Between 1909 and 1915 a series of ninety essays were commissioned and widely distributed in an attempt to delineate the fundamentals (core truths) of the Christian faith and to refute modernism. Twelve volumes were published in all and two essays within these volumes deal directly with the question of post-mortem punishment.
Unfortunately, these volumes in their original, unedited form are not the most easily accessible. I have taken some time to digitize the relevant essays below. I am indebted to Archive.org which provided the OCR text from which I have manufactured the following.
What Christ Teaches Concerning Future Retribution
(From Volume IX, Chapter 7)
BY REV. WM. C. PROCTER, F. PH., CROYDON, ENGLAND
There are four reasons for confining our consideration of the subject of Future Retribution to the teaching of our Lord Jesus Christ:
(1) It limits the range of our inquiry to what is possible in a brief essay. There will be no occasion to examine the 56 passages in the authorized version of our Bible which contain the word “Hell,” (most of which are the translations of the Hebrew “Sheol” and the Greek “Hades,” meaning “the grave” and “the unseen state,”) and we can concentrate our
attention on the ten passages in which our Lord uses the word “Gehenna” (which was the usual appellation in His day for the abode of the lost) together with those other verses which evidently refer to the future state of the wicked.
(2) It affords a sufficient answer to the speculation of those who don’t know, to refer to the revelation of the One who does know. Many other passages might be quoted from the New Testament, written under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, who was promised by our Lord to His disciples to “guide them into all truth,” and “show them things to come”
(John 16:12, 13); but, in taking the words of Christ Himself, we shall find the greatest ground of common agreement in these days of loose views of inspiration. Surely, He who is
“The Truth” would never misrepresent or exaggerate it on a matter of such vital importance, and would neither encourage popular errors nor excite needless fears.
(3) It also affords a sufficient answer to those who represent the doctrine as unreasonable and dishonoring to God, and who regard those who hold it as narrow minded and hard
hearted, to remind them that all the very expressions which are most fiercely denounced in the present day fell from the lips of the Saviour who died for us, and came from the heart of the “Lover of souls.” Surely we have no right to seek to be broader minded than He was, or to nurture false hopes which have no solid foundation in His teaching; while to assume a greater zeal for God’s honor, and a deeper compassion for the souls of men, is little short of blasphemy. The current objections to the orthodox doctrine of hell are made by those who allow their hearts to run away with their heads, and are founded more on sickly sentimentality than on sound scholarship.
(4) In considering the subject as professing Christians, the words of the Master Himself ought surely to put an end to all controversy; and these are clear and unmistakable when
taken in their plain and obvious meaning, without subjecting them to any forced interpretation. It is greatly to be regretted that they are not more frequently dealt with in the modern pulpit; but ministers are only human, and there is a strong temptation to preach what is palatable, rather than what is profitable. In this case, surely, history repeats itself; for we read in Isa. 30:10 of those who said to the prophets of old: “Prophesy not unto us right things, speak unto us smooth things, prophesy deceits”; and a cowardly yielding to this demand has produced an emasculated Gospel and an enfeebled ministry in the present day.
Coming now to consider briefly Christ’s teaching on the subject, let us ask, first of all:
1. WHAT DID OUR LORD TEACH AS TO THE CERTAINTY OF FUTURE RETRIBUTION? The word “retribution” is to be preferred to “punishment” because the Bible teaches us that the fate of the wicked is not an arbitrary (much less a vindictive) infliction, but the necessary consequence of their own sins. Taking the passages in their order, in MATT. 5:22; Christ speaks of causeless anger against, and contemptuous condemnation of, others as placing us “in danger of the hell of fire, ‘ while in verses 29 and 30 He utters a similar warning concerning the sin of lust; and these are in the Sermon on the Mount, which is the most generally accepted part of His teaching! In chapter 8:12 He speaks of unbelieving “children of the Kingdom” being “cast forth into the outer darkness”, and adds, “There shall be the weeping and gnashing of teeth” expressions which are repeated in chapters 22:13 and 25:30. In chapter 10:28 Jesus said: “Fear Him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell” a wholesome fear which is decidedly lacking in the present day, and which many people regard as a remnant of superstition quite unsuited to this enlightened age! In our Lord’s own explanation of the parable of the tares and wheat, He declared: “The Son of Man shall send forth His angels, and they shall gather out of His kingdom all things that cause stumbling, and them that do iniquity, and shall cast them into the furnace of fire; there shall be the weeping and gnashing of teeth. The angels shall come forth, and sever the wicked from among the righteous, and shall cast them into the furnace of fire; there shall be the weeping and gnashing of teeth” (chapter 13 :41, 42, 49, 50). In chapter 23:15 He speaks of the hypocritical Pharisees as “children of hell,” showing that their conduct had fitted them for it, and that they would “go to their own place”, like Judas (whom He describes as “the son of perdition” in John 17:12), while in verse 33 He asks: “How shall ye escape the judgment of hell?” The law of retribution can no more be repealed than that of gravitation; it is fixed and unalterable. That hell has not been prepared for human beings, but that they prepare themselves for it, is clear from the sentence which our Lord says that He will pronounce upon those on His left hand in the last great day: “Depart from Me, ye cursed, into the eternal fire which is prepared for the devil and his angels” (Chapter 25:41).
Turning to the Gospel according to MARK, we find our Lord saying, in chapter 3:29: “Whosoever shall blaspheme against the Holy Spirit hath never forgiveness, but is guilty
of an eternal sin.” Whatever view may be taken of the character of blasphemy against the Holy Ghost, the cause and consequence are here closely linked together, eternal sin bringing eternal retribution. The words in the original undoubtedly indicate an inveterate habit rather than an isolated act, and would probably be better translated, “is held under the power of an eternal sin.” This in itself precludes the possibility of forgiveness, because it assumes the impossibility of repentance; besides, each repetition involving a fresh penalty, the punishment is naturally unending. Similarly, in John 8 :21, 24, our Lord’s twice repeated declaration to those Jews which believed not on Him, “Ye shall die in your sins”, indicates that unforgiven sin must rest upon the soul in condemnation and pollution; for death, so far from changing men’s characters, only fixes them; and hence Christ speaks in chapter 5:29 of “the resurrection of damnation”. Once more, the words of the Ascended and Glorified Saviour recorded in Rev. 21:8 may be quoted: “The fearful, and unbelieving, and the abominable, and murderers, and whoremongers, and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all liars, shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone; which is the second death.”
A careful study of the Scriptural uses of the words “life” and “death” will clearly show that the root ideas are respectively “union” and “separation”. Physical life is union of the spirit with the body, spiritual life is the union of the spirit with God, and everlasting life is this union perfected and consummated to all eternity. Similarly, physical death is the separation of the spirit from the body, spiritual death is the separation of the spirit from God, and eternal death is the perpetuation of this separation. Hence, for all who have not experienced a second birth, “the second death” becomes inevitable; for he who is only born once dies twice, while he who is “born again” dies only once. As against the doctrine of annihilation, Rev. 20:14 may be quoted: “Death and Hades were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death, even the lake of fire”.
2. WHAT DID CHRIST TEACH AS TO THE CHARACTER OF FUTURE RETRIBUTION? We have already seen that He spoke of it as full of sorrow and misery in His seven-fold repetition of the striking expression: “There shall be the weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matt. 8:12; 13:42, 50; 22:13; 24:51; 25:30; Luke 13:28). In Mark 9:43-48, our Lord twice
speaks of “the fire that never shall be quenched”, and thrice adds, “where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched”. Of course He was using the common Jewish metaphors for Gehenna, taken from the perpetual fires that burned in the valley of Hinnom to destroy the refuse, and the worms that fed upon the unburied corpses that were cast there; but, as we have already seen, He would never have encouraged a popular delusion. Our Lord twice spoke of fruitless professors being “cast into the fire” (Matt. 7:19; John 15:6); twice of “the furnace of fire” (Matt. 13:42, 50); twice of the “hell of fire” (Matt. 5:22; 18:9) ; and twice of
“eternal fire” (Matt. 18:8; 25:41).
Granted that “the undying worm and unquenchable fire” are metaphorical, yet these striking figures of speech must stand for startling facts, they must be symbolical of a terrible reality. We need no more regard them materially than we do the golden streets and pearly gates of heaven; but, if the latter are emblematic of the indescribable splendors of heaven, the former must be symbolical of the unutterable sufferings of hell. One can no more presume to dogmatize on the one than the other, but it requires no vivid stretch of the imagination to conceive an accusing conscience acting like the undying worm, and insatiable desires like the unquenchable fire. In our Lord’s parable of the rich man and Lazarus, the former is represented as being “in torments” and “in anguish” even in “Hades,” and, that memory survives the present life and accompanies us beyond the grave, is clear from Abraham’s words to him: “Son, remember” (Luke 16:23-25). Could any material torments be worse than the moral torture of an acutely sharpened conscience, in which memory becomes remorse as it dwells upon misspent time and misused talents, upon omitted duties and committed sins, upon opportunities lost both of doing and of getting good, upon privileges neglected and warning rejected? It is bad enough here, where memory is so defective, and conscience may be so easily drugged; but what must it be hereafter, when no expedients will avail to banish recollection and drown remorse? The poet Starkey stimulates our imagination in the awful lines;
“All that hath been that ought not to have been,
That might have been so different; that now
Cannot but be irrevocably past. Thy gangrened heart,
Stripped of its self-worn mask, and spread at last
Bare, in its horrible anatomy,
Before thine own excruciated gaze;”
while Cecil puts the matter in a nutshell when he writes:
“Hell is the truth seen too late.”
Again, what material pain could equal the moral torment of intensified lusts and passions finding no means of gratification, insatiable desires that can have no provision for their
indulgence, or if indulged, all the pleasure gone while the power remains? Surely, such expressions as the undying worm and the unquenchable fire represent, not pious fictions, but plain facts; and we may be sure that the reality will exceed, not fall short of, the figures employed, as in the case of the blessedness of the redeemed. The woes thus pronounced are more terrible than the thunders of Sinai, and the doom denounced more awful than that of Sodom; but we should never forget that these terrible expressions fell from the lips of Eternal Love, and came from a heart overflowing with tender compassion for the souls of men.
3. WHAT DID CHRIST TEACH AS TO THE CONTINUITY OF FUTURE RETRIBUTION? Is there any solid basis in His recorded words for the doctrine of eternal hope, or the shadow of a foundation for the idea that all men will be eventually saved? Much has been made of the fact that the Greek word “aionios” (used by our Lord in Matt. 18:8 and 25:41,
46, and translated “everlasting” in the Authorized, and “eternal” in the Revised, Version) literally means “age-long”; but an examination of the 25 places in which it is used in the
New Testament reveals the fact that it is twice used of the Gospel, once of the Gospel covenant, once of the consolation brought to us by the Gospel, twice of God’s own Being, four times of the future of the wicked, and fifteen times of the present and future life of the believer. No one thinks of limiting its duration in the first four cases and in the last, why then do so in the other one? The dilemma becomes acute in considering the words of our Lord recorded in Matt. 25:46, where precisely the same word is used concerning the
duration of the reward of the righteous and the retribution of the wicked, for only by violent perversion and distortion can the same word in the same sentence possess a different signification. Again, it is sometimes urged that, as salt has a purifying power, the words, “everyone shall be salted with fire,” in Mark 9:49, have this significance in the case of future punishment; but the context clearly shows that its preserving power is alluded to, for the passage speaks of the undying worm and the unquenchable fire. Besides, if the Divine chastisements are ineffectual here in the case of any individual, when there is so much to restrain men and women from wrong-doing, how can they be expected to prove effectual in the next world, with all these restraints removed, and only the society of devils? It is certainly somewhat illogical for those who make so much of the love of God to argue that punishment will prove remedial hereafter in the case of those whom
Divine Love has failed to influence here. Not only is there not the slightest hint in the teaching of our Lord that future punishment will prove remedial or corrective, but His words concerning Judas in Matt. 26:24 are inexplicable on that supposition. Surely His existence would still have been a blessing if his punishment was to be followed by ultimate restoration, and Christ would therefore never have uttered the sadly solemn words: “It had been good for that man if he had not been born.” Similarly there is a striking and significant contrast between our Lord’s words to the unbelieving Jews recorded in John 8:21: “Whither I go ye cannot come,” and those to Peter in chapter 13:36 : “Whither I go, thou canst not follow Me now, but thou shalt follow Me afterwards.”
As character tends to permanence, heaven is a place of perfect holiness and hell must be of the opposite; and this throws light upon the words of Rev. 22:11, which were apparently uttered by our ascended, glorified, and returning Lord: “He that is unrighteous, let him do unrighteousness still ; and he that is filthy, let him be made filthy still; and he that is righteous, let him do righteousness still; and he that is holy, let him be made holy still.” The doctrine of universal restoration springs from a natural desire to wish the history of mankind to have a happy ending, as in most story books; but it ignores the fact that, by granting man free will, God has (as it were) set a boundary to His own omnipotence, for it is a moral impossibility to save a man against his will. Surely eternal sin can only be followed by eternal retribution; for, if a man deliberately chooses to be ruled by sin, he must inevitably be ruined by it. One never hears of the doctrine of final restoration being applied to the devil and his angels, but why not? If the answer is, “Because they cannot and will not repent,” the same is surely true of many human beings.
Not only is there no vestige of foundation in our Lord’s words for the doctrine of universalism, there is also no shadow of a suggestion of any restoration of the wicked hereafter. So far from this being the case, the parable of the rich man and Lazarus rings the death knell of any such hope. Abraham is there represented as saying to Dives: “Between
us and you there is a great gulf fixed, that they which would pass from hence to you may not be able, and that none may cross over from thence to us” (Luke 16:26). That “fixed
gulf” is surely a yawning chasm too deep to be filled up, and too wide to be bridged over; and the awful description of hell by the poet Milton, in “Paradise Lost”, remains sadly
“Regions of sorrow, doleful shades, where peace
And rest can never dwell; hope never comes
That comes to all, but torture without end.”
4. WHAT DID CHRIST TEACH AS TO THE CAUSES OF FUTURE
RETRIBUTION? A careful study of our Lord’s words show that there are two primary causes, namely, deliberate unbelief and wilful rejection of Him; and surely these are but different aspects of the same sin. In Matt. 8:12, it was the contrast between the faith of the Gentile centurion and the unbelief of the Jewish nation which drew from His lips the solemn words: “The children of the Kingdom shall be cast out into outer darkness;” while, in chapter 23 the awful denunciation in verse 33 is followed by the sad lamentation: “How often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not” (verse 37). Similarly, in Mark 3:29, R. V., the “eternal sin” spoken of can only be that of continued rejection of the offers of mercy; and in John 8:24, our Lord plainly declares: “If ye believe not that I am He, ye shall die in your
sins.” Finally, in Mark 16:16, we find the words: “He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that disbelieveth shall be condemned.” A careful consideration of
these passages, and especially of the last, will help to remove one great difficulty with regard to the whole subject, namely, the future state of those who have never had the Gospel so plainly presented to them as to enable them to deliberately accept or reject Christ, to willingly believe the good news or wilfully disbelieve it.
Another difficulty is removed when we realize that our Lord taught that there would be different degrees in hell as in heaven. Thus, in Matt. 11:20-24 He taught that it would be “more tolerable in the day of judgment” for Tyre and Sidon than for Chorazin and Bethsaida, and for Sodom than for Capernaum; and in Mark 12:40 He speaks of
“greater damnation.” It is clear that future retribution will be proportioned to the amount of guilt committed and of grace rejected. (See also Luke 12:47, 48; John 19:11.)
We have so far examined, as thoroughly as possible within this limited space, all the recorded words of our Lord which bear on this important subject. It only remains, in conclusion, very briefly to point out that the whole drift of Christ’s teaching confirms what we learn from these isolated passages, and that future retribution is not merely an incidental but a fundamental part of the Gospel message. It is the dark background on which its loving invitations and tender expostulations are presented, and the Gospel message loses much of its force when the doctrine is left out. But, worst of all, the earnest exhortations to immediate repentance and faith lose their urgency if the ultimate result will be the same if those duties are postponed beyond the present life. Is it seriously contended that Judas will eventually be as John, Nero as Paul, Ananias and Sapphira as Priscilla and Aquila? Finally* the doctrines of heaven and hell seem to stand or fall together, for both rest upon the same Divine revelation, both are described metaphorically, and both have the same word “everlasting” applied to their duration. If the threatenings of God’s Word are unreliable, so may the promises be; if the denunciations have no real meaning, what becomes of the invitations? Ruskin well terms the denial of hell “the most
dangerous, because the most attractive, form of modern infidelity.” But is it so modern? Is it not an echo of the devil’s insinuating doubt: “Yea, hath God said”? followed by his insistent denial, “Ye shall not surely die,” which led to the fall of man? Let us, therefore, believe God’s truth, rather than the devil’s lie; let us accept Divine revelation, rather
than human speculation; and let us heed what Christ so plainly taught, without mitigating, modifying, or minimizing His solemn warnings.
Sin and Judgment to Come.
(From Volume XI, Chapter 3).
BY SIR ROBERT ANDERSON, K. C. B., LL. D., LONDON, ENGLAND
The Book of Judges records that in evil days when civil war was raging in Israel, the tribe of Benjamin boasted of having 700 men who “could* sling stones at a hair breadth and not miss.” Nearly two hundred times the Hebrew word chatha here translated “miss,” is rendered “sin” in our English Bible; and this striking fact may teach us that while “all unrighteousness is sin,” the root-thought of sin is far deeper. Man is a sinner because, like a clock that does not tell the time, he fails to fulfill the purpose of his being. And that purpose is (as the Westminster ‘divines admirably state it), “to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.” Our Maker intended that “we should be to the praise of His glory.” But we utterly fail of this; we “come short of the glory of God.” Man is a sinner not merely because of what he does, but by reason of what he is.
MAN A FAILURE
That man is a failure is denied by none save the sort of people who say in their heart, “There is no God.” For, are we not conscious of baffled aspirations, and unsatisfied longings after the infinite? Some there are, indeed, we are told, who have no such aspirations. There are seeming exceptions, no doubt Mr. A. J. Balf our instances “street arabs and advanced thinkers” but such exceptions can be explained. And these aspirations and longings these cravings of our higher being are quite distinct from the groan of the lower creation. How, then, can we account for them? The atheistical evolution which has superseded Darwinism can tell us nothing here.
They are a part of the mass of proof that man is by nature a religious being; and that indisputable fact points to the further fact that he is God’s creature. People who are endowed with an abnormal capacity for “simple faith” may possibly attribute the intellectual and aesthetical phenomena of man’s being to the great “primordial germ,” a germ which was not created at all, but (according to the philosophy of one of Mark Twain’s
amusing stories), “only just happened.” But most of us are so dull-witted that we cannot rise to belief in an effect without an adequate cause; and if we accepted the almighty germ
hypothesis we should regard it as a more amazing display of creative power than the “Mosaic cosmogony” described.
WHY A FAILURE ?
But all this, which is so clear to every free and fearless thinker, gives rise to a difficulty of the first magnitude. If man be a failure, how can he be a creature of a God who is infinite in wisdom and goodness and power? He is like a bird with a broken wing, and God does not make birds with broken wings. If a bird cannot fly, the merest baby concludes that something must have happened to it. And by an equally simple process of reasoning we conclude that some evil has happened to our race. And here the Eden Fall affords an adequate explanation of the strange anomalies of our being, and no other explanation of them is forthcoming. Certain it is, then, that man is God’s creature, and no less certain
is it that he is a fallen creature. Even if Scripture were silent here, the patent facts would lead us to infer that some disaster such as that which Genesis records must have befallen
the human race.
MAN WITHOUT EXCUSE
But, while this avails to solve one difficulty, it suggests another. The dogma, of the moral depravity of man, and irremediable, cannot be reconciled with divine justice in punishing sin. If by the law of his fallen nature man were incapable of doing right, it would be clearly inequitable to punish him for doing wrong. If the Fall had made him crooked-backed, to punish him for not standing upright, would be worthy of an unscrupulous and cruel tyrant. But we must distinguish between theological dogma and divine truth. That man is without excuse is the clear testimony of Holy Writ. This, moreover, is asserted emphatically of the heathen; and its truth is fully established by the fact that even heathendom has produced some clean, upright lives. Such cases, no doubt, are few and far between; but that in no way affects the principle of the argument; for, what some have done all might do. True it is that in the antediluvian age the entire race was sunk in vice; and such was also the condition of the Canaanites in later times. But the divine judgments that fell on them are proof that their condition was not solely an inevitable consequence of the Fall. For, in that case the judgments would have been a display, not of divine justice, but of ruthless vengeance.
DEPRAVITY IN RELIGIOUS NATURE
And, further, if this dogma were true, all unregenerate men would be equally degraded, whereas, in fact, the unconverted religionist can maintain as high a standard of morality as the spiritual Christian. In this respect the life of Saul the Pharisee was as perfect as that of Paul the Apostle of the Lord. His own testimony to this is unequivocal. (Acts 26:4, 5; Phil.
3:4-6.) No less so is his confession that, notwithstanding his life of blameless morality, he was a persecuting blasphemer and the chief of sinners. (1 Tim. 1:13.)
The solution of this seeming enigma is to be found in the fact so plainly declared in the – Scripture, that it is not in the moral, but in the religious or the spiritual sphere, that man
is hopelessly depraved and lost. Hence the terrible word as true of those who stand on a pinnacle of high morality as of those who wallow in filthy sin “they that are in the flesh cannot please God.” “The ox knows his owner, and the ass his master’s crib.” But, as for us, we have gone astray like lost sheep. The natural man does not know his God.
MAN A SINNER IN CHARACTER
While then sin has many aspects, man is a sinner, I repeat, primarily and essentially, not because of what he does but because of what he is. And this brings into prominence the
obvious truth that sin is to be judged from the divine, and not from the human, standpoint. It relates to God’s requirements and not to man’s estimate of himself. And this applies to all the many aspects in which sin may be regarded. “It may be contemplated as the missing of a mark or aim; it is then (mn: corrupted – couldn’t figure out) the overpassing or transgressing of a line; it is then (mn: corrupted): the disobedience to a voice; in which case
it is (mn:corrupted); the falling where one should have stood upright; this will be (mn: corrupted); ignorance of what one ought to have known ; this will be (mn: corrupted); diminishing of that which should have been rendered in full measure which is (mn: corrupted) non-observance of a law, which is (mn: corrupted): a discord, and then it is (mn: corrupted) and in other ways almost out of number.”
This well known passage from Archbishop Trench’s “Synonyms” must not be taken as a theological statement of doctrine. As Dr. Trench notices on a later page, the word (mn: corrupted) has a far wider scope than “the missing of a mark or aim.” It is used in the New Testament as the generic term for sin. And (mn: corrupted) has a far deeper significance than the “non-observance of a law.” (mn: corrupted), we read in 1 John 3:4; and “sin is lawlessness” is the revisers’ admirable rendering of the apostle’s words. What anarchy is in
another sphere, (mn: corrupted) is in this not mere non-observance of a law, but a revolt against, and defiance of law. “Original sin” may sometimes find expression in “I cannot;” but “I will not” is at the back of all actual sin; its root principle is the assertion of a will that is not subject to the will of God.
THE CARNAL MIND
Spiritual truths are spiritually discerned; but when the Apostle Paul declares that “the carnal mind,” that is, the unenlightened mind of the natural man, “is enmity against God,
for it is not subject to the law of God” (Rom. 8:7), he is stating what is a fact in the experience of all thoughtful men. It is not that men by nature prefer evil to good; that betokens a condition due to vicious practices. “Given up to a reprobate mind” is the apostle’s description of those who are thus depraved by the indulgence of “shameful passions.” The subject is a delicate and unsavory one; but all who have experience of criminals can testify that the practice of unnatural vices destroys all power of appreciating the natural virtues. As the first chapter of Romans tells us, the slaves of such vices sink to the degradations, not only of “doing such things,” but of “taking pleasure in them that do them” (Rom. 1:24-32). All power of recovery is gone there is nothing in them to which appeal can be made.*
But this is abnormal. Notwithstanding indulgence in “natural” vice, there is in man a latent sense of self-respect which may be invoked. Even a great criminal is not insensible to such an appeal. For, although his powers of self-control may be almost paralyzed, he does not call evil good, but acknowledges it to be evil. And thus to borrow the apostle’s words, he “consents to the law that it is good.” But, if he does so, it is because he recognizes it to be the law of his own better nature. He is thinking of what is due to himself. Speak to him of what is due to God, and the latent enmity of the “carnal mind” is at once aroused. In the case of one who has had
*I cannot refrain from saying that if I can intelligently “justify, the ways of God” in destroying the cities of the plain, and decreeing the extermination of the Canaanites, I owe it to knowledge gained in police work in London, for unnatural vice seems to be hereditary.
a religious training, the manifestations of that enmity may be modified or restrained; but he is conscious of it none the less. Thoughtful men of the world, I repeat, do not share the
doubts which some theologians entertain as to the truth of Scriptural teaching on this subject. For, every waking hour brings proof “that the relationship between man and his Maker has become obscured, and that even when he knows the will of God there is something in his nature which prompts him to rebel against it.” Such a state of things, moreover, is obviously abnormal, and if the divine account of it be rejected, it must remain a mystery unsolved and unsoluble. The Eden Fall explains it, and no other explanation can be offered.
THE ROOT OF SIN
It might be argued that an unpremeditated sin a sin in which mind and will have no part is a contradiction in terms. But this we need not discuss, for it is enough for the present
purpose to notice the obvious fact that with unfallen beings such a sin would be impossible. As the Epistle of James declares, every sin is the outcome of an evil desire. And eating the forbidden fruit was the result of a desire excited by yielding to the tempter’s wiles. When a woman harbors the thought of breaking her marriage vow she ceases to be pure; and once our parents lent a willing ear to Satan’s gospel, “Ye shall not surely die,” “Ye shall be as gods knowing good and evil,” their fall was an accomplished fact. The overt act of disobedience, which followed as of course, was but the outward manifestation of it. And, as their ruin was accomplished, not by the corruption of their morals, but by the undermining of their faith in God, it is not, I repeat, in the moral, but in the spiritual sphere, that the ruin is complete and hopeless.
RECONCILIATION THE GREAT NEED
Therefore also is it that while “patient continuance in well doing” is within the human capacity, Rom. 2:6-11 applies to all whether with or without a divine revelation; but of course the test and standard would be different with the Jew and the heathen, and the denial of this not only supplies an adequate apology for a life of sin, but impugns the justice of the divine judgment which awaits it no amount of success, no measure of attainment, in this sphere can avail to put us right with God. If my house be in darkness owing to the electric current having been cut off, no amount of care bestowed upon, my plant and fittings will restore the light. My first need is to have the current renewed. And so here; man by nature is “alienated from the life of God,” and his first need is to
be reconciled to God. And apart from redemption reconciliation is impossible.
A discussion of the sin question apart from God’s remedy for sin would present the truth in a perspective so wholly false as to suggest positive error. But before passing on to speak of the remedy something more needs to be said about the disease. For the loose thoughts so prevalent today respecting the atonement are largely due to an utterly inadequate
appreciation of sin; and this again depends on ignorance of God. Sin in every respect of it has, of course, a relation to a savage; and as man is God’s creature the standard is, again
of course, divine perfection. But the God of the neo-Christianism of the day we must not call it Christianity is a weak and gentle human “Jesus” who has supplanted the God
of both nature and revelation.
The element of the folly in religious heresies affords material for an interesting psychological study. If the Gospels be not authentic, then, so far as the teaching of Christ is concerned, intelligent agnosticism will be the attitude of every one who is not a superstitious religionist. But if the records of the ministry be trustworthy, it is certain, first, that the Hebrew Scriptures were the foundation of the Lord’s teaching; and secondly, that His warnings of divine judgment upon sin were more terrible than even the thunders of Sinai. During all the age in which the echoes of those thunders mingled with the worship of His people, the prophetic spirit could discern the advent of a future day of full redemption. And it was in the calm and sunshine of the dawning of that long promised day that He spoke of a doom more terrible than that which engulfed the sinners of Sodom and Gomorrah, for all who saw His works and heard His words, and yet repented
THE PERFECT STANDARD
And here we may get hold of a great principle which will help us to reconcile seemingly conflicting statements of Scripture, and to silence some of the cavils of unbelief. The
thoughtful will recognise that in divine judgment the standard must be perfection. And when thus tested, both the proud religionist Christendom “exalted to heaven” like Capernaum by outward privilege and blessing, and the typical savage of a degraded heathendom, must stand together. If God accepted a lower standard than perfect righteousness He would declare Himself unrighteous; and the great problem of redemption
is not how He can be just in condemning, but how He can be just in forgiving. In a criminal court “guilty or not guilty” is the first question to be dealt with in every case, and this levels all distinctions; and so it is here; all men “come short,” and therefore “all the world” is brought in “guilty before God.” But after verdict comes the sentence and at this stage the question of degrees of guilt demands consideration. And at “the Great Assize” that question will be decided with perfect equity. For some there will be many stripes, for others there will be few. In the vision given us of that awful scene we read that “the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works” (Rev. 20:12).
And this will be the scope and purpose of the judgment of the Great Day. The transcendent question of the ultimate fate of men must be settled before the advent of that day; for the resurrection will declare it and the resurrection precedes the judgment. For there is a “resurrection unto life,” and a “resurrection unto judgment” (John 5:29). While the
redeemed, we are expressly told, will be “raised in glory” and “we know that we shall be like Him” with bodies “fashioned like unto His glorious body” (Phil. 3:21) the lost will be raised in bodies; but here I pause, for Scripture is almost silent on this subject, and conjecture is unsafe. It may be that just as criminals leave a prison in garb like that
they wore on entering it, so the doomed may reappear in bodies akin to those that were the instruments of their vices and sins on earth. If the saved are to be raised in glory and
honor and incorruption, (1 Cor. 15:42-44), may not the lost be recalled to bodily life in corruption, dishonor and shame?
JUDGMENT TO COME
But though the supreme issue of the destiny of men does not await that awful inquest, “judgment to come” is a reality for all. For it is of the people of God that the Word declares
“we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ,” and “every one of us shall give account of himself to God” (Rom. 14:10, 12). And that judgment will bring reward to some
and loss to others. Incalculable harm results from that sort of teaching which dins into the ears of the unconverted that they have no power to live a pure and decent life, and which
deludes the Christian into thinking that at death he will forfeit his personality by losing all knowledge of the past, and that heaven is a fool’s paradise where waters of Lethe will
wipe out our memories of earth. “We must all be made manifest before the judgment-seat of Christ, that each one may receive the things done in the body, according to what he hath done, whether it be good or bad” (2 Cor. 5 :10).
But this judgment of “the bema of Christ’* has only an incidental bearing on the theme of the present article, and it must not be confounded with the judgment of the “great
white throne.” From judgment in that sense the believer has absolute immunity: “he cometh not into judgment, but hath passed out of death into life” (John 4:26), is the Lord’s
explicit declaration. He gives the “right to become children of God” “to them that believe on His Name” (John 1 :12); and it is not by recourse to a criminal court that we deal
with the lapses and misdeeds of our children.
DEGREES OF REWARDS AND PUNISHMENTS
We have seen then that man is a sinner in virtue both of what he is and what he does. We do what we ought not, and leave undone what we ought to do. For sin may be due to ignorance or carelessness, as well as to evil passions which incite to acts that stifle conscience and outrage law. And we have seen also that every sin gives rise to two great questions which need to be distinguished, though they are in a sense inseparable. The one finds expression in the formula, “guilty or not guilty,” and in respect of this no element of limitation or degree is possible. But after verdict, sentence; and when punishment is in question, degrees of guilt are infinite.
It has been said that no two of the redeemed will have the same heaven; and in that sense no two of the lost will have the same hell. This is not a concession to popular heresies on this subject. For the figment of a hell of limited duration either traduces the character of God, or practically denies the work of Christ. If the extinction of being were the fate of
the impenitent, to keep them in suffering for an aeon or a century would savor of the cruelty of a tyrant who, having decreed a criminal’s death, deferred the execution of the sentence in order to torture him. Far worse indeed than this, for, ex hypothesi, the resurrection of the unjust could have no other purpose than to increase their capacity for suffering.
Or, if we adopt the alternative heresy that hell is a punitive and purgatorial discipline through which the sinner will pass to heaven we disparage the atonement and undermine the truth of grace. If the prisoner gains his discharge by serving out his sentence, where does grace come in? And if the sinner’s sufferings can expiate his sin, the most that can be said for the death of Christ is that it opened a short and easy way to the same goal that could be reached by a tedious and painful journey. But further, unless the sinner is to be made righteous and holy before he enters hell and in that case, why not let him enter heaven at once? he will continue unceasingly to sin; and as every fresh sin will involve a fresh penalty, his punishment can never end.
Every treatise in support of these heresies relies on the argument that the words in our English Version, which connote endless duration, represent words in the original text which have no significance. But this argument is exploded by the fact that the critic would be compelled to use these very words if he were set the task of retranslating our version into
Greek. For that language has no other terminology to express the thought. And yet it is by trading on ad captandum arguments of this kind, and by the prejudices which are naturally excited by partial or exaggerated statements of truth, that these heresies win their way. Attention is thus diverted from the insuperable difficulties which beset them, and from
their bearing on the truth of the atonement.
But Christianity sweeps away all these errors. The God of Sinai has not repented of His thunders, but He has fully revealed Himself in Christ. And the wonder of the revelation is not punishment but pardon. The great mystery of the Gospel is how God can be just and yet the Justifier of sinful men. And the Scriptures which reveal that mystery make it
dear as light that this is possible only through redemption: “not that we loved God, but that He loved us, and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins” (1 John 2:2). Redemption is only and altogether by the death of Christ. “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have
everlasting life” (John 3:16). To bring in limitations here is to limit God.
THE CROSS OF CHRIST
In the wisdom of God the full revelation of “eternal judgment” and the doom of the lost, awaited the supreme manifestation of divine grace and love in the Gospel of Christ; and
when these awful themes are separated from the Gospel, truth is presented in such a false perspective that it seems to savor of error. For not even the divine law and the penalties of
disobedience will enable us to realize aright the gravity and heinousness of sin. This we can learn only at the Cross of Christ. Our estimate of sin will be proportionate to our appreciation of the cost of our redemption. Not “silver and gold” human standards of value are useless here but “the precious blood of Christ.” Seemingly more unbelievable than the wildest superstitions of human cults is the Gospel of our salvation. That He who was “Son of God” in all which that title signifies God manifest in the flesh; for “all things were made by Him, and without Him was not anything made that was made” came down to earth, and having lived in rejection and contempt, died a death of shame, and that in virtue of his death He is the propitiation for the world. (1 John 2 :2, R. V.)
Here, and only here, can we know the true character and depths of human sin, and here alone can we know, so far as the finite mind can ever know it, the wonders of a divine love
that passes knowledge.
And the benefit is to “whosoever believeth.” It was by unbelief that man first turned away from God; how fitting, then, it is that our return to Him should be by faith. If this Gospel is true and how few there are who really believe it to be true! who can dare to impugn the justice of “everlasting punishment”? For Christ has opened the kingdom of heaven to all believers; the way to God is free, and whosoever will may come. There is no artifice in this and grace is not a cloak to cover favoritism. Unsolved mysteries there are in Holy Writ, but when we read of “God our Saviour,” who willeth that all men should be saved; and of “Christ Jesus who gave Himself a ransom for all” (1 Tim. 2:3-6), we are standing in the full clear light of day.
This much is as clear as words can make it and nothing more than this concerns us that the consequences of accepting or rejecting Christ are final and eternal. But who are they who shall be held guilty of rejecting? What of those who, though living in Christendom, have never heard the Gospel aright? And what of the heathen who have never heard at all? No one can claim to solve these problems without seeming profanely to assume the role of umpire between God and men. We know, and it is our joy to know, that the decision of all such questions rests with a God of perfect justice and infinite love. And let this be our answer to those who demand a solution of them. Unhesitating faith is our right attitude in presence of divine revelation, but where Scripture is silent let us keep silence.*
*The scope of this article is limited not only by exigencies of space but by the nature of the subject. Therefore it contains no special reference to the work of the Holy Spirit.