Excerpt from “Unveiled Glory”

by Hannah Hurnard

The things which I see now are so astonishingly and blessedly unlike some of my earlier conceptions of certain truths, and the revolution has been so great in heart and soul and mind, and is the outcome of such a long and hidden process, that it really seems necessary to give some explanation of how such a revolution came about.

The first clear link in this chain of events goes back to a certain night during the years of terrorism in Palestine…Those were perilous times…here was this poor Moslem woman desperately needing medical help and we decided to break curfew, steal away under cover of darkness and try to get through to the Mission Hospital away on the hills of Nazareth, trusting that we would meet none of the marauding gangs…

It was a strange, tense drive…As the moon at last rose over the great shoulder of Mount Tabor, the woman became unconscious…We went rushing as speedily as possible up the hairpin bends of the hills, until, at last, we reached the Mission Hospital. Then, just as the stretcher bearers gently carried the unconscious woman into the operating theatre, she died.

That night, alone in my room at the hospital, as I thought of the desperate drive which had been all in vain, I found myself confronted for the first time in my life by a question which I had never fully faced up to before.

What happens after death to those who never in their lifetime have had the opportunity to hear the Gospel and who die knowing nothing at all about the Saviour?

Here was this young Moslem woman, not more than twenty years old, whom we had tried desperately to save from death. She had never heard the Gospel and we hoped that she might have the chance to hear it in the Mission Hospital. Now she had died. What was happening to her?

The teaching upon this matter in which I had been brought up was most emphatic. All such were lost—lost eternally. For there could be no chance anywhere nor at any time except during this life on earth, to hear the Gospel. That was why it was so supremely important that there should be missionaries who would go to the ends of the earth to make known “to every creature” the Good News, the glorious news of the Loving Savior who died for everyone; the message of the One true God, “Who so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son that whosoever believeth on Him should not perish but have everlasting life”—

Unless, alas, they were born and lived where they never had the chance to hear about Him and so could not believe on Him—

A God and Savior, in fact, who was all love and forgiveness and willing to receive the worst and most ignorant sinner until the very last flicker of their breath and earthly consciousness, but Who, one moment after they died, would turn away—for ever turn away—saying sadly, “Too late. There is no further chance now. I can no longer undertake to save this lost soul for whom I died.”

When I got to that point in my thoughts, alone there in the hospital room, and thought of how I myself had been so infinitely privileged and blessed to be born in into a Christian home in a Christian land, I looked up into the face of the Lord who so loved me and that Moslem woman also, I remembered that He had died for us both, and I said to Him:

“Lord, help me to understand. Have you really ceased to love this ignorant Moslem woman, my sister human being, and yet so terribly less privileged than myself? Can you really do nothing for her now? We had no chance to tell her even one word about You. Does this mean that she really must go out into the darkness and be lost forever and ever? Then, Lord why did you let her be born, and all the countless other billions of ignorant men and women and children around the world in all ages, who never heard the Gospel? They began by being “lost,” and end up being “lost eternally…”

Then it seemed to me that very gently and quietly the Lord about Whom I had supposed that I must believe such things, said:

“Hannah, when you were driving that poor ignorant woman to the hospital, you were absolutely certain that I Myself was with you, and that My love and pity and compassion were encompassing you all. Then can you really believe that one moment after she died, I, Who had constrained you to risk the snipers and the raiders, then withdrew from her my My compassion and My love and My power to save her? Must you not think that I who was with you, although unseen, would be the very first One whom that poor ignorant soul would see when she left the body? And that she, who never heard of Me while she was living on the earth, would find Me close beside her, offering her the love and forgiveness and the “Good News” of the Gospel which she had never had the chance to hear?”

“Lord,” I whispered, “It does not say so in the Bible, but just the opposite. It says that she and those like her, are lost—are lost forever.”

“It does not say so in the Bible!” said the Good Shepherd of the sheep. “Why, Hannah, have you never read of the Shepherd Who goeth after the sheep until He find it?” (Luke 15:4)…Trust that woman on whom you had compassion enough to risk that drive, trust her to ME…I have such love for her that I went to the cross for her.”

Next morning…I watched the young husband and the mourners carry away the pitiful, blanket wrapped figure, to lay it, just as it was, in the grave, I found all my questioning sorrow turned into joy and thankfulness. For what we have been unable to tell her while she lay unconscious in the car, and what she never lived to hear at the hospital, I was sure that she now heard some way from the lips of the One who was Himself her Creator, her Lover and her Redeemer. I thought with a new and lovely understanding of the poor beggar Lazarus…

From that night I laid aside…with adoring thankfulness, the conception of a God Who so loved fallen sinners that He died for then, but Who, if they never heard about Him, allowed them to “perish” and be tormented in hell and to be separated from him for ever.

But I kept silent about the matter because, when on occasions I tried to tell some of my friends about the this experience, they thought that it completely contradicted the Scriptures and that even to suggest such a thing would be dangerous, as it would most likely cut the nerve of missionary effort…Why, they asked should Christ have said, “He that believeth, and is baptized, shall be saved; but he that believeth not, shall be damned.” (Mark 16:16).

I didn’t know the answers to those questions….

That was as far as I could see in those days: just the simple certainty that no soul created by a “Faithful Creator” would be lost eternally, nor sent to an endless hell, because never having heard the Gospel, they had never “believed on the lord Jesus Christ.” …I was brought up in a circle of Christians in which these things were honestly and sincerely believed. And there are many Christians today who still sincerely believe them and fear to give them up because they are so sure that the Scriptures do teach them that it would be disloyal to the Word of God to suggest anything else.

The second link in this “chain of events”, by which gradually the veil was drawn aside in my understanding…I found myself obliged to begin asking many, many questions which, until then, had never occurred to me, but now which took on the most tremendous importance. ..

As I thought and prayed about it, I felt obliged to ask, in all honesty, Are all human beings really free to exercise their free will?

As I thought…it broke upon my understanding in an almost overwhelming way that, though all human beings potentially possess free will, the actual fact is that multitudes of them are born into conditions where they will not be free to exercise that free will because they will be slaves of sin even in childhood. Whereas I, like others, was born into an environment in which it is infinitely easier to choose good and to respond to the Saviour…

Then I began to look up and respond to various passages in the Scriptures which until then I had read quite carelessly and unthinkingly…

It is difficult for me to describe the almost overwhelming impression of astonishment and thankfulness which…(my) discoveries made upon me. You see, all my Christian life I has been taught to suspect the “The universal Fatherhood of God.” No, He was the Father only of such as “Stirred themselves up to call upon Him” in penitence and faith. Not until we are born of the Spirit have we the right, I had always supposed, to call him Father. Yet, here was Isaiah the prophet stating exactly the contrary…

As these things began to take the clearer shape in my mind…I found my heart crying out in anguish:

Why? --why, O God our maker? Why did You ever create human beings in Your own image…How can you allow them to be born, countless millions of them…only for the torments of an endless hell? And worst of all, to be fixed in a state of hopeless evil for ever?

How could the Bible possibly speak of the perfect victory of God our Creator who loves righteousness and cannot bear evil, if that victory really means that He cannot bring His own creatures at last to hate evil as He hates it, but must confirm multitudes, indeed the majority of them, in their choice of evil for ever and ever?

Surely the only thing which perfect Love and perfect Righteousness can consider worthy of the name of victory is to be able to win all to hate and forsake evil, for ever beyond the reach of any temptation to return to it again? What sort of victory is it to be able only to subdue evil and prevent it harming any but those who choose it, and to be unable to bring human souls to abominate it and desire to forsake it, so that the evil itself ceases to exist?...

The clearer these things presented themselves to my mind, the more plainly I saw that any supposed interpretation of the teaching of the Holy Scriptures which taught otherwise must be mistaken interpretations, because they are totally at variance to the revelation of a Holy God who loves righteousness and hates evil, and who only permits its existence temporarily that all creatures may hate it and turn from it for ever.

Then my thoughts turned to all those verses in the Bible…The more I prayed over Romans 9, the more surprised I became!...Isaiah 45:9-12…What does all this mean?...I had always supposed that this verse meant there would be a forced submission to God in the end…But what sort of victory could that be to the Father heart of God?

Then, has God really no loving and redemptive purposes for such immortal souls after they leave their bodies?...If it is almost impossible to get some really zealous and convinced “Conservative Christians” to open their minds even a tiny crack to admit some new aspect of Truth which may have been mislaid in their particular section of the Church, how much harder must it be for non-Christian people to open their minds to receive the Gospel…

As all those questions came surging into my mind…I was continually oppressed with the fear that all this was dreadful heresy and that these were questions which cast suspicion on the verity of the inspired Scriptures. But still, honesty, and love to the Lord and intense longing to know Him better and to be freed from any false distortions of His character, impelled me to go on praying and seeking for light, and asking questions! For does not the Creator who gave us minds, want us to ask questions when once we really begin to see what we are committing ourselves to, when we believe things about God which must be a distortion both of His justice and His love?...

I found that this was the heart of the problem. All the questions really boiled down to one question: Do the inspired Scriptures really teach what I have for so long supposed I must believe? Or had I been believing “traditions of men” which were not true interpretation of the Scriptures themselves? …oh the joy, and relief and inexpressible thankfulness it would be to be free to believe about God the things which alone seemed worthy of Him and in harmony with the lovely revelation of Him given by Jesus Christ…

“Too good to be true!” That is what it really boiled down to…

Oh, how many were the doubts and objections and fears of accepting errors which arise in my mind. And then, one night…I came across a book by William Law…And there I began to find the lovely, liberating answer to the whole question, although all the details of course, were not made plain immediately…

I am now fully persuaded that as God is Love there can be in Him no wrath such as we conceive of wrath, or any possibility that He will condemn His own creatures to unending destruction, but I must still ask, What am I to do with all the passages of Scripture which seem to assert the very contrary?

The Scriptures, of course, do teach that there is a hell…yet there are many other passages which most emphatically state that, in the end, God will completely triumph over evil.

What astonishing questioning this discovery led to…Once it became clear to my mind that none of the passages concerning this matter were to be explained away, but all must be accepted and a higher truth discovered which would reconcile them all, impossible as this seemed, then I made another discovery…I discovered that there is not one single verse in the Scriptures which uses the words “everlasting,” “eternal,” or “for ever and ever” in connection with hell. That is to say, no single verse translated in English by the word hell, referring to Gehenna, Sheol, Hades, or the Pit, or the grave is any word used which even hints that these places or conditions are endless, but there are several which definitely speak of being delivered out of hell. Therefore hell, and Hades (the place of departed spirits) cannot even be assumed to be endless; they must be TEMPORARY…

…if it is clearly stated that in the end, “death and hell” are actually cast into the Lake of Fire for complete destruction, then it is obvious that they must play some vital and important role in preparing for God’s final victory and for the “restitution of all things.”…

…hell must surely be the terrible experience of being allowed to reap the full harvest of sin and its awful fruits of misery, ruin and torment. Holy Love would so thankfully spare every single soul such an experience, but if there is no other way by which men can be brought to hate and abominate sin and to turn from it willingly and for ever, then they will be permitted to reap that awful harvest. Surely all whom Holy Love permits to pass through that appalling experience will learn at last to turn from evil with utmost horror and loathing, safe for ever after from any future temptation to plunge into it again!

It was then, at last, that a veil of seemed drawn away completely from my understanding and I beheld the glory which has been revealed to us by the Lord Jesus Christ in His resurrection from the dead, by which he demonstrated His complete and perfect victory over sin, death and hell and all the works of the Devil. I also began to see what this glorious victory means for the whole body of mankind…

I have looked upon the face of Love Himself, and as a result all my earlier conceptions of the nature and character of God and His purposes for Mankind have been swallowed up. It feels almost as though I have seen a new God altogether, but I know of course, that the real fact is I have seen the True God in a new way—in the face of the Risen Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. As a result, “old things have passed away and all things have become new.” (Hannah Hurnard, Unveiled Glory, pp 5-30)

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