(8); that Christ died "for sins," "for sinners," "for sinners," "for the ungodly," "for the unjust"; that "God laid on Him the iniquity of us all"; that "He tasted death for ever man"*(9); that "He gave His life a ransom for all"*(10); that "the grace of God hath been manifested which is a source of salvation to all men"*(11)? What is meant by God being "the Saviour of all men," though "specially of them that believe"*(12)? What is meant by "God, being in Christ, not imputing their trespasses unto them"*(13)? What is meant by its being His will ( qelei ) — for who has resisted His will? — that "all men should be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth"*(14)? What is meant by the truth that the very object of Christ's Incarnation was "that He might destroy the devil"*(15)? What is meant by Christ "tasting death for every rational being except God"*(16)?

*(1) John. i. 29.

*(2) John iii. 17.

*(3) John iii. 35.

*(4) I John iv. 14.

*(5) John xii. 32, leg. panta.

*(6) Luke ix. 56.

*(7) I John ii. 2.

*(8) Rom. xiv. 9.

*(9) Heb. ii. 9.

*(10) I Tim. ii. 6.

*(11) Tit. ii. 11, 12.

*(12) I Tim. iv. 10.

*(13) 2 Cor. v. 19.

*(14) It is sad to see the attempts of St. Augustine to force himself out of the cogency of this text. In one place he says that "all" means "many" (c. Julian, iv. 8); in another, that it means some "of every kind" (Enchirid. C. 103); in another, that it means that God makes us all wish to be saved (De corrept. et grat. c. 15); and once more, that it means that no one can be saved except those whom God willed! (Enchirid. id. l.c.) See Gieseler, H. E. i. 383.

*(15) Heb ii. 14.

*(16) Heb. ii. 9, leg. cwri s Qeou.

Are we, at one wave of the want of an Augustine or a Calvin, to lose nine-tenths of the significance of all these texts, and multitudes more, in the interests of some formal system of theology, half Manichaean in its origin, and wholly dualistic in its results? If it be granted — as I do grant — that not even these texts, manifold as they are, and clear and unlimited as they seem to be, are to be taken in absolute literalism, are they, on the other hand, to be narrowed into perfect consistence with the "decretum horribile"? Let those who write in tones of positive hatred against us to whom God has mercifully granted the possibility of embracing a hope somewhat wider than Calvin dreamt of — let them beware lest they tear out of the Bible, which they profess to defend, the precious truths which constitute its very heart. Let them meditate over the question, "Will ye speak wickedly for God? or talk deceitfully for Him?"*(1) Let them remember that of the three things which God requires of them one is "to love mercy." Let them learn from one of the sternest epistles in the Bible that the Wisdom which is from above is "full of mercy,"*(2) and that "he shall have judgment without mercy that hath showed no mercy"; and that "mercy boasteth over ( kata-kaucatai ) judgment."

*(1) Job. xiii. 7.

*(2) James iii. 17. This verse furnishes one of the hundreds of distortions of which a conventional exegesis is guilty. The meaning given to the verse, "The wisdom which is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, and easy to be entreated…" is that "orthodoxy" must exist (for this is their perversion of the word "pure") before there can be any pity. The verse has no such meaning. The Bible does not lend itself quite so easily to the manipulations of the odium theologicum. "Omnes omnium caritates complexa est Ecclesia" is not true, either of the sects or of the parties.

For indeed revelations of the will of God cut at the very root of the false philosophy and falser theology which, apart from the mere necessities of anthropomorphic expression make justice and mercy two things and not one, as though God's Being and His Eternity would be rent asunder by opposing forces in eternal collision. They are a still stronger refutation of the dark error which makes justice and not love (humanly speaking) the basis of the character of God. God is just; Scripture nowhere says God is justice; it does say God is love. Because He is love, and not mere inexorable justice, He will not deal with us after our sins, neither reward us according to our iniquities. Love is not like some white lily lying on a dark expanse of justice; no mere "flower hung upon a pillar cold and dark as stone." Love is the principle, not the palliative. "Mercy is the only true justice. Justice is but the severe form of mercy." "Mercy boasteth over judgment." "Unto Thee, O Lord, belongeth mercy, for Thou renderest unto every man according to his works."

But — since many delight to press the most rigid and literal meaning of every expression of threatening, while they evaporate at a touch all the promises of infinite mercy — what do they make of the many passages for which the advocates of conditional immortality claim also a literal interpretation? I say, unquestioningly and unhesitatingly, that all the passages adduced, and thus interpreted, by Mr. White, Mr. Minton, Mr. R. W. Dale, and other able and thoughtful Christians, furnish a far stronger proof of the ultimate annihilation of the wicked than the "upwards of a hundred texts" of Bishop Horbery furnish of the mediaeval and Calvinistic hell-based, as most of Bishop Horbery's texts are, on an exploded and untenable method of exegesis, and many of them as completely irrelevant to the subject as it is possible to conceive. I do not accept the doctrine of "conditional immortality," but its supporters at least have furnished an impregnable bulwark against the necessity for any man to believe in the hell of Tertullian, or Dante, or modern revivalists. If all these wise and faithful inquirers can offer such a mass of Scriptural phraseology in favour of the extinction of being for all hopeless sinners*(1), they too must be Scripturally dealt with before any of us can be bidden to accept the belief of endless tortures in material flames. For the silence of annihilation is a very opposite thing from — and a thing infinitely preferable to — the interminableness of conscious anguish. Once again, I do not accept their views; but I do say that if the argument is to be confined to the literal acceptance of certain expressions of Scripture, unchecked by its general drift, it seems to me that they have incomparably the stronger weight of evidence on their side. They defeat their opponents on their own premisses, and absolutely demolish them with their own weapons. Their arguments are only powerless against those whose premisses are different, and whose weapons are gorged in what they deem to be more heavenly armouries than those of literalism and system.*(2)

*(1) Ps. xxxvii. 10, 20, 36; xcii. 7; cxlv. 20; Obad. 16; Mal. iv. 1-3; Matt. xiii. 30, 48; 49; xxi. 41, 44; I Thess. V. 3; 2 Thess. I. 9; Heb. ii. 14; Rev. xx. 11-15; xxi. 4, 5, 8, &c.

*(2) What are the facts? The "death," "destruction," "loss," &c., of wicked souls is spoken of in the New Testament fifty-six times; the "life" of the soul generally, forty-eight times; its "aeonian life," or what implies it, fifty times; its "loss," or "salvation," without a hint of duration, seven times; and there are but two or three passages at the outside which can be reasonably quoted in favour of endless torments.

And again, what do traditionalists make of all those texts — neither few nor indistinct — which, on the face of them, apart from all kinds of parings down and explainings away in the interests of scholastic theology — seem so plainly to point to a restitution of all things?

Is there to be a restitution of all things? If not, why did St. Peter speak of it?*(1) If so, is it compatible with the belief of a prison full of the maddened and shrieking torments of myriads of the lost? And if there is not to be a restitution, what is the meaning of all the passages in which St. Paul tells us that it is God's good pleasure "to gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven, and which are on earth"*(2); that God highly exalted Christ, "that in the name of Jesus every knee should bow of things in heaven, and things on earth, and things under earth"*(3); that "it hath pleased the Father by Him to reconcile all things unto Himself, by Him, I say, whether they be things in earth or things in heaven"*(4); that Christ must reign till he have put down — caused to cease, made void ( katar-ghsh ) — all rule and all authority and power, and sent forth judgment unto victory, and swallowed up death in victory*(5); that "the whole creation," "every creature," is waiting for the redemption of our body, and shall be delivered from bondage of corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God"*(6); that at the end, when all things have been subjected to Christ, the Son also Himself shall be subject unto Him that put all things under Him, that God may be all in all — omnia in omnibus — all things in all things, and therefore in all men? Is it not a mere paltering with words in a double sense to assert that these many forms of universal expression merely imply unrealized possibilities, not actual facts? or that "all" is to be watered down into a mere handful of the elect?

*(1) Acts iii. 21.

*(2) Eph. i. 10.

*(3) Phil. ii. 10.

*(4) Col. i. 19, 20. Writing on this verse Keble says, speaking of "the whole creation": -

"The God who hallowed thee, and blest,

Pronouncing thee all good —

Hath He not all thy wrongs redrest,

And all thy bliss renewed?

See the whole of his poem for the Fourth Sunday after Trinity .

*(5) I Cor. xv. 24, 25; Matt. xii. 20.

*(6) Rom. viii. 19-24

I urge the question. Are all these passages — even if we do not wish to press them into the dogmatic assertions of Universalism — are they to go for nothing? Is this the ultimate universality of God's blessed Immanence in all things, which Scripture thus expressly, emphatically, and repeatedly asserts, to be some abstract thing which is to mean nothing to agonizing millions of countless generations of mankind?

Is Bishop Horbery, or some similar exegete, with his entirely obsolete misinterpretations "of more than a hundred texts," to stand by and say that, as far as the mass of mankind is concerned, all this still means an endless and blaspheming hell? So long as such a place exists how can it be true that everything accursed shall exist no longer ( pan kataqema ouk estai eti )*(1)? or that every created thing ( pan ktisma ) shall join in praising the Lamb for ages of ages*(2)? Is an endless hell of the kind which he describes consistent with that new heaven and new earth where — the lake of fire, which is represented as being on the old earth, having obviously ceased to exist — "there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain; for the former things are passed away"?*(3)

*(1) Rev. xxii. 3.

*(2) Rev. v. 13.

*(3) Rev. xxi. 4. The allusion to the lake of fire must be retrospective; otherwise [1] either this passage, taken in its natural sense, would be wholly irreconcilable with it, or [2] it must be implied that the fearful, &c., have been annihilated, or [3], that the "part" they once had in that "second death" is ended. Apocalyptic symbols cannot be built into theological arguments, but they do not all look one way.

And what is to become of the elaborate general argument of long passages in St. Paul, of which the whole drift is directly in antagonism to the current view? For the current view is that, after all, Satan is the great victor; that he is to possess the multitude of human souls; that those prodigals whom, up to the instant of death, God has loved so dearly here are, after that instant, to "roar, curse, and blaspheme God" in inextinguishable flames for the countless ages of eternity. When St. Paul says that, "As in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive"*(1); is the explanation of this verse to be in the very teeth of the argument which has been trumpeted as unanswerable for ten centuries, from St. Augustine to Dr. Pusey, that "eternal" (misinterpreted into "endless") must mean the same thing of "punishment" as it does of "life"? Or is the "making alive" of which St. Paul speaks in this paean of victory over Death, the last enemy of mankind, to be made a paean in honour of endless torments for all but the elect few? And when he says that "God hath concluded them all in unbelief, that He might have mercy upon all"*(2), by what subterfuge of African or Genevan theology is that second "all" to be evacuated of its fuller meaning by literalists who elsewhere talk about plain words? Let any honest and humble-minded man read the Fifth Chapter of the Epistle to the Romans, and then let him look up to Heaven and say, "On my principles of Biblical interpretation all this argument — and its central axiom is the blessed statement that 'where sin abounded, grace did much more abound,' — is perfectly consistent with the Manichaean dogma that only the few will be saved." I ask again, as the Rev. J. Ll. Davies asked years ago, "Will any one contend that the Pauline conception would be satisfied by the endless existence of the majority of the human race in misery and sin? Has Christ subdued those who gnash their teeth at Him because He makes them suffer? Is this the working whereby He is able to subdue even all things to Himself? Will God be all in all when vast multitudes of His creatures are in impotent but absolute rebellion against Him?"

*(1) I Cor. xv. 22.

*(2) Rom. xi. 32.

_____________________

I will now consider generally the texts on which those rely who still cling to the mediaeval conceptions which I have repudiated and which (it is needless to add) the Church has never laid down for our belief. But even before I look at them, the mass of evidence with which the previous pages are weighted should be sufficient to show that, so far as these texts are used to support the popular view, they must be interpreted with the extremest caution. They are few in number, and when the false meaning attached to the Greek adjective on which their cogency is supposed to depend is swept away, there is not one among them all which decisively teaches the doctrine of endless torments in the form in which it is popularly held.

Had our Blessed Lord so taught, for me, at any rate, the question would have been absolutely at an end; I should at once have accepted it at His lips, and bowed my head in anguish at the doom of miserable man. Had He so taught, the teaching would be accepted by faithful Christians, even if it seemed to the natural conscience of mankind irreconcilably alien from all His other teaching. But the only question is as to the interpretation of His words; and I have already adduced overwhelming evidence to show that His words have been misinterpreted by the perversion and mistranslation of the terms which He employed.

And if the doctrine of "endless torment for the vast majority in material flames" be not in His words it is not in the words of any of His disciples. Some at least of those disciples would too well remember the stern rebuke which they received from Him when they wished to call down in His name so much as one mere flash of earthly fire.

But how strong is the a' priori argument against the common view of His meaning which at once results from the all but total reticence of the Old Testament, in which there is not so much as one single text from which that doctrine can find any support except by the use of methods which may deceive the ignorant, but which every honest theologian ought by this time to despise!

And how far stronger an argument against the common error as to our Lord's meaning arises form the all but total reticence of the Apostles.

There are four chief Apostles — St. Paul, St. Peter, St. James, St. John, and in the writings of all four — excluding for the moment the disputed symbols of the Apocalypse — there is not one word which teaches us the endless misery of any, much less of the majority of mankind. Yet how worse than cruel would such reticence have been in men who professed to teach "the whole counsel of God," if indeed the common view formed any part of that counsel?

a. St. Paul's Epistles comprise the greater part of the New Testament. Again and again in those Epistles passages and arguments occur where the whole nature of the subject would at once have led to some expression of this doctrine, if indeed it had been an essential of the Christian faith.*(1) Yet in all these passages, at the very moment at which we should have expected the doctrine to be introduced, we find it is in a marked manner avoided, and some different turn given to the sentence. St. Paul would not say what he did not know. In all St. Paul's thirteen epistles there is but one passage, and that in almost his earliest letter,*(2) which any one who understands the meaning of words can even pretend to offer in proof of this dogma; and that passage, as we shall see, bears no such meaning. What St. Paul said was, that if God had shut up all in unbelief it was that He might have mercy upon all. He had learnt from his childhood that He who "visited the sins of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generations of them that hate Him," is also He who showeth mercy unto "thousands and thousands of generations" of them that love Him and keep His commandments. It was hardly likely the New Gospel should shrink but into a rill of mercy, where even the Old Law was as a river; nay, if the Old was as a river, the New was as an illimitable sea. In Adam all had died; in Christ all should be made alive. Where sin had abounded, grace had superabounded there.*(3)

*(1) See, for instance, Rom. ii. 8,9; v. 21; vi. 23; Gal. v. 21; vi. 8, Phil. iii. 18, 19.

*(2) 2 Thess. i. 9.

*(3) Rom. v. 15, 20.

b. Nor is this reticence less marked in St. Peter, the Apostle of the Circumcision. In his first and undoubtedly genuine epistle, there is not a word about endless torment. If the second epistle be his, not even there, not even in the terrible imagery of the second chapter, is there one word as to the endless misery of the lost.

g. Nor is it otherwise with "James, the Lord's brother." Stern as he is in all his moral judgments, stern as he is in his tone of denunciation, he does not utter one syllable which can be interpreted to imply the common doctrine of "endless torments."

d. Nor is it otherwise with the doctrinal writings of St. John. It is, as I have said, a common remark of modern conventionality, that those who lean to the side of hope in dwelling on the future of the mass of mankind have never appreciated the "awful malignity" of sin. Like many such remarks, it is hardly worth refuting. Supposing a child told a lie, or stole a shilling, and a father punished it, - punished it with severity: which should we consider the wiser and nobler father, he who had so trained his child, and won his love, that the worst punishment of all would be the child's sense that he was grieved, or he who needed to apply the scourge? Now if a father chastised his child for such an offence, no one would call him unjust. But if he scourged the child day by day, and tortured him with implacable severity, is there any good man who would not think the father a viler offender than the child? And would the father be justified in saying to those who rebuked him that they were creatures of loose morality and easy conscience, who did not realize the awful malignity of theft or lying? If any one were to argue that sin deserves no retribution — no future retribution — no terrible retribution — no retribution which must continue as long as the sinful state continues — the sickly theological commonplace that he could have "no due feeling of the heinousness of sin" might have some sense in it, and some charity. But to apply it to men who have spent their lives in trying to wean their fellows from sin, and who have again and again uttered the most solemn warnings against it, can be accounted nothing better than idle talk. One saint of God in this generation — one of whom a friend said that "whenever he thought of God the thought of Thomas Erskine was not far away" — was the one man who had embraced more fully than all others a belief in the final restoration of all mankind. This belief was the very heart and center of his religious life; - and of him it was testified by one who did not share his views that "No man I ever knew had a deeper sense of the exceeding evil of sin, and of the Divine necessity that sin must be always misery. His universalistic views did not in any way relax his profound sense of God's abhorrence of sin."*(1)

*(1) Principal Shairp.

St. Augustine, the great repertory of arguments on this subject, which are alike doctrinally, morally, and exegetically false, is ready with what I am reluctantly compelled to call his deplorable sophism that a "sin against an infinite being must deserve an infinite punishment."*(1) It is difficult to treat such an argument without scorn. As far as logic is concerned, there is about as much logic in it (as has been rightly said) as would be involved in the assertion that if the fourth word of one clause is the word "infinite," the fourth word of the next clause must be the word "infinite" also. It has no more cogency as an argument than the line has which asserts that —

"Who drives fat oxen must himself be fat."

*(1) He is followed, as usual, by St. Thomas Aquinas. "Unde cum non posit esse infinita poena per intensionem, requiritur ut sit saltem (!) duratione infinitia.

If one did not disdain the mere playing with words which have no ascertainable significance, it would be far truer to say that "finite beings can only commit finite sins," or that "infinite strength can never wreak insatiable vengeance upon infinite weakness." But morally, and in another point of view, the Augustinian sophism bears an even worse aspect. It asserts, in direct contradiction to the repeated teaching of Scripture, that the necessity for vengeance is great in proportion to the greatness of Him against whom we offend. It would apply equally to the smallest peccadilio of a little child and to the most brutal act of a deliberate assassin. Will any one pretend that this was the view of the Lord Jesus, who prayed for all His murderers — prayed to His Father for their forgiveness — at the very moment that He was being nailed by them to the cross? Or will any utter the blasphemy that His prayer arose from a deficient estimate of the heinousness of sin?

This no doubt was the very thing which the Pharisees might have said of Him, and did say. They made their "I am holier than thou," heard on every side, and applied to it Christ Himself, mainly because He was always merciful. They were always exclaiming against Him, lifting up their hands, turning up their eyes in scandalized astonishment. "This man eateth and drinketh with publicans and sinners." "This man blasphemeth." "We know that this man is a sinner." It is not pity but hardness, it is not purity but impurity, it is not pure and peaceable religion but proud and Pharisaic religionism, which says of those who plead for the love of God that they are inclined to heresy, and show a deficient estimate of sin. The saintliest are the most tender. The justest and the purest men and women are not those who have on their lips the perpetual damnamus or the reiterated anathema. No, the saintliest are the most merciful. Finite purism often means fastidiousness, separation and self-conceit. Purity when it becomes infinite becomes redemptive. Finite purity is content to be pure. Infinite purity is purifying also. It is the direct cause of infinite pity. "It longs and yearns; it waits and prays and strives; it soothes, and when need is, it burns; it has colour, and soul, and life." The more our pity is "human to the red-ripe of the heart," the more akin is it to the Divine. It says "For a small moment have I forsaken thee, but with great mercies will I gather thee. In a little wrath I hid my face form thee for a moment, but with everlasting kindness will I have mercy upon thee, saith the Lord thy Redeemer."

Yes, "Mercy boasteth over Judgment"; but justice repudiates, even more indignantly than mercy, the traditionalist and Calvinistic hell. It was God who called man out of the clay; and if the honest and unsophisticated conscience of any man — be he saint, like Origen or Thomas Erskine, or be he sinner — be asked whether it is just that the sins against which he may long have vainly struggled, and which have already overwhelmed his life with a sense of remorse, defeat, and misery, should be visited with an everlasting spasm of martyrdom such as men have said that hell is, - the general verdict of the human heart — in its open denial — in its secret recoil — answers No! "Eternal pain," says Augustine, "seems harsh and unjust to human sense." "With the majority of men of the world," says Bishop Butler, - who certainly did not accept the doctrine of hell in its popular form — "this doctrine seems, when they think at all about it, monstrous, disproportioned, impossible." If God were to ask the verdict of the creatures He has made as to whether the decree to endless torments was a just punishment for the sins of a short life, man, with one voice — if he spoke the truth — would say that to his instincts and to his conscience it did not seem to be so. The reason why the heart of many of the best men who ever lived, and are living now, is rejecting these "horrible decrees," is because they know that God is justice, and that the Judge of all the earth will do right. Pain as hopeless and excruciating after the countless ages as when the first groan for it was uttered will never seem to man a just punishment for the sins of a life enmeshed with temptation, or for the stumbling in a path which is full of gins. The revolt of man's heart against such teachings will drive him into despair and infidelity, and provoke the well-known but too-daring words of Omar Khayyam. Such words applied to the God who is our God and shall be our guide unto death would indeed be blasphemous even on the lips of a Mohammedan; but applied to such a God as has been set forth by the fierce blindness of human ignorance are such as He would Himself approve.

Now St. John speaks in a tone of awful moral severity, yet in his Gospel and Epistles he does not use one word which can be interpreted to imply endless torment. Had he then a deficient view of the malignity of sin?

Facts like these may be ignored —j they who utter them may be censured, as all men have been who have endeavoured to convince a multitude that their blindness is not sight; but long after we are in our graves they will prevail with the force of truth, and the best thing which we can hope for some of those who now so bitterly assail them is that in those days their writings may have been consigned to a merciful oblivion; that their thoughts may not survive to furnish proofs of the aberrations of scholastic theology, and to alienate mankind from accepting the Gospel of the love of God.

____________________________

But, after this general survey, I will proceed to examine more closely what I have here stated in the form of general facts.

The Old Testament is the library and the literature of the chosen people. Its books from Moses to Ezra cover the space of fifteen hundred years. I contains the special revelations of God to man during that millennium and a half of the history of Israel, and it contains the records of all His previous revelations back to the very creation of the world. In the Old Testament, therefore, we have all which constitutes the peculiar message of God to man during some four millenniums of human history. Now it is not pretended by any one that the Jews or the Pagans of those ages were less immortal than we, or that their future was a different one from ours. And if so, surely the popular doctrine of hell, were it a true one, was one which, on the repeated assertions of its advocates, it infinitely imported for man to know. And it would indeed have required very explicit teaching — teaching infinitely stronger than the attempt to put a new and literal meaning into a Hebrew phrase which simply implied "the hidden" and "the indefinite," — to enforce upon Jews the notion that "endless torments for the vast majority" was the decree of Him who bade them be kind to the little birds; and not to seethe the kid in its mother's milk; and to break the Sabbath rest for the sake of their thirsty cattle; and to give anaesthetics to dull the death-pangs of doomed criminals. To hear the common talk about souls daily passing by thousands into hell, we might conclude that nothing is so dangerous or so wicked as to conceal the doctrine of "endless torments," or not to dwell upon it in the strongest terms that human tongue can utter. Any concealment of it, any mitigation of it, can only spring, it has been said, from unhappily deficient views of the heinousness of sin; and can only tend to a shipwreck of all virtue by relaxing the tense strain of human terrors. To St. Augustine and his school it was the fear of hell which was believed to people heaven! Surely this is the very cynicism of theology. If this be true, let us canonize La Rochefoucauld, who always said that it was from religious teachers that he had learnt to look on human virtues as only vices in disguise, and on self-interest as the only motive power of human goodness. But

"Is selfishness

For time a sin — spun out to eternity,

Celestial prudence? Shame!"

And yet it is assumed that man could not be really actuated by any principle short of such selfishness. Preachers have said, again and again, that if there be no endless hell, such as they conceive and represent, it would not be worth any man's while to preach at all. Rob them of their pictures of future horror, and they seem to have no lever left wherewith to move mankind! Strange that for four thousand years the Most High by His servants — while He ever pointed out the natural consequences of sin — revealed no such terror, appealed to no such motives! In all those books of the Old Testament there are but four texts which, even by stretching them on the rack of an impossible exegesis, can be made even to seem to bear witness to the Augustinian, mediaeval, and modern views of hell. Neither Moses, nor Samuel, nor Elijah, nor Elisha, nor the writers of the historical books, or Ezra, nor Nehemiah, nor the Sweet Psalmist of Israel, nor fourteen out of the sixteen Prophets have one word to say which, even when they speak of retribution, can by the most violent and unreasonable methods be made to say a word about endless torments. — And the popular theology, which is declared to be so potent, is, on the contrary, so wholly inefficacious, that it has been taught for centuries with this result, that it is unhappily the standing jest alike of the ablest and of the coarsest of those who would be assumed to need it most as an element of terror.

But further, out of these four texts in the whole Old Testament which can alone be forced by any competent critic into the service of Calvinistic eschatology, three are so absolutely irrelevant that to adduce them at all can only prove how feeble are the weapons which can be snatched up for misuse by a despairing cause.

I. Perhaps the most frequently quoted, or rather misquoted, is Eccl. xi. 3: "If the tree fall toward the south or toward the north, in the place where the tree falleth, there it shall be."

Again and again, even in recent articles on eschatology, this text is adduced as though it were decisive as to the endless doom which awaits the sinner at the moment of death!

I do not think it an exaggeration to say that hundreds of texts of Scripture are constantly quoted in senses quite different from their true meaning; - but there is hardly any instance of the use of a text more glaringly irrelevant than this to the purpose to which it is applied. A doctrine of deepest import — a doctrine which cannot be proved by any other passage in all Scripture — the awful doctrine that each soul, at the instant of death, enters into a final and irreversible condition, is here made to depend on the description of an every-day fact in a passage which does not so much as refer to the future life at all! No one (except in ignorance) can quote this text without showing once more the recklessness with which words are torn from their context to be misapplied to objects which were not in the most distant degree in the mind of the writer. Such a misuse furnishes a remarkable illustration of "the everwidening spiral ergo out of the narrow aperture of single texts."

Let us for a moment go on the false assumption that there is any allusion here to the future life; even then the text has no bearing on the popular notions of "hell." It says not a word as to the nature or duration of the doom; as to any possible close of it by the extinction of being; as to its possible mitigations; as to its being a doom which included its own terminability. It is but a metaphor at the best, and certainly two other passages about fallen trees in the Old Testament are singularly the reverse of hopeless. One of these, Is. vi. 13, - in which unhappily our version gives no sense — says that "as the terebinth and the oak, though cut down, have their stock remaining, so a holy seed shall be the stock of the felled tree of the nations's glory"; and that promise has light thrown upon it afterwards by the prophecy that there shall be a "rod out of the stock of Jess, and a branch shall grow out of his roots."

The other passage about a fallen tree is in Dan. iv. 23, 16.

"Whereas the king saw a watcher and an holy one coming down from heaven, and saying, Hew the tree down, and destroy it; yet leave the stump of the roots thereof in the earth, even with a band of iron and brass, in the tender grass of the field; and let it be wet with the dew of heaven. This is the interpretation, O king, whereas they commanded to leave the stump of the tree roots; thy kingdom shall be sure unto thee, after that thou shalt have known that the heavens do rule."

So that even if we had no New Testament — even if this verse had the remotest reference to the future life — even if we might not hope, as has been said, that "He who was called 'the Carpenter' (Mark vi. 3) would still have much to say to the felled and fallen tree," hopelessness and the finality of misery would, on Scripture analogy, be very far indeed from the significance of this verse.

But the verse has nothing to do with the subject. It is nothing but a wise warning against over-anxiety. Do your work, and leave the issues with God. The summary of the six verses to which it belongs is simply, be not

"Over exquisite

To cast the fashion of uncertain evils."

The tree will fall to south or north as God wills; simply do thou thy work. Be kind to all, and leave the result to God. We are to be kind and good whatever comes of it, remembering that we are not responsible for events beyond our control.

And the truth thus illustrated accords with the context however we translate the verse. Abn Ezra thinks that the word "tree" should be here taken in the sense of "fruit of the tree"; in which case it would mean, "let thy good deeds be like ripe fruit which is gathered wherever it falls." Others, as Rosenmuller, make it mean, "Do good to men here, for the opportunity of doing so will cease at death." Others think that there is an allusion to the falling staff of the augur in some form of belomancy. But whatever special interpretation be adopted, it is astonishing, and it is sad, that the verse should be so habitually and so inexcusably wrested from its own proper meaning to one from which it is so completely alien.

2. Another passage, wrested to bear on the future of the lost, is Is. xxxiii. 14, which in the English version runs as follows: -

"The sinners in Zion are afraid; fearfulness hath surprised the hypocrites. Who among us shall dwell with the devouring fire? who among us shall dwell with everlasting burnings?"

This text, as it was triumphantly referred to by Jonathan Edwards, will, I suppose, continue to be misapplied for years to come. And yet to apply it to future punishment is an inexcusable perversion. The Prophet has been threatening the horrors of the Assyrian invasion. With the prophetic eye he sees the march of the advancing enemy, and describes the scathing desolation wrought by fire and sword. Then he announces that judgments shall fall on the Assyrians also, and he imagines the sinners and hypocrites exclaiming in terror, "Which among us can abide this consuming fire? Which among us can abide these perpetual conflagrations?"*(1) And he answers, "Those can abide them who are not sinners and hypocrites like you." The words refer exclusively to temporal judgments, and to the Assyrian invader. To draw an argument from them in favour of "endless torments" is to argue in a way which can only end by bringing the whole Bible into contempt. It is to make of the Bible a mere nasus cereus*(2) to be twisted into any semblance which suits us best.

*(1) Bishop Lowth's translation. Mr. Cheyne's paraphrase is, "Which of us is destined to be tormented with the Assyrian?" — Isaiah, p. 97 (first edition). Hitzig supposed that the special "fire" alluded to is the burning of the plague. Even if it be supposed to be a picture of God Himself as a consuming fire, the reference to earthly judgment continues. The Targum has, "Who of us shall dwell in Zion, where the brightness of His Shechinah is a devouring fire?" (Comp. Ps. xv. I, Ez. xx. 17.)

*(2) Bellarmine taunted Protestant exegetes (De Verbo Dei, iii. I, 2) with making of the Bible a sword which could be thrust into any scabbard.

3. Another passage is Is. lxvi. 24.

"And they shall go forth, and look upon the carcases of the men who have rebelled [comp. i. 2] against Me; for their worm shall not die, neither shall their fire be quenched; and they shall be an abhorring to all flesh."

To apply this passage to endless torments is again to ignore every principle which centuries of Biblical study have taught us, and to put us back to the crude and impossible methods of ten centuries ago. The verse, once more, has not the remotest reference to that "damnation of the wicked" to which the heading of the chapter — unfortunate and misleading in this as in so many instances — refers it. The Prophet is speaking of Jerusalem and its future peace, and of the vengeance that shall fall on idolaters and apostates who eat swine's flesh and other abominations; and the nations shall come to Zion with offerings, and shall worship at the new moons and Sabbaths, and shall go forth and look on the abhorrent valley, where they rot or burn the dead corpses of those that have rebelled against God.*(1) What is there of endlessness or of torment here? To give it such an explanation is to read Isaiah as if he were writing in the style of Thomas Aquinas, and to turn Semitic passion into theological prose. Even if, in dull violation of all the laws of Eastern idiom and poetry, we were to be so unreasonable as to understand literal worms that literally do not die, and fires literally unquenchable — a proceeding that nothing could excuse but a sort of idolatry of words and syllables — how can carcases, dead corpses,*(2) — feel the gnawing of the worm, or the burning of the flame? Are we to torture the text into a doctrine of horror by understanding metaphorically the word which is obviously literal, and by understanding literally (so far as it suits us) the expressions which are obviously metaphorical?*(3) The poet in his burning patriotism is only depicting in bold imagery the triumph of his people, and the special mention of new moons and sabbaths, and pilgrimages to a spot outside Jerusalem, as well as the fact that he is speaking of dead corpses, should alone have suffices to rescue his passionate metaphors from being abused into an endless eschatology.

*(1) The vision is strictly analogous to that of Ezek. xxxix. 11-16. Gog — the heathen world — gathers himself against Israel. He and his multitude are overthrown by a Divine judgment on the east of the Dead Sea. All Israelites go forth to bury them, their arms and chariots, and occupy seven months in burying them in Hamon-gog, that they may cleanse the land. Comp. Joel iii. 12, Zech. xiv. 12. Why is Isaiah's language to be taken literally, and Ezekiel's not?

*(2) Pegarim, as in 2 Kings xix. 35.

*(3) This is the method of the valueless post-Christian forgery of Jewish hatred — the Book of Judith, "the vengeance of the ungodly is fire and worms, and they shall feel them and weep for ever"; but even this "for ever" is only ew s aiwno s , and has therefore no connexion with abstract endlessness.

4. The fourth and sole remaining passage is Dan. xii. 2. "And many of them that sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and 'everlasting' contempt."

There is more prima facie excuse for trying to force this passage into the controversy; and yet the whole bearing of it on the argument literally crumbles to pieces the moment it is examined.

In the first place the translation of the verse is far too uncertain to be relied upon.

Abn Ezra renders it: "Those who awake shall be (appointed) to eternal (aeonian) life, and those who awake not shall be (appointed) to shame and eternal (aeonian) contempt."*(1)

*(1) See White, Life in Christ, p. 171; Weill, Le Judaisme, iv. Dogm. xiii. Ch. iii. I.

Similarly Tegelles: "And many from among the sleepers of the dust shall awake, these shall be unto everlasting (aeonian) life, but those (i.e. who do not awake), shall be unto shame and everlasting (aeonian) contempt."

It is difficult to see the particular crisis of which the seer is speaking, but in any case, whether these versions be correct or not, nothing can be more distant from the passage than a notion of endless torments. For "the shame and contempt," — of which the latter word is the same as the "abhorring" of Is. lxvi. 24 — is that which attaches to the memory of those who themselves sleep in the dust and do not awake. Hence this passage was explained by the most eminent Rabbis to mean "death and immobility."*(1)

*(1) Weill, Le Judaisme, iv. Pp. 565, 590. Rabbi Saadjah says, "The meaning is, that for Israelites the resurrection constitutes eternal life, and that for non-Israelites the eternal shame consists in the non-resurrection which is their lot."

What then is the result of our examination of the Old Testament? It is that there are only four passages which, by any pretence or perversion, can be made to imply the everlasting misery of the lost; and these passages are found on examination and in the opinion of the best critics, to have not the least relevancy. It would be strange in any case if the warnings of this frightful doom, vouch-safed to generations of sinful men, were to be found in three disputed texts of two late Prophets; it is stranger still when we find these texts to be altogether beside the mark. May we not ask with Mr. White, though his view of these texts differs from mine, "Is this the method of the Divine Government? Is there not here rather the method of theologizing handed down to us by men of the fourth century, who knew little of Scripture, little of history, and still less of God the Righteous and the Merciful."*(1)

*(1) Life in Christ, p. 172.

*** END OF CHAPTER XIV ***

 

 

ch. 1 ch. 2 ch. 3 ch. 4 ch. 5 ch. 6 ch. 7 ch. 8 ch. 9 pt. 1 ch. pt. 2 ch. 10 ch. 11 ch. 12 ch. 13 ch. 14

ch. 15 ch. 16 Last Page of Mercy and Judgment


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